The Poor, Corrupt Officer

When I was reading In the Penal Colony, I had two different opinions about the officer.  One of these opinions was formulated at the very beginning of the story, and the second was changed at the conclusion.

 

Starting from the beginning of In the Penal Colony, I was not fond of the officer.  I certainly thought he was the “bad guy” in this story.  Some specific things the officer said, especially near the beginning of the story convinced me of this.  One of these instances is:  “…Here in the penal colony I have been appointed judge…  Guilt is always beyond a doubt…” (Kafka).

A rough definition of a penal colony is a place that is far removed from society (lots of times it is an island) where prisoners are kept until their punishment/sentence is given to them.  Usually, a single person is given total control over what goes on in the penal colony, including sentencing the prisoners.  It is scary to me that one person could have such control over a person’s life, especially when they have the opinion that “guilt is always beyond a doubt”.  To me, this is the officer saying that anyone can be proven guilty, and he seems out to prove just that.  Another instance is when the officer hurries over the fact that the prisoner doesn’t know what his sentence is, or even why he is being held prisoner!  This idea is foreign to our culture, where rights are still given to people who are in prison.

 

The other opinion of the officer that I had while reading In the Penal Colony was at the end.  I was surprised when I realized that the officer was taking the condemned man’s place!  I thought it interesting that the machine took on a different “look” when the officer was being murdered.  It suddenly turned into a vicious and terrible thing; not at all providing justice of any sort!  My thought of this is that no one deserves to die such a terrible and painful death.  I certainly believe the officer is a pitiable character, for this actually made me feel sorry for him, despite what I thought of him even just sentences earlier in the story.

 

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Poor, Corrupt Officer

  1. I did not view him so much as a “bad guy”. Yes, he was torturing people, but he was not torturing out of sadism. When he revealed the plans that said “Be just”, I feel like this truly revealed his motives. When The Officer is torturing, he is expressing his loyalty to his former Commandant. His Commandant’s law is all that he knows, so even though this machine is horrific, The Officer is get pleasure from this delusion that he is serving justice. That is why I find it difficult to view The Officer as a villain, I think he is just a zealot who is too simple to expand his ideals of justice.

  2. smboehm

    I couldn’t agree with your perception of the character of the officer more! When I first began reading, I thought he was extremely deranged, dark, and ruthless considering his opinions of the condemned people; however, by the end of the story I also felt pity for the officer because although he may have been unjust in his views on the fate of others and the continued operation of the machine, he was simply following what he had been taught to follow: the law. His continued searching and following the law devours his thoughts, ultimately making him appear to be a ruthless killer. By the end of the story, I think most readers would agree that his actions were those of someone who was following the law, not someone who was obsessed with the killing of condemned people.

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