Tag Archives: Victim

Officer was in love with the apparatus.

The Officer in “The Penal Colony” was a sadist, in love with the apparatus; and when he realized he was going to lose it, he decided he would rather die by its hand than live without it. 

It was he who knew “the most about the apparatus.”  (p. 7) and who had taken charge of it after the death of the Old Commandant.  He was obsessed with it:  knowing every last cog and wheel of its mechanisms, knowing just exactly what it needed when something broke down,  and pretending those “diagrams” actually contained some coherent script.   He could explain in absolute, minute detail the process the apparatus took as well as  the effect the apparatus had on a man’s body–emotionally as well as physically.  He really obtained great pleasure from watching men suffer from the harrower’s inscription process, always “standing close by”  to witness their “transfiguration.”  (p. 16) 

The very nature of the apparatus was sadistic:  it was a death instrument, yes, but the nature of the death was a prolonged experience brought about by excruciating torture.  The Officer loved this.  He loved his machine and referred to it as “my machine” (p. 14), and describing the executions as “performances” (p.8), and the work of the Harrow as “embellishment” and “decoration” (p.10) as if it was embroidering cloth and not a human body.  He did not care about justice at all but just wanted to see someone suffer gruesomely.  This is made very plain in his description of justice to the Traveler on p. 7-8.  The Condemned Man’s case was a weak one to begin with, and the Officer didn’t care about both sides of the story:   he was quick to assign guilt to get another victim in the apparatus and witness a bloody torture. 

By the time the Traveler comes to see what’s going on, the Officer is still considered young because he says “Here in the penal colony I have been appointed judge.  In spite of my youth.” It is my opinion that the Officer, in his impressionable youth, began to observe the executions under the guardianship of the Old Commandant; and while at first he may have had to convince himself that these condemned men were really getting their due punishment, any nagging feeling of guilt quickly turned into a sick pleasure.  The Old Commandant seemed to have it out for the young ones, not only by warping the Officer’s perception of justice and violence, but also by insuring other children had front row seats to the executions.  (p. 16)

In the end of the story, the Officer realizes that the apparatus is going to go away once the Traveler gives his statement to the New Commandant.  So, what does he do?  In a masochistic move, he put himself in the machine to die by its hand.  His little setup is going to disappear forever and he cannot bear it.  He would rather die.  If he cared about justice, there are other ways of meting it out.  But, it wasn’t justice he cared about, it was rather watching people suffer. 

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A Dictator’s Victim

When reading Kafka’s In the Penal Colony, the officer carrying out the death sentences on the apparatus appeared to me to be victimized by a dictator, the previous commandant. This is reflected in three notions in the story. First of all, the officer states the authority of the commandant by mentioning that ”the organization of the entire penal colony is [the commandant’s] work”(par. 4. And nobody would “be able to alter the old plan” (par. 4). In these words the reader senses how the officer had put the previous commandant on a pedestal. At the end of the story this is underlined by the fact that they buried the previous commandant and erected a stone for him.  Second, the officer has adopted the idea that decision should be made by the individual rather than by the collective. It says: “Guilt is always beyond doubt. Other courts could not follow this principle, for they are made up of many heads” (par. 12). Here it becomes clear that the ability to judge is individualized rather than spread among a group of people. This is typical to a dictatorial society in which one person only is able to judge. The third notion that points towards a victimization of the officer is the way he speaks about the apparatus. At a certain moment the officer describes the working of the harrow as “artistic” (par.5). The fact that he uses such idioms for a machine that is supposed to kill somebody, to me shows that the officer does not know what he is doing. He has learned to admire the ingenious working of the apparatus and the ingeniousness of the inventor. He seems to be brainwashed.

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