In the Penal Colony / Franz Kafka


Kafka’s In the Penal Colony is a powerful metaphor for understanding the obstacles to change from an outdated system to a new one. In this story, the apparatus, the central justice device of the old system, executes accused individuals in a cruel manner, with no trial or chance for defense. Despite the obvious flaws in the system, the officer in charge of operating the apparatus remains single-mindedly devoted to the old system and its designer. This officer represents the governors in society who seek to preserve the system at all costs and idolize their predecessors. The rules, customs, and ceremonies of the old system serve to reinforce its hold on society, turning routine actions into unquestioned rituals.

The officer is afraid that a new system will cost him his power and position, and thus resists any change. He is a prime example of those fundamental pieces of a system that are most resistant to change.

The soldier, on the other hand, represents the pawns of the system; those low-level officers and officials who witness the wrongs of the system but remain powerless to act. They are slaves to their salary and cannot act independently, only following orders from their superiors. They are like guns in the hands of those in power, unable or unwilling to be a part of change.

The condemned man symbolizes the powerless, innocent victims of the old system. These people are easily deceived and ignorant of the truth. They can laugh at the mechanism of a torturing device, even when they themselves have been tortured. Without a leader, ordinary people are like pieces of crap in front of a strong system, unable to contribute to its change.

In the story, change only becomes possible after the death of the leader. However, it is essential for leaders to be smarter and change the system before causing too much pain to others.

The parallels between the story and historical events are evident, as seen in Hitler’s war machine during World War II. The old commandant in the story can be correlated with Hitler, the apparatus with the war machine, and the officer with Himmler, the head of the SS officers in the German army.

In conclusion, In the Penal Colony serves as a poignant reminder of the power of the old system and the challenges that must be overcome to effect change. It emphasizes the need for strong and visionary leaders who can drive change and empower ordinary people to contribute to the process.

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