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Franz Kafka’s portrayal of the officer in the Penal Colony

Updated on November 16, 2012

Kafka's portrayal of the officer

Franz Kafka portrays the officer in a sympathetic manner. Even though the officer appears to be standing for an absurd practice, readers ultimately feel sympathy towards him. The officer is found to be strongly holding on to his beliefs. A good portion of his life he spent under the old governor. The officer always respected the governor’s methods and views. He considered them as effective and successful. As the story moves we find that the behavior of the officer is thoroughly influenced by the past experiences. He moves in ways that are familiar to him. What he has done in the past matters much to him. He is found to be extremely loyal to his cultural tradition. Historic practices are of great value to him. His commitment towards the machine shows his mindset. He is found to be much dedicated to the general way of punishment. He is very much loyal to the traditions and the historic way of doing things. What he is aware of is nothing but the cultural traditions of his place. This very factor drives his attitude. The officer is the product of his circumstances. The author Franz Kafka places the officer in a situation that justifies his strange attitude.

Analysis of the character officer

In the story we find that the officer is compelled to convince the explorer about the relevance and necessity of the machine. The presence of the explorer created an atmosphere of urgency in the colony. This urgency is visible in the words and actions of the officer. The officer feels that unless he convinces the explorer, the machine and the punishment system will be put to an end. He therefore explains the positive aspects of the machine. We find that the officer fails to convince the explorer about the importance of the machine. The officer’s mood changes because of the explorer’s attitude. Current situation again starts dominating the officer’s behavior. This gave him the motivation to free the condemned man and place himself in his place. The situation made the officer resort to such an action. The officer understands that his mission is no longer successful. The system which he believed and followed all these years is going to be abolished in the colony. He therefore decided to subject himself to the machine. His act means that he willingly became a martyr for the machine. He represented his mistake and accepted the punishment for that. This is evident in the inscription ‘Be just’. This very behavior of the officer is caused by his situation and brought up.

The officer and justice

The officer has immense enthusiasm about the machine he created. The so called ‘justice’ of the old commandant made him crazy. The officer blindly follows the old Commandant. He is overenthusiastic over the system he formed. The machine embodies the system he created. The apparatus symbolizes the notion of justice. The officer is fully devoted to the system of the old Commandant. He is crazy to be the judge of the colony. He is of the belief that by executing people using the machine he is establishing justice. ‘Guilt is never to be doubted’ is the motto of the officer. The machine puts immense torture on the body of the punished individual. The officer’s satisfaction lies on the idea that injustice is rightly punished. He feels that the punishment establishes transfiguration and enlightenment. This very notion makes him subject himself to the machine. He wants to personally experience the feeling. The officer further believes that the individuals who are subjected to the machine realize at least for a moment that justice is being accomplished. The officer wants to establish justice through him also. The notion of justice is the officer’s reason for living. He cannot exist without accomplishing what he calls justice. When the explorer refuses to help him he understands that his system of justice is going to be abandoned. This compels him to subject himself to the machine. He however experiences a sudden execution with no time to undergo a transfiguration.

Officer standing for what he believes

The officer is portrayed in such a way that we feel sympathy for him. We do not always take him seriously. The officer’s understands of justice and righteousness is different from that of others. His has an extraordinary mind concerning punishment and execution. His attitude may appear barbaric and sadistic for us. He however firmly believes in every aspect of his being. His very existence was based on the machine and the system. He therefore could not afford the reality that his world is collapsing. The author portrays the officer in such a way that we feel sympathy towards him. He is shattered as the system he created is going to be condemned. Readers feel sorry for the officer. The sanity of the officer is also doubted for he stands for what we may call absurdity. Even though readers feel odd at the strange beliefs of the officer, they feel sympathetic towards him. The officer strongly believes in what he feels right. He seeks justice. May be he has good reasons for believing his point. The feelings of the officer may appear to us like nonsense. The author however does not let us feel bad about the officer. The officer’s background makes him give such a definition to justice. His attitude of blindly believing guilt might be caused by his surroundings. Guilt should never be doubted is the officer’s operating principle. Even though this seems to be pretty absurd for us, we feel sympathetic towards him. He stood for justice though it was through an absurd system.

Readers sympathy for the officer

The officer’s attitude is born out of a barbaric, brutal and out-dated world. He is very passionate towards his notion of justice. His intentions cannot be called wrong for he tried to uphold what he feels just. Even though we may like the explorer’s strong principles and his unemotional nature, we never feel angry over the officer’s views. The officer’s part is right from the view of his world. The explorer holds a different world view. The explorer’s thoughts are originated from a modern and enlightened world. He is the representative of the modern world. The officer unfortunately belongs to the barbaric world. He still stands for what they believe to be just. The officer lives in a world that is full of people like the condemned man. He feels that those people are unjust and deserve punishment. People in the penal colony are guilty of some mistakes. They must have committed a bad act, at least in the past. May be they are placed there because of their mistakes. In such a scenario the officer is a representative of justice. The officer feels that the people in the penal colony are rotten. His attempt is to change them. He chooses the path of suffering and punishment for sanctifying the people of the colony. The officer is the upholder of justice. The author’s portrayals of the officer do not allow us to condemn him. We rather feel sympathetic towards him.


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