Moral Torture in Kafka's "In The Penal Colony" Analytical Essay by scribbler

Moral Torture in Kafka's "In The Penal Colony"
An analysis of how the reader is manipulated through the narrative structure in Kafka's "In The Penal Colony".
# 152459 | 1,605 words | 3 sources | MLA | 2013 | US
Published on Feb 15, 2013 in Literature (German)

$19.95 Buy and instantly download this paper now


The paper analyzes how in Kafka's short story "In the Penal Colony," the sympathies of the reader - sympathies based on assumptions that Kafka allows by withholding judgmental narration - are twisted and reoriented in the space of one small paragraph. The paper discusses the reader's sense of moral abandonment and notes that instead of giving the reader the comfort of a strong sympathetic moral argument from the explorer, Kafka reserves the most intense moral conviction for the officer himself. The paper shows how instead of being the morality tale that it often threatened to become, the story instead presents only as a moral paradox, in which the disconnect between intentions and actions call into question the propriety of taking a moral stance at all.

From the Paper:

""In the Penal Colony" recounts the experience of an explorer observing the workings of a penal colony, specifically the execution (by means of a mysterious machine) of a soldier for the crime of disobedience. Kafka introduces the scenario with characteristic diffidence. The situation itself is loaded with possible horror: the incongruity of the punishment and the crime, the intimidating mystery surrounding the execution machine, and the pending certainty of death. But not one of the four characters presented in the story's opening betrays any sign of anxiety or apprehension, not even the man condemned to death, who is described as a "stupid-looking...submissive dog" (Complete Stories 140).
"This leaves the reader with little guidance in forming a moral position within this morally questionable situation. The explorer, who in his observational role comes closest to sharing the vantage point of the reader, is the least morally committed of anyone. He "[does] not care much about the apparatus and [walks] up and down behind the prisoner with almost visible indifference" (Complete Stories 140). The only emotion shown by anyone at the story's start is the enthusiasm of the officer for the apparatus, an enthusiasm which seems callous given the machine's purpose and which immediately sets up in the reader an antipathy against the officer."

Sample of Sources Used:

  • Bennett, Jane. "Deceptive Comfort: The Power of Kafka's Stories." Political Theory, Volume 19, No. 1. February, 1991. 73-95.
  • Kafka, Franz. Collected Stories. New York: Everyman's Library, 1993.
  • Milman, Yoseph. "The Ambiguous Point of View and Reader Involvement in Kafka." Neophilologus, Vol. 7, No. 2. April, 1993. 261-272.

Cite this Analytical Essay:

APA Format

Moral Torture in Kafka's "In The Penal Colony" (2013, February 15) Retrieved September 28, 2023, from

MLA Format

"Moral Torture in Kafka's "In The Penal Colony"" 15 February 2013. Web. 28 September. 2023. <>