In the Penal Colony

by

Franz Kafka

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The Old Commandant Character Analysis

An authoritarian leader and inventor of the apparatus, the old Commandant is dead at the outset of the story but at one point had the power to command the respect of the entire penal colony. The old Commandant was very close to the officer, making him his right-hand man and enlisting the officer’s help in constructing the apparatus. The old Commandant also conferred the power of judge, jury, and executioner to the officer, who remains worshipful of the old Commandant even after his death. The old Commandant represents systems of justice that are dehumanizing and have no regard for the rights of individuals. This is in contrast to the new Commandant, who does not approve of the old Commandant’s ways and is slowly decommissioning the use of the apparatus and the officer’s power. The old Commandant’s gravestone, which claims he will rise again and tells his followers to have faith, has a messianic quality that strengthens the story’s suggestion that religion has a part to play in authoritarian systems of power.

The Old Commandant Quotes in In the Penal Colony

The In the Penal Colony quotes below are all either spoken by The Old Commandant or refer to The Old Commandant. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Schocken Books edition of In the Penal Colony published in 1995.
In the Penal Colony Quotes

“For I was the former Commandant's assistant in all-penal matters and know more about the apparatus than anyone. My guiding principle is this: Guilt is never to be doubted. Other courts cannot follow that principle, for they consist of several opinions and have higher courts to scrutinize them.”

Related Characters: The Officer (speaker), The Prisoner, The Old Commandant
Page Number: 145
Explanation and Analysis:

“He has calculated it carefully: this is your second day on the island, you did not know the old Commandant and his ways, you are conditioned by European ways of thought, perhaps you object on principle to capital punishment in general and to such mechanical instruments of death in particular…”

Related Symbols: The Apparatus
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:

Here rests the old Commandant. His adherents, who now must be nameless, have dug this grave and set up this stone. There is a prophecy that after a certain number of years the commandant will rise again and lead his adherents from this house to recover the colony. Have faith and wait!

Related Characters: The Explorer , The Old Commandant
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Old Commandant Character Timeline in In the Penal Colony

The timeline below shows where the character The Old Commandant appears in In the Penal Colony. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
In the Penal Colony
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Power and Justice Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
Culture and Otherness Theme Icon
...helped with the development of the delicate machine but credit for its invention goes to the old Commandant , a leader who structured the whole society on the penal colony. The officer is... (full context)
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
...the new Commandant, who didn’t explain the procedure to the explorer in the way that the old Commandant always did for guests. Continuing to drone on, the officer explains the function of the... (full context)
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
...the lack of funds to keep the apparatus operating smoothly. Nostalgically pointing out that under the old Commandant there was “free access” to money when it came to maintaining the apparatus, the officer... (full context)
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Culture and Otherness Theme Icon
...tries to clean the apparatus, the officer reveals that he is the “sole  advocate” to the old Commandant ’s ways in the penal colony. Others that used to follow the old Commandant no... (full context)
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...to a better time, the officer describes the days of executions during the time of the old Commandant when there would be “hundreds of spectators” in attendance. The silent, glittering apparatus would do... (full context)
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Culture and Otherness Theme Icon
...Commandant will see the error of his ways and humble himself before the system of the old Commandant . (full context)
Religion Theme Icon
...prisoner return to the penal colony and visit a teahouse, which holds the grave of the old Commandant . Speaking for the first time, the soldier tells the explorer that the “priest wouldn’t... (full context)