In the Penal Colony

by

Franz Kafka

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The Apparatus Symbol Analysis

The Apparatus Symbol Icon

In the story, the apparatus is a machine used to represent the cruel and exacting torture of a system of justice that is more concerned with upholding power than it is with the dignity of human life. The apparatus, which the old Commandant invented, is a grueling piece of machinery. It takes twelve hours to finish an execution by repeatedly etching the prisoner’s sentence into his flesh. Giving a detailed explanation of his beloved machine (which he helped create), the officer explains that the apparatus keeps prisoners alive by feeding them and staunching their blood therefore painfully prolonging their death. Eventually the prisoner learns the nature of his crime, usually after the sixth hour of being tortured. The apparatus has three main components—the Bed, the Designer, and the Harrow—and it is clear from the officer’s long, technical descriptions of the machine’s inner-workings that he is more interested in the mechanism’s performance than he is with the prisoners’ quality of life. The methods the apparatus employs reinforce the extreme nature and absurdity of capital punishment in a system that does not even tell the accused of their sentence or regard their life as having any value. Ultimately unable to maintain the old Commandant’s legacy in the face of the new Commandant, the officer disrobes and sacrifices himself to the machine. However, the apparatus instantly falls apart, suggesting that the system of justice that the officer and the apparatus represent is broken and defunct.

The Apparatus Quotes in In the Penal Colony

The In the Penal Colony quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Apparatus. 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

“Enlightenment comes to the most dull-witted. It begins around the eyes. From there it radiates. A moment that might tempt one to get under the Harrow oneself. Nothing more happens than that the man begins to understand the inscription, he purses his mouth as if he were listening. You have seen how difficult it is to decipher the script with one's eyes; but our man deciphers it with his wounds.”

Related Characters: The Officer (speaker), The Explorer , The Prisoner
Related Symbols: The Apparatus
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

You are a foreigner, mind your own business. He could make no answer to that, unless he were to add that he was amazed at himself in this connection, for he traveled only as an observer, with no intention at all of altering other people's methods of administering justice. Yet here he found himself strongly tempted. The injustice of the procedure and the inhumanity of the execution were undeniable.

Related Characters: The Explorer , The Officer, The Prisoner
Related Symbols: The Apparatus
Page Number: 151
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:

[…] no sign was visible of the promised redemption; what the others had found in the machine the officer had not found; the lips were firmly pressed together, the eyes were open with the same expression as in life, the look was calm and convinced, through the forehead went the point of the great iron spike.

Related Characters: The Explorer , The Officer
Related Symbols: The Apparatus
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Apparatus Symbol Timeline in In the Penal Colony

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Apparatus appears in In the Penal Colony. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
In the Penal Colony
Power and Justice Theme Icon
Culture and Otherness Theme Icon
An officer is proudly showing an explorer a machine called the apparatus, which will be used for an execution on a penal colony situated on a tropical... (full context)
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Power and Justice Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
Culture and Otherness Theme Icon
Proudly detailing the functions of the apparatus, the officer explains that he helped with the development of the delicate machine but credit... (full context)
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
As the officer animatedly explains the various parts of the apparatus, its three different components—the Bed, the Designer, and the Harrow—the explorer becomes more interested in... (full context)
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Power and Justice Theme Icon
...been totally constructed of the prisoner’s lies. The officer switches the subject back to the apparatus, more eager to explain its function than the rule of law, as the explorer begins... (full context)
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Power and Justice Theme Icon
Culture and Otherness Theme Icon
...his explanation of the judicial system, the officer enthusiastically returns to the “essentials” of the apparatus. The guilty sentence is written on a script that is in turn written onto the... (full context)
Power and Justice Theme Icon
...“most important” part of the execution, the officer carefully reveals the guiding plans of the apparatus. So precious that only the officer himself can touch them, he lets the explorer look... (full context)
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
...leaving him surprised and naked as the soldier and the officer secure him to the apparatus. As a strap on the machine breaks, the officer complains about the lack of funds... (full context)
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Power and Justice Theme Icon
Culture and Otherness Theme Icon
...explorer is “strongly tempted” to act because of the “undeniable” cruelty and injustice of the apparatus. (full context)
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...the old Commandant when there would be “hundreds of spectators” in attendance. The silent, glittering apparatus would do its work and the people would see that it was the work of... (full context)
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Culture and Otherness Theme Icon
...argues that the current state of affairs—namely the emptiness of the valley and the decrepit apparatus—is shameful. The officer suspects that the new Commandant will use the authority and opinion of... (full context)
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Culture and Otherness Theme Icon
...resistance causes the officer to become even more fervent about the importance of preserving the apparatus. He bluntly pleads for the explorer to help him. When the explorer rebuffs saying he... (full context)
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Power and Justice Theme Icon
Culture and Otherness Theme Icon
...is “touched” by the conviction of the officer but refuses to help him maintain the apparatus and the system it represents. The officer realizes that the explorer will not change his... (full context)
Power and Justice Theme Icon
Admonishing the prisoner for being rough with the apparatus, the officer spells out his own sentence—"BE JUST!”—and shows it to the explorer. As with... (full context)
Culture and Otherness Theme Icon
The officer quickly and stoically strips naked, breaks his sword, and climbs onto the apparatus. The explorer is uncomfortable with the officer’s behavior but ultimately believes that the officer’s decision... (full context)
Power and Justice Theme Icon
Culture and Otherness Theme Icon
...to the explorer’s intervention. With grace and an adept hand, the officer turns on the apparatus and demonstrates his working understanding and intimacy with the machine. So dedicated is the officer... (full context)
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Culture and Otherness Theme Icon
Starting of its own accord, the apparatus does its work, at first silently to the explorer, who is completely entranced before noticing... (full context)
Tradition vs. Progress Theme Icon
Power and Justice Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...than “exquisite torture.” Attempting in vain to free the officer from the bonds of the apparatus, the explorer receives help reluctantly from the soldier and prisoner. As they try to save... (full context)