In the Penal Colony

Essay by vkatwa1A+, October 2004

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In the Penal Colony

"In the Penal Colony" is told from the perspective of an explorer who, much like the reader, is a stranger of the penal colony, Western educated and moderate. He has come to figure out the usefulness of this machine, a device of punishment, torture, and execution. Of course, the explorer is totally against the whole thing from the start.

Furthermore, a large portion of the novel, deals with the officer describing to the explorer, in detail, the specific functions of the machine. A system of needles slowly engraves the punishment on the body of the condemned man. The needles cut deeper and deeper, until finally after twelve hours, the victim is stabbed through the head, killing him instantly. What made the torture so effective was how the people could watch the makeover take place on the victim's face, as he realized the message that he is being cut into his body.

The officer recalls, "How we all drank in the transfigured look on the tortured face, how we bathed our cheeks in the glow of this justice, finally achieved and soon fading." This explanation was the understanding of justice for what the machine's purpose was to remove from the guilty man. It was made into a show for all the people in the penal colony to see, so that nobody else would ever dare question the law again!

However, the narrative raises a great number of issues about the significance of punishment. The concern does not seem to be so much with the crime itself or the difference between right and wrong. There is no question of fairness, and no trial. What is important in this story, are the methods and impacts of justice. Nevertheless, justice and punishment exist in our society to...