In the Penal Colony
by Franz Kafka
In the Penal Colony Foreignness and 'The Other' Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Paragraph). We used Willa and Edwin Muir's translation.
[The officer:] "I can see him, our good Commandant, pushing his chair away immediately and rushing onto the balcony, I can see his ladies streaming out after him, I can hear his voice – the ladies call it a voice of thunder – well, and this is what he says: 'A famous Western investigator, sent out to study criminal procedure in all the countries of the world, has just said that our old tradition of administering justice is inhumane. Such a verdict from such a personality makes it impossible for me to countenance these methods any longer.'" (25)
This is where we learn that the explorer is actually engaged in a far-reaching effort to observe other justice systems. It also makes clear that his prestige stems from the fact that he's from "the West," which has more enlightened, more modern, standards of justice and humaneness. The new Commandant hopes to use that to attack the old traditions of the colony.
If the judicial procedure which the officer cherished were really so near its end – possibly as a result of his own intervention, as to which he felt himself pledged – then the officer was doing the right thing; in his place the explorer would not have acted otherwise. (42)
The explorer admires the depth of the officer's dedication to his tradition, even if he finds the tradition barbaric. Does that mean he's started to become convinced by it, or does the explorer just admire any person who clings strongly to their beliefs? This passage leaves open the question of whether the explorer feels himself guilty in some way for destroying the officer's tradition, or whether he does not.
"It's a foreigner," ran the whisper around him, "he wants to see the grave." (43)
The explorer is identified by the other people of the colony as a foreigner when he goes to see the commandant's grave. It seems as if they want to show him that they themselves find their own former tradition and past ridiculous, and want him to support them in that.