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 explorer thought to himself: It's always a ticklish matter to intervene decisively in other people's affairs. He was neither a member of the penal colony nor a citizen of the state to which it belonged. Were he to denounce this execution or actually try to stop it, they could say to him: 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. (19)
The explorer is quite aware of his status as a foreigner, and feels it commits him to not interfering in other people's affairs. He's just there to watch. He would say he has no "right" to intervene, since he's not a member of the community he's watching (that's in fact exactly what he'll say when the officer decides to put himself into the machine). This makes him sound very much like an anthropologist.
Yet here he found himself strongly tempted. The injustice of the procedure and the inhumanity of the execution of the procedure were undeniable. No one could suppose that he had any selfish interest in the matter, for the condemned man was a complete stranger, not a fellow countryman or even at all sympathetic to him. (19)
This particular situation challenges the explorer's willingness to show "tolerance." One wonders if this is the first time. Notice that he justifies his temptation to intervene as a matter of principle, not because he feels any sympathy for the condemned man. He says he does not. Rather, the colony's judicial procedure disagrees with his own understanding of what is right.
[The officer:] "Although he is powerful enough to take measures against me, he doesn't dare to do it yet, but he certainly means to use your verdict against me, the verdict of an illustrious foreigner." (25)
Even without the explorer himself taking any action, his mere presence in the colony puts him in the middle of a struggle between the new Commandant and the officer. Both assign him a special prestige as a foreigner, and want to use it to justify their own positions in the colony.