In the Penal Colony
by Franz Kafka
In the Penal Colony Justice and Judgment Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Paragraph). We used Willa and Edwin Muir's translation.
[The officer:] "Many did not care to watch it but lay with closed eyes in the sand; they all knew: Now Justice is being done." (22)
The officer affirms that, in the torture and execution of the prisoner, the whole community of the penal colony knew that what was being done was just. Part of what the officer seems to admire so much is that the whole community could know it, and know it with certainty. But how do they know, given that the procedure itself seems so unjust?
[The officer:] "How we all absorbed the look of transfiguration on the face of that sufferer, how we bathed our cheeks in the radiance of that justice, achieved at last, and fading so quickly!" (22)
The officer thinks "justice" is only done when the prisoner achieves that kind of transfiguration. What is that transfiguration, anyway? It does seem clear that the officer believes "justice" is only done when a certain change is brought about in the prisoner, when the prisoner recognizes his crime (literally through his body). It's as if the "justice" is actually the state of the prisoner, which is why the officer can say it "fades so quickly." Justice is only done so long as the prisoner is in that state of transfiguration.
"'BE JUST' is what is written there," he [the Officer] said, "surely you can read it now." (38)
The officer has given himself the sentence "BE JUST!" As we know, the sentence written on the victim's body is what they're supposed to have violated. Does this mean that the author is admitting to having not been just? If so, how can he expect to remedy that by putting himself under the machine which embodies the justice system that he's followed to so vehemently?