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In the Penal Colony

In the Penal Colony

by Franz Kafka

Justice and Judgment Theme

"In the Penal Colony" revolves around the rather, um, unique system of justice and punishment used in the place where it is set. The judicial system of this penal colony is based on the idea that, as one character says, "Guilt is never to be doubted." The accused are never tried nor given an opportunity to defend themselves. Instead, they are simply put to death at the order of the judge in an elaborate and apparently brutal fashion. The explorer visiting the colony finds the execution procedure unjust and inhumane to the extreme, but the officer who defends it reveres it as the highest kind of justice. How could it be seen as just?

Questions About Justice and Judgment

  1. What does the officer mean by saying that "Guilt is never to be doubted?" Would he believe that anyone accused by someone else is automatically guilty? What does it mean to be guilty according to the officer?
  2. What is it the explorer finds unjust about the penal colony's justice system? Can you describe his own view of what justice is?
  3. Why does the officer believe the penal colony's system is perfectly just? What defines justice according to the officer? How do you know?
  4. When the officer sentences himself with "BE JUST!" does this mean he believes he has been unjust?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The officer believes "guilt is never to be doubted" because he believes all human beings are guilty.

The officer regards the colony's justice system as perfect because it allows no disagreement among people about what is just and unjust.

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