Die Heuning Pot Literature Guide
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Analysis

Literary Devices in In the Penal Colony

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

A lot of readers are tempted to look at the penal colony itself as an allegory for something. What's an allegory? Think of it as a story in which the parts of the story (characters, objects, events...

Setting

The larger setting of the story is very ill defined. We're in a penal colony somewhere "in the tropics," and that's about all we know. We don't know much of what the colony itself looks like –...

Narrator Point of View

The narration in the story is third person, but definitely centered on, and in, the explorer. The explorer's thoughts and feelings are described by the narrator, while the other characters are desc...

Genre

Kafka's a Modernist with a capital M. It has many of the themes of Modernism – whether you see it as an allegory of "modern bureaucracy," or totalitarianism, or a story of Tradition (the offi...

Tone

The narrator of the story is not the emotional type. Rather, he's pretty removed and uninvolved from what is going on, just telling it as "objectively" as possible (we'll call the narrator a "he,"...

Writing Style

Kafka's writing style comes across simple and deceptively self-effacing – you don't notice it very much. He doesn't use many large words, or many adjectives or adverbs, and his sentences don'...

What's Up With the Title?

Umm, the story's set in a penal colony…OK, we knew you wouldn't let us get away that easy. Although "In the Penal Colony" is set in a penal colony, you can ask some questions that make the ti...

What's Up With the Ending?

So, you could actually think of "In the Penal Colony" as having two endings, and both of them definitely pose a lot of questions. First, there's the ghoulishly gruesome ending of the main narrative...

Plot Analysis

An explorer comes to visit a penal colony, and plans to watch an execution.We meet all of the characters on the outskirts of the penal colony, where the officer is preparing the apparatus for the e...

Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis: Voyage and Return or Tragedy

Depending on whether you see the explorer or the officer as the protagonist, you could read this as either Voyage and Return (explorer as protagonist) or a Tragedy (officer as protagonist). Let's s...

Three Act Plot Analysis

We meet the four characters on the outskirts of the penal colony, preparing for the execution of the condemned man. The officer gives the background on the machine, and manages to catch the explore...

Trivia

"In the Penal Colony" may have been inspired by early reports of horrors in World War I, which had started the year Kafka began the story. In particular, he heard a nightmarish account from his bro...

Steaminess Rating

On the surface, the story has nothing to do with sex, though it's got enough in the gruesome violence department to get it at least an "R" rating for other reasons. On the other hand, many people t...
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