Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.
Should "In the Penal Colony" be read allegorically? (See more possible allegorical readings in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory"). Why or why not? What in the text might lead you to think it should be?
What causes the apparatus to fall apart? Is it lack of maintenance? Is the officer's sentence impossible? Are there other reasons that come to mind?
Do you think the soldiers in the penal colony come from any particular society, or specific kind of society?
Do you look at the officer as a hero, a victim, a villain, or a joke? Or some combination of any of these?
Are you meant to identify more with the explorer or the officer? What makes you think so?
What do you think it is that the explorer finds so troubling about his experience in the penal colony? Why does he feel the need to leave when he does? Or do you see reason to believe that he is not in fact troubled at the end?
Does the explorer learn something from his experience in the penal colony? What would it be?
Do you find anything sympathetic or worthy in the form of justice defended by the officer? Is there something it possesses that the explorer and his "modern" worldview lack? Where do you think the author stands?
Would you read the story differently if the condemned man were a more sympathetic character? How about if he were a woman? A child?