In the Penal Colony
by Franz Kafka
In the Penal Colony Religion Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Paragraph). We used Willa and Edwin Muir's translation.
[The officer:] "Have you ever heard of our former Commandant? No? Well, it isn't saying too much if I tell you that the organization of the penal colony is his work. We who were his friends knew even before he died that the organization of the colony was so perfect that his successor, even with a thousand new schemes in his head, would find it impossible to alter anything, at least for many years to come. And our prophecy has come true; the new Commandant has had to acknowledge its truth." (3)
This is when the officer first introduces the old Commandant. The reverence in his tone is obvious, and he seems to ascribe something almost superhuman to him. Not only is the colony created entirely by him, it's perfect – like an actual divine creation. Nothing about it could be done better. Also interesting he uses the word "prophecy" – which reappears on the Commandant's headstone.
[The explorer:] "Did he combine everything in himself, then? Was he soldier, judge, mechanic, chemist, and draughtsman?"
"Indeed he was," said the officer, nodding assent, with a remote, glassy look. (10-11)
You could read this passage as again making something almost godlike out of the old Commandant. He was capable of doing everything. It's a bit hard to know what to make of the officer's "remote, glassy look." Is it reverence? Nostalgia?
[The officer:] "Have I not tried for hours at a time to get the Commandant to understand that the prisoner must fast for a whole day before the execution. But our new, mild doctrine thinks otherwise." (20)
"Fasting" has religious overtones, and fasting before an execution adds an extra element of ritual to it. The killing of the prisoner starts to sound like a ritual sacrifice. Note also the disapproval the officer voices about "mildness." It's clear he finds something important in the hardness of suffering.