Study Guide

In the Penal Colony Religion

By Franz Kafka

Religion

The penal colony of "In the Penal Colony" was established by a man – "the old Commandant" – who single-handedly designed an elaborate and brutal system of justice that tied the colony together entirely under his control. Though dead by the time of the story, his rule and his justice system are revered with religious zeal by an officer who served under him. In the officer's eyes, the old Commandant becomes a god-figure, who brought perfect Justice (with a capital J) to the penal colony and who deserves its continued reverence and submission. Much of the old Commandant's system does indeed have strong resonances with religion, which has led some readers to interpret the whole story as a religious allegory.

Questions About Religion

  1. Do you think the story is a religious allegory? Why might it be one, or why not? If it is, how would you interpret the story?
  2. Is there something godlike about the old Commandant, or is everything just a product of the officer's reverence for him?
  3. What is the source of the officer's devotion to the old Commandant, and how would you evaluate it? Is it brainwashing? Madness? Based on principle? Is the officer admirable or pathetic in his dedication?
  4. What do you make of the fact that the priest would not allow the Commandant to be buried in the churchyard of the colony?

Chew on This

"In the Penal Colony" is a religious allegory, in which the old Commandant represents God and his judicial system Divine Law.

The officer's reverence for the old Commandant is a product of brainwashing. There was nothing "godlike" about the old Commandant in reality.

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