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In the Penal Colony by Franz Kafka (Summary) – Minute Book Report


This is a story about a Traveler from the
West who visits an island in a Penal Colony to observe the local culture. The Traveler
is invited to watch an execution of a Condemned Man, which is hosted by an Officer and a Soldier. As the Condemned man waits to die, the Officer
prepares the execution apparatus and begins explaining to the Traveler how the machine
works: the condemned individual lies down on a wool bed and sharp needles slowly cut
through body over the course of twelve hours. The Officer also explains the Penal Colony’s
judicial process, whereby he is solely allowed to determine the guilt of an individual without
a jury. However, as a new Commandant has replaced the Old Commandant, the Officer receives criticism
of his methods and there is question as to whether execution by one man is the best method. The Condemned Man set to die is convicted
of not listening to a superior officer and so will be put to death. The Condemned Man
is strapped into the machine and it begins to start the slow execution process. As the Officer continues to explain the process
of execution, the Traveler begins to sense that the process is unjust, but feels that
it is not for him to say. However, the Officer senses the Traveler’s resistance against
his methods and asks him to help him in convincing the current Commandant that this process is
necessary. The Traveler refuses. Suddenly, the Officer stops the machine and
tells the Condemned Man that he is free to go. The Condemned Man is elated, celebrating
that he has escaped death. The Officer strips down and places himself
in the machine. The machine starts up, but it begins to malfunction. The gears in the
machine are broken and the needles puncture his body. He dies quickly. The Soldier and Condemned Man take the Traveler
back to town. They visit a tea house and show the Traveler a small grave dedicated to the
Old Commandant. In the end, the Soldier and Condemned Man
escape detainment by the people in the tea house and as the Traveler leaves the island,
he refuses to let them on his boat.

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