In The Penal Colony
In Franz Kafkas short story, In the Penal Colony, there are many metaphors that are related to issues of power and change. There are, in turn, many different ways in which to interpret these metaphors. Through using different techniques and tools we are able to identify what these metaphors are potentially attempting to convey.
The Old Governor in the story is representative of the obtainment of power through force. He intimidates his people through tools of said force, such as the machine. Thus preventing his people from standing up to him because they are too scared of what the potential consequences would be. When the Old Governor dies, he leaves behind only one true follower, the Officer. He is the one person who still feels compelled to oblige by the old way of life. It is evident that the officer is very stuck in the old ways of living. When the traveler says These uniforms are surely too heavy for the tropics, and the Officer replies, Of course, but they represent our homeland (54) This is a good example because we are shown directly just how stuck in the old way of life he is. The Officer is representative for the last chance or hope at bringing back the old way of life. The Officer even admits he lacks the skills to compel the majority to convert back to the old ways of life. When the Officer dies, the last chance for the return of the old ways is gone, and any power that he wielded is gone as well.
The condemned man in the story was symbolic of the Officers final realization that the old ways of living were finally gone. When the traveler tells the Officer he doesnt agree with his ways of thinking he has an epiphany that finally conveys to him that his battle has been lost. He then proceeds to let the condemned man go free, and the Officer climbs into the machine instead. The Officer realizes that there is no point in continuing the execution because there will never actually be support for the machine ever again. It plays out just as Steven Pinker said, Attempts at social reform are futile. (Standard Equipment) And just as a captain goes down with his ship, the Officer goes down with his machine. He sees that all hope is lost for the old ways of life, so he decides that theres no point in continuing his work.
The Traveler represents the perspective of a new person being introduced to this way of life in a Penal Colony. Essentially he is there because he is us, the readers, and we can relate to him because his is the same situation as ours. He is there to observe life on this Penal Colony, and specifically the New Governor wants his opinion on the Officer and his Machine. The New Governor also represents a new way of life for citizens in the Penal Colony. He is the new leader, and has the majoritys vote. He wants to know what the Traveler thinks of the Machine and the way life used to be. When the Traveler tells of his disagreement with the machine, the old way of life is finally gone. The New Governor brings in new ways of thinking, and is representative of the transformation from old to new.
This is a story with themes relating to old versus new, and the power struggle that is involved with the matter. The metaphors are necessary to convey the message that Kafka is telling. My opinion of this story is that it is saying that change is inevitable throughout life, and it is your own decision whether or not to embrace it or simply deny it. The power to do either can be swayed by many factors, like social pressure, which we saw firsthand in this story when the New Governor took over and the people of the Penal Colony simply followed him. I believe that Kafka was demonstrating a show of change in society and the power that influences it.