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“In The Penal Colony”: A Religious Synthesis

1313 words - 6 pages

Many interpretations have been given to Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony”. However, it seems the when evoking the parallel assertion between “In the Penal Colony” and religion critics tend to reject this thought. Doreen F. Fowler, states in “In the Penal Colony: Kafka’s Unorthodox Theology”, that the reason for such critical rejection is, “A coherent interpretation of the biblical symbols in the story, in which all parallels function meaningfully, presents an unorthodox and uniquely personal vision of traditional theology”(113). Kafka’s inversion of traditional theology is evident and, although clearly unorthodox an analysis that discards the possibility of biblical symbols in “In the Penal ...view middle of the document...

In order to understand the similarities between the old commandment of the penal colony and the Hebraic tradition of the “old law”, Fowler mention ‘s the description given by Mathew Arnold in his essay, “Hebraism and Hellenism”. The Hebraic conception Arnold gives to us in his essay allows the understanding of the analogies between the old commandment and the “Old law”. Arnold’s description of the Hebraic conception of man is that the human existence is characterized by guilt and sinfulness, analogous to the basic and guiding principle of the old commandment “ .The Hebraic conception of man described by Arnold allows Fowler to affirm that, “the Hebrew tradition’s emphasis on guilt and suffering is fundamentally analogous to the old orders ‘s conception of man and subsequent prescription for punishment “(Fowler115). The analogy between the Old Testament and the old commandment is recognized, they both represent an inherent guilt that is only attainable with the suffering of the condemned individual immediately making it impossible to discard the biblical symbolism of the Old commandment.

The old commandment is unarguably parallel to the Old Testament; furthermore the new commandment is also correspondent to a biblical interpretation. The new commandment however, bears congruent similarities to the applied judicial process of the old commandment. As the officer mentions to the traveler in “In the Penal Colony”, ““This apparatus”, he said, grasping a connecting rod and leaning against it “, is our previous commandment’s invention. I also worked with him on the very first tests and took part in all the work right up to its completion. However, the credit for the invention belongs to him alone. Have you heard of our previous commandment? No? Well, I’m not claiming too much when I say that the organization of the entire colony is his work. We his friends already knew at the time of his death that the administration of the colony was so self-contained that even if his successor had a thousand new plans in mind, he would not be able to alter anything of the old plan”(Kafka4). The doctrine applied in the old commandment was tremendously hard to abolish due the self-contained doctrines imposed in the old commandment, and it is the “apparatus” it self the evidence that the new commandment follows the old commandments regimen. Nevertheless the new commandment is parallel to the New Testament which is “mild, is opposed to torture as a means to human salvation, and does not stress human guilt and sinfulness”(Fowler116), analogous to the new commandment described in “In the Penal Colony”, an order which is more mild and approved by woman therefore far more gentle and loving evoking Christ’s new law of love found in the New Testament. This evidence permits Fowler to affirm that, just as the new law of the Christian tradition follows the harsher, old law of the Hebraic tradition, so also in “In the Penal Colony” order follows a...

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