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The short story, The Penal Colony, demonstrates various literary elements within the text. The three that I’ll be focusing on to explain in further detail includes the theme, the characters and imagery & symbolism. Although The Penal Colony was written in the third person, the story closely followed the explorer and his take on the foreign colony, specifically their way of executing those who are deemed guilty of some crime and their judicial system. The traveller found their executing practices and apparatus to be unjust and inhumane as a whole, but felt too uncomfortable voicing his concerns because “He was neither a citizen of the penal colony nor a citizen of the state to which it belonged.” He believed people would find him impolite and disrespectful by judging their judicial system, and so kept quiet about his disapproval until near the end.
This demonstrates the explorers overall passiveness and furthermore his selfishness. He knew what was being done wasn’t just or humane, yet went against his good conscience and suppressed his disapproval until he was formally asked. This shows he was more concerned in saving his reputation and not coming off as ‘impolite’ than he was in doing the right thing from the start. His acceptance from the natives of the penal colony was more important to him then his own beliefs and morality. Furthermore, the Traveller came off as relatively emotionless throughout the story. After hearing the gruesome and gory details of how the executing apparatus tortured and killed the guilty individuals, he was never more than just dissatisfied or slightly uncomfortable. This is shown when the New Commandment was explaining how the ‘Harrow,’ the apparatus used to execute the guilty worked, the only emotion that the Traveller demonstrated after hearing about the gruesome harrow was when he “looked at the Harrow with a wrinkled frown. The information about the judicial procedures had not satisfied him.” The only time he demonstrated actual emotion was when the machine malfunctioned resulting in an absolute bloodbath and the death of the official. But even then, he remained calm and composed until the very end where he frantically tried to help save the officer, but by then it was too late.
The second form of literary devices I noticed within the course of the Penal Colony was the symbolism behind the character known as The Old Commandment. The Old Commandment symbolized a religious superior or a God in many ways, such as the fact that his beliefs are what shaped the colonies judicial system and ways of life. The citizens abided by these beliefs and respected them since the colony had a specific system that took care of those who could not, which was by execution. The apparatus used to do this to those individuals founded guilty was more or less a tool for the officials who governed the colony to help keep order within the colony and to ensure all individuals were abiding by the rules. Therefore, the Old Commandment and a God share the same principles in a sense where they are both responsible for the history of the colony, as well as rules and regulations within it. Much like how God is believed to be the creator of Earth, the Old Commandment was the creator of the the colony. Another reason why the Old Commandment seemed to symbolize a God was because of the way everyone had a high degree of respect and trust for him; similar to how people in modern society would have for their god. For example, when the New Commandment said “ When the Old Commandant was alive, the colony was full of his supporters. I have something of the Old Commandant’s persuasiveness, but I completely lack his power”(10). This further proves that he had many followers who adhered to his beliefs and practices, while also holding a lot of power.
The last literary element that was distinctive within The Penal Colony was the theme behind it all, which as the New Commandment put it, “ Guilt is never to be doubted.” () The system behind the executions of the condemned was that they at no point
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