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Abstract

Franz Kafka's short story In the Penal Colony begins with an officer touting the elegant design of an Apparatus used to punish and execute prisoners on a colonized island. From the outset, we learn that this officer is "quite familiar" with the device.' His zeal in describing it to the explorer, who has been asked to observe and critique the efficacy of its continued use as a disciplinary tool, is part private obsession with its unique mode of torture and part desperation to save it from being annulled by the current Commandant of the colony. Indeed, the Apparatus appears to be on the brink of desuetude. The officer recognizes that he is its sole advocate and that all former adherents have "skulked out of sight."

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