Franz Kafka wrote the novella-length story ''In the Penal Colony" while he was writing his novel The Trial in 1914, and it was first published in 1919. The story of an explorer's tour of an island known for its unusual capital punishment machine, "In the Penal Colony'' took just two weeks to complete, although Kafka was dissatisfied with the ending and rewrote it several times in later years. Since the story's publication in English translation in 1948, it has come to be seen, along with The Metamorphosis, as one of Kafka's most significant shorter works. Critical responses to the story have largely been concerned with interpreting its allegorical aspects, and with placing such interpretations in the context of Kafka's other writings and of certain biographical issues, such as his relationship with his father. There has been no agreement on the allegory it presents, and recent criticism has come to accept this fact. There is agreement, however, that the story's theme is religious, and that it is a story which sets out to examine a shift in the relationship between human existence and divine law. Accordingly, Kafka's Jewish heritage, and in particular the Jewish traditions of the parable and kabala, have been considered important issues in interpreting the story. Kafka's detached narrative style—in which character description is minimal and the author's presence unobtrusive—is one of the admired qualities of this story, and it is a strong factor in its haunting effect. "In the Penal Colony" is considered by many critics to be an allegory comparing the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, with the officer's willing sacrifice serving as an analogy to Jesus Christ's suffering and death. Others have viewed the story as prophetic of the Nazi death camps of World War II.
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