Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“An Official Position” is about the inescapability of justice. Louis Remire, though a common criminal like the rest of the inmates of Saint Laurent de Maroni, has set himself above his fellow prisoners and above the law. He considers the rest of the prison community lawless rabble, and has nothing but contempt for them. He takes excessive and almost fetishistic pride in the guillotine that he uses to bring them to justice, and feels unnaturally contented after a successful execution. Since coming to the penal colony, he has disdained his own kind and fawned over the authorities, and his sycophancy has, he thinks, paid off. Louis Remire is complacently—and prematurely—counting his blessings as the story opens.

Though he considers himself an agent of justice, however, a sort of police officer on special assignment, Louis Remire is really nothing more than a common criminal himself. He has in a fit of passion killed a woman whose grievances against him were fully justified; worse, he has never felt the slightest twinge of guilt over his crime. Through a complex process of rationalization, Louis Remire has come to accept and even revel in the way his life has turned out. However, the story insists that justice will prevail, no matter how circuitous its methods. Louis Remire is in the end punished not only for murder but also for pride, and it is fitting that one of his fellow prisoners has the last word on the case of Louis Remire, declaring that finally, with the executioner’s execution, justice has been done.