In the Penal Colony Questions and Answers
by Franz Kafka

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How are the first and last pages of "In the Penal Colony" related?

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Neither at the beginning of the story nor at the end does the Traveler take a moral stand concerning the inhumanity of the machine. He is an observer. At one moment he intervenes, but not in an effectual way.  He does seem to have any empathy for the prisoner. At the end of the story, he appears unchanged by what he witnessed. In addition, he remains completely nonplussed by the grave and its engraving (which parallels the “engraving” done by the apparatus on the prisoners). Just as the Traveler  did nothing to help the prisoner at the beginning, so he does nothing to help him at the end. Instead, “picked up a heavy knotted rope from the boat bottom, threatened them with it, and thus prevented them from jumping in.”

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