A criticism of colonialism that one can identify in Franz Kafka’s short story “In the Penal Colony” relates to dehumanization. Think about the names of the characters—none of them have actual names. There’s the Traveler, the Officer, the Condemned Man, and the Soldier. Not one of them has a specific name like Greg or Sam. It’s as if Kafka is saying colonialism removes a person from their particular identity and reduces them to a function or a duty. Within colonialism, a person isn’t an independent being but a cog in the wheel.
As for the punitive apparatus itself, Kafka’s presentation of the device arguably counts as a criticism of colonialism. The object at the center of the story does not run smoothly. The Officer warns the Traveler that the machine might break down. He also explains to the Traveler that some parts are “excessively worn.” If the apparatus is a symbol of colonialism, perhaps Kafka is suggesting that colonialism shouldn’t be considered a stable or strong form of foreign policy.
For a third criticism of colonialism, consider the story’s end. Think about how colonialism, ultimately, treats the colonized and the colonizers as disposable. Alternately, it’s possible to see a critique of colonialism in the Traveler and his refusal to let the Soldier or the Condemned Man join him in his boat.