Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Kafka’s allegory does not establish a strict, point-for-point parallelism between its literal and abstract levels of meaning, as do Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590, 1599) and John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678, 1684). The Old Order does not pointedly correspond to the Hebrews’ Old Testament era or the strictures of John Calvin’s Christianity. The deadly purpose of the old regime’s machine violates the Sixth Commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” Nor does the Old Order’s ethic confirm a reciprocal covenant between God and humankind, as the Judeo-Christian Scriptures do.

Still, the Old Order does symbolize all religions that base their authority on transcendent rites and absolute decrees. The machine’s Bed is an altar on which humans are sacrificed to appease the wrathful majesty of a Moloch-like Law. Its creator clearly corresponds to a Lord of Hosts, and the labyrinthine script that guides the machine’s operation stands, not necessarily for the Hebrew Torah recording Judaism’s laws and learning, but for Scripture in general. When the explorer, unable to read the script, describes it as sehr kunstroll—that is, “highly artistic”—he defines himself as a representative modern man who can admire the Bible as literature but refuses to accept it as dogma.

Kafka’s style is realistic in its Swiftian accumulation of plausible detail, stressing a sober sense of documentary...

(The entire section is 416 words.)

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

World War I Gives Rise to Expressionism
The psychological discord evident in Kafka's writing was influenced in part by the chaos...

(The entire section is 492 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

The island colony is supervised by uniformed soldiers of various ranks. Although their heavy, ornate uniforms are...

(The entire section is 705 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1914: World War I begins in eastern Europe with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, members of the ruling family of...

(The entire section is 215 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

In literature, irony refers to an instance of something happening that is the opposite of what is expected. How is the official's death an...

(The entire section is 121 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

The Trial, the novel Kafka was working on in the same year that "In the Penal Colony" was written, concerns a man, Josef K., who is...

(The entire section is 188 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Bloom, Harold, editor Gershom Scholem, Chelsea House, 1987, p. 240.

Brod, Max, editor, The Diaries...

(The entire section is 258 words.)