One of the predominant themes in the writings of Fyodor Dostoevsky is the relationships among guilt, redemption and suffering in the human soul. Both The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment revolve around the interplay of those three concepts. Franz Kafka spent a great deal of time reading Dostoevsky, as well as Schopenhauer, who asserted in Parerga und Paralipomena that one possible paradigm for looking at the world involves the concept of a penal colony. From these two sources of inspiration, Kafka developed the story “In the Penal Colony.” The Explorer, in this story, is neutral, concerned, but ultimately modern.

From the beginning, the Explorer is neutral, as he is on a tour to learn about customs in other lands. The New Commandant has invited the Explorer to see an execution, and despite any moral qualms he might have about the proceedings, he realizes that, ultimately, he is a guest to the situation and thus should remain neutral.

However, the Explorer quickly becomes concerned about the execution, because of the injustice and inhumanity involved. This quickly erodes his neutrality, because the fact that he is so offended by the apparatus spurs him to action. Indeed, for him to be a credible member of a democratic society, he must object to the way that the apparatus operates.

Unfortunately, the Explorer is ultimately a creature of the modern world. While the New Commandant is indeed in charge of the apparatus that tortures those who fall within its grasp, he is more focused on the material matters around him, such as the construction of a harbor. The Explorer, similarly, is distracted by matters of this sort of significance and ends up forgetting some of his outrage about the situation.

Ultimately, the Explorer brings the horror of the apparatus to our attention, but as with many of the ostensible protests in modern times, he does not take the next step to make a call to action for change. That duty is left to the reader.