Franz Kafka wrote In the Penal Colony in 1914 with the original German title, In der Strafkolonie. The short story centered around themes of frustration and torture. It is notable for its unaffected tone, a narrative voice that is nearly disinterested at the highly disturbing torture occuring in the story.
The effect of the story might have been born out of Kafka's own frustration with his life, as he continually sought new professions, new endeavors and new distractions from his internal turmoil. He began a new company around the same time he wrote many of his short stories, one producing esbestos, which saved him from being drafted into the war but also left him very sick.
Other frustrations included the constant fear of women that prevented him from having a steady girlfriend or wife. His own complicated background caused problems surrounding his identity, as he was both Czech and German, and additionally, he was Jewish. In the years surrounding much of his fiction, he dabbled in Judaism, new work opportunities and even vegetarianism, never truly finding an identity he was comfortable with.
Many of his works were published against his will, yet are important to existentialism and to the craft of writing. His works conveyed an unusual tone, one surrounding the disturbing, the out-of-place, the things too difficult to look at. No doubt, In the Penal Colony fits that description and communicates a meaningful struggle to find meaning in a frustrating existence.