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310Language in "In the Penal Colony"

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  • Richard Stock
    Aug 5, 2009
      Hi there,

      Maybe this is an obvious question, or has been answered many times before. Sorry if that's the case, but...

      Before the officer kills himself in "In the Penal Colony", it is clearly narrated that the officer and the explorer speak French to each other, and neither the condemned man nor the soldier understand French. After the officer kills himself, though, the soldier speaks to the explorer, and they apparently understand each other, and there is a hint that the condemned man understands, too.

      What language are they speaking here? We'd assume the explorer doesn't understand the local language, and it's hard to imagine another possible common language other than French that the explorer and the other two might share. Does anyone have a solution to this? I think it's important to the basic narration of the story, but also to thinking about themes of language, writing, and reading in this story.

      Rick Stock
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