“In The Penal Colony:
This is a story about an old fashioned penal colony that believes in torture. It is a system that is slowly being phased out by the new commissioner, but a visitor comes from outside the country to see the machinery. It is a machine that places the criminal on a bed, has a needle come down and tattoo or scar the person with the name of his crime all over his body. The body starts bleeding and the needle keeps running over the same parts of skin for hours and hours until the person dies. The officer in charge of the machine is very proud of it and is worried about the new commissioner getting rid of it. He shows it to the visitor with pride, but then discovers that the visitor doesn't approve. So, he releases the criminal waiting to be tortured and places himself in the machine instead. But as he's under the needle, the machine begins to fall apart and the torture is just awful.
The story ends with the soldier and the original condemned man taking the traveler to a tea house in town where the original commissioner, the one who introduced the machine, was buried, with a tiny gravestone. People who believed in him now deserted him because he wasn't popular. The traveler runs away, the soldier and condemned man try to follow with him, but the traveler gets on a boat and leaves them in the penal colony.
This is a story about the law and the extent people go to protect it even in the face of torture, murder, etc. But the traveler is also a problem. While living outside the law, outside the penal colony, he quickly implicates himself in the law and then leaves without taking responsibility. The issues of this story are how much can humans interact with the steadfast law? How much are its "hands" involved--and hands are important in this story.
This is a story about a man who has a friend who lives in St. Petersburg, who left their childhood home because he's depressed. They correspond via mail, but the man doesn't want to depress him so he doesn't tell him about the good things going on in his life--his engagement to be married, his success in business. The man lives with his father who is beginning to ail. Before he sends the letter finally telling the friend about his engagement, he comes to his father and asks his permission to send it. The father shouts, you're a liar, do you even have this friend? The man just becomes more loving to his father, worries about him. The father then says that the friend is his ally, accuses his son of betraying him, of wanting his downfall, of stealing his business. The father says that he has been writing to the friend, the friend knows everything and that he hasn't come to visit the man because he knows the real story, how terrible the man is to his father. The father screams: "I now sentence you to death by drowning." Georg runs out of the house and kills himself in the river, saying, "Dear parents, I really always loved you."