What exactly is humanity? It is a word meaning benevolence or kindness. It is not a term that should be associated with violence or torture. So how do the civil servants from the Empire turn humanity into something so disturbing and graphic? For going against the empire’s standards of “humanity,” those who have disobeyed suffer even more horrific things than what they have done in the first place. This is clear when Mandel first begins to torture the Magistrate. His actions leave the reader wondering how far is too far.
After the Magistrate is told that he is not One Just Man, but a clown by Colonel Joll, the Magistrate is punished for his crime against humanity: supporting/defending the barbarians and having a supposed allegiance with them. As the Magistrate narrates this section of the novel, he keeps saying that Mandel is teaching him humanity. On the third day of his torture, he says, “They came to my cell to show me the meaning of humanity, and in the space of an hour, they showed me a great deal” (115). So the meaning of humanity, of the goodness of the human race, is violence? The Magistrate says it again when describing Mandel, “When the mood takes him he comes and gives me a lesson in humanity” (116). Mandel’s perception of humanity is to punish all the traitors of the state. But the way he is punishing the traitors is hypocritical to his own beliefs. How can you teach someone humanity through inhumane actions?
Even the way the audience reacts to the “teaching of humanity,” demonstrates the inhumane nature of their society. As Mandel tortures the Magistrate, “The soldiers leaves their siesta and watch from the shade, the scullery maids hang over the kitchen door, children stare through the bars of the gate” (116). There’s something so unsettling about little children watching this happen. Mandel even makes the Magistrate perform tricks alongside the innocence of the cook’s grandson, to the point where the boy does not see anything wrong with what they are doing to him. The little boy simply smiles as the magistrate undergoes humiliating pain. The Magistrate notes later how the nature of the Empire has turned ugly, “Who would not flock to see the entertainment? What is it I object to in these spectacles of abasement and suffering and death that our new regime puts back on our lack of decorum?” (120). The people come to see these spectacles because they have nothing better to do. They, too, have lost their true sense of humanity.
The only person who keeps his humanity is the man that is forced to hang from a tree flying amongst a laughing and well-amused audience. The magistrate wants to live a life that he can be proud of. He has been protecting the idea of humanity since the beginning of the novel. Yet, he is the only man that is punished because his idea of humanity is misconstrued as being inhumane.