Darkness at Noon Symbols and Motifs

Arthur Koestler

Darkness at Noon

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Darkness at Noon Symbols and Motifs


Motifs relating to vision are everywhere in this novel, with many references to eyes, to judas-holes or spy-holes, and to Rubashov’s pince-nez.  The judas-hole represents the disembodied eye of surveillance or silent witness, but other references to eyes are attached to particular bodies—from Gletkin’s “expressionless” eyes to Rubashov’s painful, watering eyes when faced with the bright light of Gletkin’s interrogation room.  References Rubashov’s pince-nez are ubiquitous: he is often rubbing the pince-nez on his sleeve in a literal and symbolic attempt to see more clearly.  He also uses it to tap out messages to the prisoners in the cells next to his own.  On his way to execution, his pince-nez fall from his face and shatter on the floor, foreshadowing the impending blindness of death.

Motifs of vision also include references to light and dark, beginning with the phrase that constitutes the title of the book, “darkness at noon,” which suggests, among other things,an inability to see clearly even at the brightest time of day.  There are many references to the artificial electric light that burns at all hours in the corridor outside Rubashov’s cell and many references to the quality of natural light he sees through his window.  Perhaps the most memorable, though, is the blinding light of interrogation, where Rubashov’s literal blindness paves the way to a clearer and brutally honest view of his own complicity in causing the suffering of many.


Ivanov provides the clearest Christian allegory in the book, sarcastically proposing to write a “Passion play in which God and the Devil dispute for the soul of Saint Rubashov” 152).  In Ivanov’s formulation, the Devil is the “fanatical” proponent of logic, while God takes the side of “industrial liberalism” (152).  Ivanov’s proposed drama also clarifies his oath, “the devil take you,” which he says repeatedly to Rubashov, whom he wants to bring back to the side of pure reason.  This allegory also resonates with Rubashov’s reading of Faust as he waits in the art gallery to meet with RichardFaust’s story is that of a man who sells his soul to the Devil for intellectual knowledge;a story which…

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