Darkness at Noon Themes

Arthur Koestler

Darkness at Noon

  • 40-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 30 chapter summaries and 6 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a college English professor with 20 years of experience
Access Full Summary

Darkness at Noon Themes

Power and Suffering: Who has the right to kill and for what reasons? 

The book’s epigraphs—one by Machiavelli and one by Dostoevsky—establish the central theme of the book, which is an exploration of the relationship between power and moral decency.  The Machiavelli excerpt, from Discorsi, explains the necessity of killing off one’s predecessor, as well as the descendants of one’s predecessor, if one is to remain in power.  The brutal and Machiavellian logic of power is juxtaposed with the call to moral decency implied by the Dostoevsky excerpt, from Crime and Punishment, which asserts that “one cannot live quite without pity.” Rubashov’s attempt to reconcile his responsibility to carry out the goals of a bloody revolution he helped engender—a responsibility that seems to require strict adherence to Machiavellian principles—with his individual moral responsibility to the people the revolution was meant to help is what drives the book as a whole.

Related to this theme is the question of the “meaning of suffering” (259).  In the last hours of his life, Rubashov finds he wants to explore “the difference between suffering which made sense and senseless suffering” (259).  This question of suffering and what it is for underlies the larger question of the relationship between power and decency, particularly in relation to state-sanctioned imprisonment, torture, and murder.  What ends are worth the cost of human suffering, and how much suffering is necessary?

Human Suffering: What kind of suffering is morally acceptable? 

Related to the theme of power and morality is the question of “the meaning of suffering” (259).  In the last hours of his life, Rubashov finds he wants to explore “the difference between suffering which made sense and senseless suffering” (259).  This question of suffering and what it is for underlies the larger question of the relationship between power and decency, particularly in the case of state-sanctioned imprisonment, torture, and murder that are justified by the morality of “consequent logic.”  What ends are worth the cost of human suffering, and how much suffering is morally acceptable?  Is it okay to sacrifice many in service to the greater good?  If so, how is the…

This is just a preview. The entire section has 668 words. Click below to download the full study guide for Darkness at Noon.