Arthur Koestler

Darkness at Noon

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  • Features 30 chapter summaries and 6 sections of expert analysis
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Darkness at Noon Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature.  This 40-page guide for “Darkness at Noon” by Arthur Koestler includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 4 parts and 30 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Power and Suffering: Who has the right to kill and for what reasons? and Human Suffering: What kind of suffering is morally acceptable?.

Plot Summary

Darkness at Noon is Arthur Koestler’s fictional exploration of the socialist states that emerged midway through the twentieth century. In particular, it asks how a movement whose original purpose was to improve the conditions of “the masses” could instead end up terrorizing its own people, including its founders.  The novel follows one of these founders, Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov, through the last month of his life, which he spends in prison and then on trial until he is finally executed at the end of the book.  Though the book is set entirely within the walls of Rubashov’s prison, through his conversations with his examiners and his own day-dreams and memories, , we have glimpses into Rubashov’s life previous to this final month that help to account for his current situation and state of mind.

Part One, “The First Hearing,” chronicles Rubashov’s arrest and first week in prison.  Through his flashbacks and conversations with Ivanov, Rubashov’s old friend and first examiner, we are introduced to Vassilij, the porter in Rubashov’s apartment building who returns to the story in Part Four. We also learn the details surrounding Rubashov’s involvement with the expulsion of two Party members, Richard in Germany and Little Loewy in Belgium.  The fates of these two men, one presumably dead and the other a confirmed suicide, weigh heavily on Rubashov’s conscience and are the underlying motivation for his opposition to Party politics. 

Part Two, “The Second Hearing,” consists of three major elements: Rubashov’s memory of Arlova, the lover he betrayed and who was executed as a result; the death march of his old friend Bogrov, who is dragged past Rubashov’s cell door whimpering and moaning Rubashov’s name; and Rubashov’s lengthy examination by Ivanov, whose ultimate goal is to convince Rubashov, through philosophical discussion, to reestablish and declare his sincere allegiance to the Party.  Though Rubashov is mostly convinced by Ivanov by the end of this section, “The Second Hearing” provides the space for Rubashov to clearly articulate his critique of Party politics and more fully develop his understanding of his own complicity in its repressive machinery. 

Part Three, “The Third Hearing,” narrates Rubashov’s sessions with Gletkin, his second examiner.Gletkin replaces Ivanov, who is relieved of his duties, arrested, and executed for his mismanagement of Rubashov’s case.  Rubashov has no personal history with Gletkin, but he sees him as the logical result of the regime created by the Revolution.  His rigid posture and expressionless demeanormake him seem more machine than man; he is the embodiment of logic.  As such, Gletkin’s examinations of Rubashov, aided by the physical pressures of sleep deprivation and blinding white light, trap Rubashov in logical “truths” that do not accurately account for his individual reality, such as the “truth” that the logical conclusion of Rubashov’s opposition to the Party would be anattempt to assassinate its leader.  That Rubashov is not actually guilty of this crime makes no difference, and given Rubashov’s own adherence to the ideology of “consequent logic,” he feels compelled to acknowledge this “truth”.  By the end of Part Three, Gletkin’s relentless, inhuman logic, and Rubashov’sguilty conscience and intense desire for sleep lead to his full confession of crimes he did not commit but, logically, should have.

Part Four, “The Grammatical Fiction,” recounts Rubashov’s trial and execution.  The “grammatical fiction” refers to a concept that Rubashov has been developing throughout the book.  He first refers to the “grammatical fiction” as his “silent partner,” it exists outside of logic and its presence is usually accompanied by toothache.  This “silent partner” or “grammatical fiction” is Rubashov’s conscience, the “I” that has no place in the Revolution or Party politics.  Rubashov names his “I” the “grammatical fiction” because of the way that the “first person singular” has been excised from the language of the Party.  If there is no “I,” then the individual need not be entered into the philosophical equation of right and wrong.  If there is no “I,” then an individual’s humanity need not be considered or even pitied.  Once Rubashov has fulfilled his duty to the Party—by publicly confessing his guilt without expectation of pity or reward—he has a few hours left before his execution to recapture his “first person singular”, that is, his individuality.

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