Darkness at Noon | Study Guide

Arthur Koestler

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Darkness at Noon | Motifs


Shifting Historical Narratives

The ideological differences, or "divergencies," between the Party during the era of the Old Guard and the new era of No. 1, represent the way narratives about history change over time and the effect the changes have for the people caught up in them. What was real and true before is not only no longer true, it is treasonous. Those such as Rubashov who embodied the former historical narrative must be eliminated because they represent a threat or opposition to the new historical narrative of No. 1.

The conflict between historical narratives underpins much of the novel and certainly Rubashov's fate. His recognition of the importance of the individual comes from his life under a previous historical period. He tries to hold on to his old beliefs but is forced outwardly to abandon them.

Another aspect of shifting historical narratives relates to the future. Rubashov frequently wonders who is right about what the future narrative will be: the Old Guard or No. 1. Since no one can predict what the future will bring, Rubashov torments himself with the possibility that the horrors No. 1 inflicts on the people may, in fact, create the wonderful future everyone dreams of. That No. 1 may be correct in believing his ideology and methods will create the best Communist future preys on Rubashov's mind and is a source of deep conflict for him.

Loyalty, Betrayal, and Delusion

When he was an official, Rubashov's loyalty to the Party allowed him to delude himself into thinking that even his most terrible actions were justified. He used that loyalty to bury his guilt for the deaths of Little Loewy and Richard, who died because he betrayed them out of Party loyalty. Rubashov also betrayed his lover, Arlova, in order to save his own skin and his position as a loyal Party official because defending her would have labeled him a traitor.

In prison Rubashov begins to think about all the killings he's instigated and all the terror and death the Party is responsible for. He realizes that for most of his life he deluded himself about Party reality. It was easier for him to excuse torture, execution, and mass murder in the name of ideological purity than to accept his role in the horror.

Doubt and Affirmation

Throughout his imprisonment, interrogation, and trial Rubashov becomes increasingly aware of the depth of his doubts about the Party and its ideology. He's plagued by doubt, which he tries to reason away, until he can no longer escape the realization his doubt is justified. He is right to doubt the Party and its ideology. Yet the main doubt Rubashov can never come to terms with is whether No. 1 is right that his policies will usher in a future Communist utopia.

Rubashov tries to express his doubts about Party ideology and logic up to the end. But he is finally crushed by Gletkin's inexorable illogic. Rubashov gives up the struggle and affirms he is guilty of everything the Party has charged him with. Yet after his conviction and just before his execution, Rubashov experiences the individual soul's ultimate affirmation in an ecstatic oneness with the universe.

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