Darkness at Noon | Study Guide

Arthur Koestler

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Darkness at Noon | Quotes

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1.

The horror which No. 1 emanated ... above all [was the] possibility that he was in the right.


Narrator, The First Hearing: 6

Rubashov tries to hate No. 1, but he cannot. He is tormented by the possibility that No. 1's murderous brutality might be justified because only this brutality will lead the USSR toward its glorious communist future. Rubashov is horrified by the possibility that No. 1's totalitarian atrocities might actually be the right way, the only way, to create the communist utopia he envisions.

2.

History knows no scruples and no hesitation. Inert and unerring, she flows towards her goal.


Rubashov, The First Hearing: 9

Here Rubashov describes the inexorable and inhuman flow of history, which he recognizes is beyond the realm of the individual and morality. The lack of scruples and restraint Rubashov mentions refers to the mass killings carried out by the Party. If the Party is indeed acting according to the laws of history, it is justified in any and all inhumane acts it carries out in order to reach the historical goal it has set for itself: a new historical narrative based on its view of communism. The pursuit of this goal is unerring, or infallible and perfect, even in its cruelty, because that is how history is created.

3.

The individual was nothing, the Party was all; the branch which broke from the tree must wither.


Narrator, The First Hearing: 14

The Party is concerned solely with its own preservation and, tangentially, with the so-called masses it supposedly represents. Thus for the Party the individual is irrelevant. The Party must be monolithic, inerrant, and all-powerful. Any individual who strays from Party ideology, in thought or deed, must be executed. Only through the death of an individual in opposition can the Party survive as the sole supreme power. Any sacrifice is justified when the Party is all.

4.

Only ... when your head is at stake, do you condescend to give a declaration of loyalty, [finishing] Arlova.


Ivanov, The First Hearing: 14

Here, Ivanov is undermining the moral sensibility that Rubashov keeps insisting the Party should take into account. Ivanov shows Rubashov his own hypocrisy. How can Rubashov argue for a more humane Party when he allowed his own ambition to condemn his lover, Arlova, to arrest and execution?

Ivanov is showing Rubashov how even for him Party loyalty and saving his own skin trump doing the right and moral thing by saving the woman he knows is innocent.

5.

We are under the terrible compulsion to follow our thought ... to its final consequence and to act in accordance to it.


Rubashov, The Second Hearing: 1

In this diary entry Rubashov is essentially condemning himself, though he may not be fully aware of it yet. He describes the pressure the Party puts on people to use its twisted logic to the bitter, final consequence of any act or thought. Thus if Rubashov had doubts about the Party, those oppositional thoughts must be carried forward to their logical conclusion.

In Rubashov's case his doubts about No. 1 are taken to their logical, final consequence: he must have been plotting to assassinate No. 1. Even though he had no such plan in mind, Rubashov is under pressure to admit this is the logical consequence of his doubt, and what follows from that consequence is his execution.

6.

The fact is: I no longer believe in my infallibility. That is why I am lost.


Rubashov, The Second Hearing: 1

In his diary Rubashov admits to doubting his own life and his past beliefs and acts as a Party functionary. As a former Party loyalist of the Old Guard Rubashov had thought he was acting on behalf of an infallible Party ideology. He now knows former ideology is considered not only fallible but treasonous. He cannot trust his past beliefs, and he cannot accede to the inhuman extremity of current Party ideology. That is why he is lost.

7.

The 'grammatical fiction' seemed to begin where the 'thinking to a conclusion' ended.


Narrator, The Second Hearing: 3

Rubashov comes to realize that he is an individual with a first-person-singular identity. He refers to this individuality as a grammatical fiction because as a lifelong member of the Party he had been brainwashed to deny its existence. For the Party it is a fiction, something that does not exist in reality.

Here, Rubashov realizes his identity as an individual is not only real but is wholly separate from the ideology and logic of the Party. Thus the grammatical fiction begins where the Party's twisted logic ends.

8.

As long as chaos dominates the world ... compromise with one's own conscience is perfidy.


Ivanov, The Second Hearing: 7

Ivanov states unequivocally, and likely truthfully, that the world is dominated by chaos. But he insists that the only logically acceptable response to chaos is the eradication of the individual conscience. For him morality and conscience increase the chaos rather than moderate it. Ivanov is still a Party ideologue for whom the world is ordered according to the infallible logic of the Party.

Individuals are material objects or mathematic units, not humans whose inner lives should be considered. Taking conscience into account is for him and the Party treasonous because conscience may lead a person to oppose the Party in some way.

9.

We whip the groaning masses ... towards a theoretical future happiness, which only we can see.


Rubashov, The Second Hearing: 7

Rubashov is contemplating the suffering of the masses deliberately caused by the Party and its methods of control. He questions these draconian and inhumane actions because they are based only on a theoretical notion of the future. The Party thinks it can see the future it is whipping the masses toward, but in fact it can't possibly know what future its actions will create.

The Party line is that the suffering of the masses will be compensated by future happiness. But, again, this happiness is purely notional and may never come about. Still the Party imposes pain on the people in the name of this unknown, hypothetical future.

10.

Nature [performs] senseless experiments on mankind. Why should mankind not have the right to experiment on itself?


Ivanov, The Second Hearing: 7

Here, Ivanov is equating the suffering and death caused by natural disasters, such as earthquakes and epidemics to the suffering and death caused by the Party. He makes the faulty argument that if nature can cause senseless suffering with its so-called experiments in natural disaster, why should the Party not also assume the right to impose widespread pain and death to further its own ideology?

No doubt Ivanov believes that the Party is more justified in visiting suffering and death on people because at least it has a goal in mind—at least its experiments are sensible insofar as they have a purpose.

11.

Truth is what is useful to humanity, falsehood what is harmful.


Gletkin, The Third Hearing: 4

This statement is Gletkin's explanation of why scapegoats are needed to appease the masses. He tells Rubashov that the masses are too ignorant and likely too long suffering to be told it is their fault industrial productivity is falling. Instead they should be told the lie that a scapegoat is a saboteur who is responsible for the poor productivity. Gletkin says the lie about the scapegoat is true because it is useful for the people's self-image and for Party control of the masses.

That the people themselves are in error does not help them and will likely enrage or discourage them. Therefore this truth is harmful. So the falsehood about their heroic work ethic is portrayed as true because it is helpful to the masses. Clearly truth and lies are relative concepts for the Party, as each is defined by what is in the Party's interest—its control of the masses.

12.

The Gletkins had nothing to erase ... born without umbilical cord ... without melancholy.


Narrator, The Third Hearing: 4

This quote reveals Gletkin as a true believer in the new Party ideology. He is uneducated and has no knowledge of or interest in the past. The umbilical cord connecting him to history is missing, which is why he has nothing to erase—unlike Rubashov who must erase a lifetime of beliefs about the Party as it was years ago. Gletkin believes what the Party tells him to believe, especially regarding the irrelevance of the individual, and the emotions, conscience, and morality individuals possess.

13.

If I ask myself today, 'For what am I dying?' I am confronted by absolute nothingness.


Rubashov, The Grammatical Fiction: 1

Rubashov makes this statement toward the end of his trial. It is a cry for meaning, but one that cannot and will not be answered by the Party that condemns him. Rubashov no longer understands the Party that demands his execution. When he thinks about the Party and the future of his country he sees only meaningless emptiness.

The USSR is a place descending into an abyss of inhuman logic and arbitrary barbarity. Faced with this understanding Rubashov can no longer find a cause, any cause, that might justify his death. He is dying for nothing.

14.

All suffering with a social origin was accidental, hence pointless and senseless.


Narrator, The Grammatical Fiction: 2

Rubashov has embraced his first-person singular identity. Here, he's contemplating the causes of human suffering. He has acknowledged that the world is filled with a seemingly limitless variety of natural forms of suffering. Formerly, Ivanov had used natural disasters as a justification for the Party to impose its own form of suffering on humanity. But here Rubashov comes to the exact opposite conclusion. He knows natural disasters are inevitable and make sense within the laws of the physical world. They cannot be stopped, so the suffering they cause is not deliberate.

But the suffering imposed on the people by the Party is deliberate and is not inevitable. It is a conscious choice based on an inhumane ideology. Because it is deliberately inflicted to yield a wished-for social outcome, this type of suffering is needless and senseless.

15.

Wherever his eye looked, he saw nothing but desert and the darkness of night.


Narrator, The Grammatical Fiction: 3

In the moments before he's executed Rubashov thinks it's easy to die for a cause, for a goal one can see. But when he contemplates the world around him he sees no cause or goal that might make his death meaningful.

As this quote states, Rubashov sees only lifeless devastation and the darkness of ignorance and meaningless barbarity. He is dying for nothing. After his death he may be relegated to darkness, but he understands the world he's leaving will also be an abyss of darkness for those left alive.

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