Literature Study GuidesDarkness At NoonThe First Hearing 1 3 Summary

Darkness at Noon | Study Guide

Arthur Koestler

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Darkness at Noon | The First Hearing: 1–3 | Summary


Darkness at Noon has four parts. This study guide further divides each part for the purpose of summary and analysis.


The First Hearing: 1

The epigraph, from the French revolutionary Saint-Just (1767–94), states that every ruler must rule with deceit, or guile—a statement applicable to the rule of No. 1 and the Party.

Rubashov is locked in a fairly clean but austere jail cell. It is as he thought it would be. "So far everything was in order," he thinks. Rubashov takes off his coat and looks out his one window to the prison yard below. It's still night.

Rubashov removes his shoes and lies down on his bunk, wrapping himself in the one blanket in the cell. He's sleepy but thinks his "examination [will not be] for another three or four days." He feels warm and protected lying on the cot. The warder turns off the lights on the cell block, and Rubashov, "ex-Commissar of the people," falls asleep. His hand twitches slightly as he sleeps.

The First Hearing: 2

Just an hour before, two government officials had pounded on his apartment door. Rubashov had been sleeping, and the men awakened him in order to arrest him.

Rubashov has a hard time waking up because he's in the middle of his recurrent nightmare. In his dream three men are banging on his door, "waiting to arrest him." They are dressed in "brand-new uniforms ... the costume of the Praetorian guards of the German Dictatorship." Their outfits indicate that the men are wearing Nazi uniforms and carrying enormous guns. The three men burst into Rubashov's room and stand by his bed with guns drawn. Then in the dream the men are still outside his door, hammering on it. Rubashov tries to wake up as he's dreaming, but he can't. He tries to pull on his dressing gown but can't get his arm into a sleeve. A "kind of paralysis descends on him" as the door pounding continues. Rubashov wakes up only after one of the officials hits his head with a pistol butt.

Rubashov awakes shivering and must wait until he calms down before he can get up. He feels a "dizzy, shapeless feeling [at] this awakening," which is terrible because it feels like he's still in the dream where he's lying "on the damp stone floor of the dark cell." When Rubashov realizes he's not in a prison cell but at home, he feels "the delicious feeling of freedom and safety." He sees the portrait of No. 1, the leader of his country for which "he had fought and suffered" but which he now feels protects him. He's completely awake now but hears real pounding on his door.

The First Hearing: 3

The apartment house porter, Wassilij (spelled Vassilij in this first part of the book), waits with the two Commissariat officials as they hammer at Rubashov's door. Wassilij is a thin old man who fought in the Russian Civil War. He followed Rubashov's overseas career working for the Soviet government.

The two men from the Commissariat are getting impatient. One wants to shoot the lock off Rubashov's door but the other advises against it. They keep banging on the door until it falls open. The officials march into Rubashov's bedroom and announce "Citizen Rubashov, Nicholas Salmanovitch, we arrest you in the name of the law." Rubashov is told to put his clothes on and come with them. Rubashov complies. The young official has a brutal look about him.


From the opening line the reader is bombarded with the sensations of imprisonment. The "cell door slammed" adds a dramatic finality to Rubashov's incarceration. Yet curiously Rubashov seems relatively relaxed and unworried at being thrown in prison. He even "smiled [and] felt protected" in his cell, perhaps because of his misplaced righteousness. He may believe his former high-level position within the Party will protect him. His arrest is also almost a relief, a kind of release from the horrors of his recurrent nightmare of arrest. For Rubashov his actual arrest is less terrifying than his nightmarish one.

Rubashov's nightmare is likely a prophetic warning arising from the subconscious recognition of his own guilt, and it foreshadows his arrest. The image of Rubashov not being able to get his arm into his sleeve may symbolize how bad a fit his actions (his arm) were with the Party (the sleeve), which he has served for 40 years. Perhaps his dream allows Rubashov an outlet for his outrage and fear at the oppression and brutality of No. 1's policies—a point of view he dare not state out loud.

The two Party officials from the Commissariat of the Interior who come to arrest Rubashov represent two different historical narratives or shifts in the history of the Party in the USSR. The elder official is Old Guard, like Rubashov. He treats Rubashov as a human being deserving respect, as when he shows him the arrest warrant. The younger official reveals the brutality that was "natural to him" and likely to most other young Party ideologues. The two arresting officers foreshadow the two interrogators Rubashov will later face in prison: the Old Guard Ivanov and the new, brutal Party loyalist Gletkin. Rubashov's informal and confident discussion with the two men reflects his former position as a high-ranking official during the previous, Old Guard historical period. He can't imagine someone as loyal to the Party as he was could ever seriously fall afoul of it.

Wassilij, the porter, seems to embody Russians' pre-revolutionary spirit and sense of decency. Yet he's smart enough to understand the true nature and power of the Communist regime. The two historical narratives are present within him: his true humanitarian nature and his outward submission to totalitarian power. That Wassilij yells "Here's Authority!" when the arresting officials are waiting in the hall for Rubashov shows the porter knows where the power lies in the State and how to defer to it.

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