Literature Study GuidesDarkness At NoonThe First Hearing 10 14 Summary

Darkness at Noon | Study Guide

Arthur Koestler

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Darkness at Noon | The First Hearing: 10–14 | Summary



The First Hearing: 10

Rubashov can't stop thinking about the Pietà. He finds that he's already suffering from "the day-dreams of imprisonment." He thinks this strange, since most prisoners think only of the future and never of the past "as it actually had been."

Rubashov taps to 402, asking about the two men in the prisoners' yard looking up at his cell window. 402 answers "POLITICAL ... OF YOUR SORT," meaning the two men were Party officials who'd run afoul of its new ideology. Then 402 informs Rubashov that his neighbor in cell 400 was tortured the day before via steam bath, a method of torture Rubashov is unfamiliar with. When Rubashov asks 402 why 400 was tortured, 402 throws Rubashov's words back at him: for "POLITICAL DIVERGENCIES."

Their chat makes Rubashov feel a bit better. He whistles as he washes his face, thinking "If No. 1 were musical, he would [have had me] shot." Then he thinks "He will anyway," but he doesn't really believe it. Rubashov's dream enters his mind, and he thinks about Richard and the taxi driver who in the dream pursued him "because they felt themselves cheated and betrayed by him." Rubashov thinks sardonically, "I will pay my fare," perhaps acknowledging his guilt or his coming execution and possible torture. Knowing that being prepared in advance for the pain of torture helps somewhat in reducing the suffering it causes, Rubashov puts his last cigarette out on his hand, holding the burning stump on his skin for half a minute. He's pleased his hand had not twitched once, but he notices that immediately after this an eye is withdrawn from his cell's spy hole.

The First Hearing: 11

Rubashov is not served lunch. He doesn't much care, although he's dying for a cigarette. He calls the warder but is told he must use his still confiscated money to buy prison vouchers. It's a catch-22 for Rubashov who for now must do without cigarettes. Rubashov is so angry he curses the warder who says he'll report him for insulting language. Then Rubashov thinks to ask 402 if he can procure cigarettes. 402 replies, "NOT FOR YOU," a clear indication he knows who Rubashov is and the awful things he's done.

Rubashov looks out his window and sees a young officer in the yard who's also a prisoner and who is looking up at Rubashov's window. Rubashov imagines the upper-class officer thinking, "Canaille [skunk, vulgar blackguard], how many of my people have you had shot?" That gets Rubashov wondering how many people he has shot; perhaps 100, especially fighting in the Civil War.

402 taps that he's sending Rubashov tobacco and calls the warder to deliver it. The warder says it's against the rules. Then 402 taps "A BAD LOOK-OUT FOR YOU," meaning the warder has it in for Rubashov. Rubashov tries to justify his past actions to himself, thinking "I would do it again ... It was necessary." Then Rubashov seems to enter a trance-like state, repeatedly saying aloud, "'I shall pay.'" And for "the first time since his arrest Rubashov was scared."

402 taps again, this time with "HARE-LIP SENDS YOU GREETINGS," but he won't reveal the name of Hare-Lip, who has been tortured for political divergencies

The First Hearing: 12

Rubashov's tooth aches, and he's desperate for a cigarette. He can't stop thinking, "I shall pay," which is connected to his realization that "his whole past was sore and festered at every touch ... it was this past that was suddenly put in question." For the first time Rubashov seriously questions the justness of the Party and its tenets.

Rubashov recalls the members of the Old Guard of Communist Party officials he once worked with, most of whom have been executed. These men were "militant philosophers [who] dreamed of power with the object of abolishing power." As true communists their goal was government by the people not, as in 1938, the rule of a dictator. For this overly sentimental belief they'd been killed. These memories are linked with the time Rubashov had been jailed and tortured by a foreign dictatorship, but had told them nothing. When, after years in the foreign prison, Rubashov is returned to the USSR, he's treated like a hero. Yet even by then many of the Old Guard were gone, executed. It's likely for this reason Rubashov had requested a quick reassignment abroad.

Rubashov is sent to Belgium where in 1935 he meets Little Loewy, a communist and leader of the dockworkers' union, "one of the best organized sections of the Party in the world." No one except Little Loewy knows Rubashov's true identity. Little Loewy tells Rubashov the story of his life. After a botched attempt to steal weapons, Little Loewy was on the run, evading arrest. He made it to France but was arrested there. He asked the Party for help but got none. After three months in prison he was taken to the Belgian border. The Party once more refused to help him. The Belgians caught him and sent him to France, and for a while Little Loewy bounced back and forth between the two countries. Every time he asked the Party for assistance, he was refused or told he must wait for the Party bureaucracy to complete their inquiries into his situation. Years pass without aid. Little Loewy says he's telling his story to Rubashov because "it is instructive ... for years the best of us have been crushed in that way." When Little Loewy met Paul, a leader in the Dockers' Section of the Party, he was given work papers and rejoined the Party. Little Loewy rose quickly through the ranks and did well.

Rubashov then remembers a time, before Little Loewy's death, when the Party "called up the workers of the world to fight the newly established dictatorship in the heart of Europe"—presumably, Nazi Germany—by means of a political and economic boycott. The boycott was effective, although some workers were killed or wounded by the police. One day a large ship bearing a name written in Cyrillic letters pulled into the Belgian harbor, and the dockworkers wondered what it was. When the Party leadership then called off the boycott and ordered the workers to unload the ship's cargo, the workers became suspicious. Rubashov called a meeting of workers to explain that the boycotts had failed because of the "greed of the European governments," which supplied goods to the dictatorships. Rubashov explains that if the USSR stopped selling oil and other needed materials to the dictatorships, the greedy Europeans would continue to do so. The USSR needed the money from the sale of these materials to develop its industries.

After a few minutes of bemusement and then anger, some of the workers questioned Rubashov's statements. Little Loewy and Paul finally forced Rubashov to admit the truth: the USSR was breaking the boycott to profit from the sale of oil and other goods to the dictatorships. Some workers accused the USSR of acting like a strike-breaking scab. One docker accused the Party of "plain blacklegging" (swindling, cheating). Little Loewy adjourns the meeting. "Three days later the leaders of the dockers' section were expelled from the Party ... Little Loewy was denounced." Shortly after, he committed suicide.

The First Hearing: 13

Rubashov's tooth is killing him. He can't sleep. He can't stop thinking of Richard and Little Loewy. He thinks of the Party that is "without scruples ... [rolling] towards her goal unconcernedly and deposed corpses" as she went. "The Party knew only one crime: to swerve from the course laid out; and only one punishment: death."

Early in the morning Rubashov is taken to the doctor to have his tooth looked at. As he passes through a prison corridor he hears men laughing, and he realizes that this must be the wing where real criminals are kept. The doctor examines Rubashov's tooth and finds that the root of an eye tooth is broken off but remains in his jaw. The doctor offers to extract the root, but he'd do it without administering any anesthetic. Rubashov declines the operation.

For the first time Rubashov gets served lunch, and he'll get meals from now on. Three days after this he'll have his first interrogation.

The First Hearing: 14

Rubashov feels "serene nonchalance" the next morning when he's escorted to his interrogation by Ivanov, an old college friend. Ivanov smiles and offers Rubashov cigarettes. Rubashov tries to make light of the proceeding, asking if it's a "prelude" to the real interrogation, but Ivanov assures him "the unofficial part is over." Rubashov immediately asks why the Party wants him dead. Ivanov replies by criticizing Rubashov for constantly asking about the Party instead of asking about himself. That Rubashov uses "I," the first-person singular, is "justification" for his arrest and execution. Rubashov thinks about the Party whose ideology is that "the individual was nothing, the Party was all." Rubashov admits he should have used "we" when speaking, but he asks who that "we" is now because "it needs redefining." Ivanov thinks Rubashov is confessing "we ... the Party, the State and the masses ... no longer represent the interests of the Revolution."

Rubashov states the Party no longer understands the masses as it had before. The Party had once "dug in the primeval mud of history" whose substance comprises the "anonymous masses." That's why the Revolution succeeded, he says, but now the Party has "buried it again." Rubashov explains the Party "killed the 'We,'" and the masses no longer support it. When Ivanov asks for clarification, Rubashov uses algebra to explain "Politics mean operating with this x [the masses] without worrying about its actual nature." Ivanov understands that Rubashov feels the Party no longer represents "the interests of the Revolution." When asked, Rubashov cannot say exactly when he developed this opinion, which means he "belongs to the organized opposition."

Ivanov goes through Rubashov's history of activities for the Party, beginning with the 1933 assignment involving Richard, then moving on to Rubashov's arrest, imprisonment, and "triumphal return." He sternly asks Rubashov why he asked to be sent abroad only two weeks after returning to the USSR. Ivanov suggests it was because some of the Old Guard had already been liquidated. Once abroad again, Rubashov seemed to fulfill his assignments admirably, so why had his secretary, Arlova, been accused of "oppositional conspiracy." And why hadn't Rubashov then denounced her? Even at her trial Rubashov initially refused to condemn her. His eventual Party loyalty statement had condemned Arlova, who was executed, and saved his own skin. For his loyalty Rubashov was given another important post.

Two years before, in 1936, another accused had mentioned Rubashov's name during interrogation. Six months earlier, Rubashov was again implicated by an accused. In both cases he made a point to "proclaim [his] devotion to the ... Leadership and condemn ... the opposition." Yet now Rubashov seems to think the Party is "wrong and harmful." Ivanov accuses Rubashov of lying about his beliefs to save his own life. He claims he has proof of Rubashov's membership in an oppositional group—even of conspiring to assassinate No. 1. Rubashov calls the accusation "idiocy," but Ivanov is insistent. He demands Rubashov "concoct a nice little confession" in which Rubashov admits everything. Rubashov refuses. Ivanov reminds Rubashov no one will be hurt by his confession because most are already dead. Rubashov asks why, if Ivanov doesn't believe the accusations, he demands a confession. Of course, it's because the Party demands that Ivanov get the confession. Ivanov reveals that Rubashov's case is not yet categorized for either public trial (P) or private execution (A). A partial confession (P) might get Rubashov 20 years or less in prison, whereas "A" means liquidation. Rubashov states "I reject your proposition." Ivanov gives him two weeks to come to a final decision. Rubashov is taken back to his cell.


Loyalty and betrayal are the crux of Rubashov's guilt, as well as his dilemma. Hare-Lip and other prisoners seem to know that Rubashov has betrayed and denounced those who questioned the Party or were deemed its enemies. That Hare-Lip was tortured for political divergencies may imply Rubashov had something to do with his imprisonment. Rubashov's betrayal of Arlova, his secretary, is shameful and unbearable to him, and he's beset by guilt.

The narrative of Little Loewy highlights the Party's hypocrisy, its indifference to loyal workers, and its denial of the individual. Little Loewy's loyalty is pure because he supports workers' power. Perhaps Little Loewy did commit suicide because he could not endure the Party's betrayal of the workers it was supposed to support. Yet he may have been executed (assuming his hanging was a Party setup) because (1) he disagreed with a Party decision (which is treason) or (2) his ideological purity was intolerable to Party elites because it thwarted their greed. Such ideological purity laid bare the Party's hypocrisy. Rubashov is complicit in this deception because he spouts the Party's lies to further its ambition.

The incident with the cargo ships is a clear case of the Party's hypocrisy and its inhuman ideology. The Party is hypocritical because it professes support for the workers while undermining them to satisfy its greed. It's hypocritical when it blames European nations for being greedy when the Party itself is motivated by greed. The Party sacrifices its most loyal supporters in its eagerness to profit from European dictatorships, like Nazi Germany. By this time No. 1 was also a dictator, and for the Party his dictatorship had become more important than any old-fashioned communist ideology. Little Loewy is committed to the Party, but his loyalty is not valued, most likely because he is just one individual, and the individual, the "first person singular," is irrelevant to the Party. During his interrogation Rubashov, too, comes to understand his case rests partly on the fact that for the Party "the individual was nothing, the Party was all."

His orders to deceive the dock workers support Rubashov's view that the Party has abandoned its identification with the masses, which "at all times constituted the substance of history." Instead the Party refuses to admit that the masses simply tolerate it. Rubashov notes cogently that "in those [earlier] days we made history; now you make politics." The new historical narrative is centered on the Party and its dictator—not on the people who made history through revolution.

In his cell Rubashov thinks about Party ideology and how it's gone wrong. "The cause of the Party's defectiveness must be found. All our principles were right, but our results were wrong." Here, as elsewhere, Rubashov identifies himself with the Party. Yet as a loyal Party operative he was complicit in its evil: "his past was identical" with that of the Party. Rubashov realizes that if Party ideology intended truth but gave lies, or promised freedom but delivered a whip, or promised life but brought death, then its ideology in principle and practice is an abomination. And he has sacrificed his sense of morality to serve it.

Rubashov's questionable loyalty to the Party and its ideology are at the center of his first interrogation and the illogical accusations against him. Simply the thought that the Party "no longer represents ... the masses or ... the progress of humanity" identifies Rubashov as a member of the "organized opposition." The fact that he's never belonged to such a group is irrelevant. It's likely the Party's "proof" rests on the confession of a prisoner, no doubt elicited under torture, who named Rubashov as a Party critic. Coerced confession stands for proof.

Rubashov is suspect because he didn't denounce Arlova as soon as she was arrested, likely out of counter-revolutionary human feeling for her. Even though his delayed confessional statement "ended with a sharp condemnation of the opposition," Rubashov is still identified as an ideological enemy. Party logic is illogic used to further Party ideology. Thus the Party's logical next step after Rubashov's implied criticism of the Party must be that he's a member of "an oppositional group." From this so-called logical deduction comes the next illogical conclusion that Rubashov therefore plotted an "attempt on No. 1's life." As Harold Strauss writes, "overt opposition must follow from inner disaffection." Finally Rubashov says "I have had enough of this kind of logic ... I don't want to play this game anymore." Clearly, none of these statements follows logically from the ones before. They are a false construct to ensure the guilt of the accused.

Occasionally Rubashov notices the missing portraits of the Old Guard Party leaders. The absence of the portraits represents the Party's revisionist history. The Old Guard "dreamed of power with the object of abolishing power," but the new Party is obsessed with retaining power in the hands of No. 1. The absent group portraits symbolize the liquidated former leaders who were too sentimental, too idealistic, too human, to survive in the new historical narrative of dictatorship. Rubashov cannot hide his revulsion at the liquidation of the Old Guard, thus sealing his fate.

Rubashov's toothache recurs throughout these chapters, especially when he's forced to recall or simply remembers those he's betrayed. When Rubashov refuses painful surgery to remove the tooth's root, he is perhaps choosing to keep the tooth and its pain to remind him of his past misdeeds, his guilt. It's also possible that the doctor denies Rubashov anesthesia just to torture him, not because the prison has none.

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