Literature Study GuidesDarkness At NoonThe First Hearing 4 6 Summary

Darkness at Noon | Study Guide

Arthur Koestler

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Darkness at Noon | The First Hearing: 4–6 | Summary



The First Hearing: 4

Rubashov is pushed into the government car waiting at the curb. The prison is half an hour's drive away. Rubashov takes out a pack of cigarettes and offers them around. The chauffeur and the elder official each take cigarettes. Sharing makes Rubashov feel more at ease.

Rubashov comments on the terrible condition of the road and its effect on the government Cadillac. The elder official agrees, but the young official attacks Rubashov's statement, implying that it's too critical of the country and the Soviet government. Nothing is said for the rest of the drive.

The First Hearing: 5

Rubashov is taken to a "new model prison," bleak though blazing with "colorless light." The prison reminds Rubashov of his dream, and for a moment he thinks maybe he is dreaming. He tries so hard to believe this is a dream he feels dizzy. He steadies himself thinking "This has to be gone through."

They come to a door with the number 404 and his name written beneath. Rubashov thinks, "They have prepared everything nicely." He's about to ask for a second blanket when the cell door slams shut behind him.

The First Hearing: 6

The warder looks through a spy hole, or judas hole, in the cell door to monitor Rubashov. Rubashov had "slept dreamlessly" the previous night. He puts on his pince-nez (spectacles that cling to, or pinch, the nose) and lights a cigarette butt from the night before. Rubashov realizes "he was in an isolation cell and that he was to stay there until he was shot." Rubashov thinks about his fate but still feels "warm, secure and very tired." He wiggles his toes and feels "almost perfectly happy" even though he acknowledges he's "going to be destroyed." He feels a type of excitement familiar to him "from former experiences of the nearness of death." He smiles at his wiggling toes. He recalls others from his generation who have been executed. He smokes and thinks of the dead. Rubashov tries to feel hatred for No. 1, the nation's dictator, but he cannot because maybe No. 1 is right.

The warder comes into Rubashov's cell, asking why he didn't get up. Rubashov says he's ill with a toothache, so they leave him alone. Rubashov becomes bored, suddenly craving a newspaper to read. Then he burns to know what No. 1 is thinking. Rubashov paces, wondering "What went on in No. 1's brain?" He wonders if one day science will create "tables of statistics" that describe brain function and thoughts.

Rubashov hears people walking down the corridor. He thinks they're coming to beat someone up, either him or another prisoner. He waits to hear the first scream. But when he looks out his cell's spy-hole Rubashov sees they're just delivering breakfast, a hunk of bread and tea. Rubashov waits for his meal.


Rubashov's confidence that his arrest is some kind of mistake becomes evident when he feels free to criticize some things in the Soviet Union. It's almost comic when the elder official agrees with Rubashov that "our roads are very backward." The young official, more rigid in his adherence to the Party, immediately refutes the criticism by stating "Are [roads] any better in the capitalist states?" Young Party members are unquestioning ideologues who cannot permit any negative comments about their country, even about its potholes.

Rubashov refers to the shift in the nation's historical narrative and foreshadows his later interrogation, when he tells the young official "You really ought to study the Party history a bit." A key aspect of the young, new Party members is that they are ignorant of their own history. They know only the ideology and logic of the Party as it is at the time Rubashov is arrested. Rubashov may be unaware that the historical narrative has shifted since he was in the upper echelons of the Party. When Rubashov later has time to contemplate his situation, he thinks "The old guard is dead ... We are going to be destroyed." His only hope is that as the historical narrative shifts again in the future "History will rehabilitate [him]."

The core conflict Rubashov struggles with is doubt about his own sense of history and morality as opposed to the policies of No. 1. "The horror which No. 1 emanated ... consisted in the possibility that he was in the right," and therefore all those he's killed should have admitted it. If No. 1 is right in having the Old Guard killed, then Rubashov has been living a lie. The old principles are now considered counter-revolutionary and must be eradicated. British-American writer Christopher Hitchens (1949–2011) states Rubashov's dilemma in a nutshell: "What if the opponent of Stalin (or No. 1) is still half-convinced that Stalin is morally wrong but may be 'historically right'?"

The Old Guard are not versed in the cold, new Party logic. They are purged because they're too human, or not coldly logical enough. Old-guard history was not subject to the rigid new rules of Soviet logic. Rubashov likens the new logic to an "algebraic formula representing the conditions of life of the masses." There is no humanity in these formulations.

The symbol of the portrait of No. 1 is introduced here. Rubashov sees this ubiquitous portrait when he awakes, as do all the Russian people "on all the walls of the house, of the town, and of the enormous country." The omnipresent portrait suggests No. 1 demands unquestioning loyalty to him alone because of his total control of the Soviet Union and its people. In the past Rubashov had been vocal in his loyalty to No. 1. In some way, Rubashov's acceptance of his fate, of his annihilation by the Party, is also a form of loyalty. The judas hole, or spy hole, in each prison door reinforces the idea that, like the eyes in the portrait, the State is always watching everyone.

Rubashov's toothache begins to hurt after he contemplates that he may be wrong and No. 1 may be right. The toothache represents Rubashov's conflict or doubt about what he's done in his life. The pain also arises when Rubashov is being spied on through his cell door's judas hole, so perhaps the pain was also brought on by the fear of Party scrutiny.

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