Literature Study GuidesDarkness At NoonThe Second Hearing 1 3 Summary

Darkness at Noon | Study Guide

Arthur Koestler

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



The Second Hearing: 1

The epigraph, from the historian and Catholic Bishop Dietrich von Nieheim (c. 1338–1418), was written in opposition to the schism in the Church when it had two popes, one in Rome and one in Avignon, France. The quote defends any act, including the sacrifice of the individual, for the greater good and unity of the Church. Sacrificing the individual for the good of the community is a key tactic used by the Party to ensure its continuance in power.

This section comes from entries in Rubashov's diary on his fifth day of imprisonment and is written in the first person. Rubashov opens by stating that "he who will be proved right in the end appears to be wrong and harmful before [the end]." In other words the person telling the truth may be thought a liar before "the end." Rubashov states that in the course of history the ends justify the means, a principle echoing Florentine statesman Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) in his most famous work The Prince (1532). In it he advises leaders/princes to do whatever is necessary regardless of morality in order to maintain power. Rubashov explains that the Party has followed a Machiavellian approach by overthrowing "rules of ... morality" and replacing them with logic, which is followed "down to its final consequence."

He uses the example of an agriculturalist who was executed for suggesting using a new type of fertilizer, an idea No. 1 didn't like. Whether or not the agriculturalist acted "in good faith" is irrelevant to his fate. "For us [in the USSR] the question of subjective good faith is of no interest, he says. "He who is in the wrong must pay; he who is in the right will be absolved." Rubashov, like everyone else, cannot know who is really right and who is wrong. Only the future will reveal that. In the meantime No. 1 is assumed always to be right.

Because of the Party's fixation on logic, error is avoided at all cost. "Therefore we concentrated all our efforts on preventing error and destroying the very seeds of it" (i.e., the person who proposed the erroneous idea). As wrong ideas affect future generations, they must be punished as crimes. Party loyalists "persecuted the seeds of evil not only in men's deeds but in their thoughts." Rubashov admits he, too, had acted according to this principle when he denounced and destroyed people, as instructed by the Party. Rubashov now questions this Party principle because no one can know future consequences. The Party has thus "replaced vision [with] faith in the rightness of one's own reasoning." Rubashov realizes he is lost because he "no longer believes in [his own] infallibility."

The Second Hearing: 2

Ivanov and Gletkin are sitting in the canteen after having eaten dinner together. They discuss Rubashov. Ivanov insists his method of leniency will convince Rubashov to capitulate and sign a confession. Gletkin disagrees, insisting only harsh methods will break Rubashov. "Human beings able to resist any amount of physical pressure do not exist," Gletkin says. Gletkin mentions the pressure of time as a reason Rubashov should be tortured. Maybe in a hundred years, when society is stable and unified behind the Party, a soft approach will work, but now prisoners must be crushed. Gletkin describes his interrogation of a peasant who had buried his harvest to prevent the State from taking it. His initial soft interrogation was futile. Only when he broke the peasant's will, having him stand in one spot for several days without sleep, did the farmer reveal where the crop was buried.

Gletkin suggests forcing men to watch their friends be executed and other assorted atrocities are quick and effective means of getting them to confess to whatever you want. "One should keep in mind the logical necessity of it all, otherwise one is a cynic." Ivanov, Gletkin's superior, says he's given Rubashov two weeks (a fortnight) to reflect on what he should do. Ivanov is confident Rubashov will confess.

The Second Hearing: 3

As part of his soft approach, Ivanov has given Rubashov pen and paper, soap and towels, and vouchers, so Rubashov has bought himself tobacco and extra food. Rubashov is thinking and writing to help him decide what he should do. He's got 10 days to decide. Rubashov comes to realize he has a "first person singular" identity, something he thought he lacked. He often senses this other identity, which he addresses as "I." This inner individual is real to Rubashov, who understands it's a moral voice within him. Rubashov calls this entity the "grammatical fiction" that "seems to begin just where the 'thinking to a conclusion' ended.'" Rubashov thinks he'll probably refuse Ivanov's proposal and thus face execution. He recognizes he and Ivanov are very much alike, with the "same moral standard, the same philosophy." Once again Rubashov finds he's trying to see himself as another sees him—this time as Ivanov sees him.

Rubashov daydreams about his former post at the Trade Delegation and the scent and sight of his secretary, Arlova. She's there a month before he converses with her, but she's all business. Only later, when Rubashov impulsively rubs her shoulders, does Arlova agree to go to dinner with him. She spends the night at Rubashov's, and they begin a relationship. They are together every night after that, though Arlova is all business at the office. At a staff meeting Arlova is named the new librarian of the Trade office's library. Arlova is to get rid of the Old Guard volumes and replace them with books reflecting the new ideology. At a later meeting officials criticize the job Arlova is doing in the library. There are still too many Old Guard books and materials. Rubashov feels uneasy after Arlova gets this "serious warning," but their relationship does not change for a while. Then Arlova skips spending a night with Rubashov. After that Arlova doesn't see Rubashov for weeks. Eventually she spends one last night with him, but Rubashov sees her staring at the ceiling instead of sleeping soundly as she used to.

The next day Rubashov is told Arlova's brother and sister-in-law had been arrested, accused of "treasonable connections ... in service of the opposition." Arlova shows up for work and acts normally. But at the next Trade meeting she's fired as librarian for "political untrustworthiness." A few days later Arlova is arrested, and she's never mentioned again at the Trade Delegation. Rubashov never asks about her.


The issues Rubashov struggles with in his first-person diary are doubt and shifting historical narratives. He tries to determine which actions will turn out to be historically right. He realizes the only justification for choosing an action is its consequences in the future, but these can only be judged in the future according to the future historical narrative. So if future consequences are unknowable how does Rubashov assess the consequent rightness of his, or the Party's, actions? Rubashov's doubts revolve around his inability to defend the rightness of his past actions, even though they were in service to the Party. He writes, "The fact is: I no longer believe in my infallibility. That is why I am lost." Rubashov's doubts incriminate him because the Party doesn't tolerate doubt. Its ideology must be embraced without question or hesitation. Rubashov doubts the rightness of his former denunciations even though "history has taught us that often lies serve her better than the truth." Rubashov even doubts his own innocence, wondering if the Party may be right in condemning him because he was somehow ineffectual in carrying out its ideology. As Strauss remarks, "When such a man ... questions whether the revolution might ... cost too much in human suffering, "the punishment for such questions is death.

Rubashov wonders if logic, or Party ideology that supposedly values the collective, always leads to the most positive future results. He understands the Party's concern with the collective is a sham. The Party is hypocritical because it touts the supremacy of the collective while liquidating those individual members of the collective whose ideas it deems in error. The only ideas and actions deemed right are those propagated by No. 1. This is another example of the Party's hypocrisy. Accepting a heterodox idea that's presented "in good faith" is naïve because good intentions may still contradict No. 1. The Party's criminalizes unorthodox thoughts because they are "seeds of evil" that may germinate if not destroyed. With situational irony Rubashov understands that since the future cannot be known the logic underlying actions can only be based on "axiomatic faith" in No. 1. How can rigid ideological logic be compatible with faith? Yet, as Harold Strauss notes, "From this arrogant faith derives that absolute dedication which makes men fanatics." Hitchens goes further: "fanatics don't just want you to obey them: They want you to agree with them."

Different historical narratives are embodied in Ivanov and Gletkin. Ivanov is Old Guard, an official who perhaps still accepts the existence of the individual. Gletkin embodies the newer, harsher historical narrative. He's rigid, starched, and ideologically pure. For him the torture and suffering of the accused means nothing because it is in the service of the Party. The reader should note that Gletkin's torture of the peasant, a member of the Party's beloved collective, reveals the Party's betrayal of and indifference to the collective it supposedly exists to uplift. For Gletkin "what matters is, that one should keep in mind the logical necessity of it all," of destroying individuals for the future benefit of the collective or the Party.

The Party's ideological insistence that the individual is illusory, meaningless, and disposable seems to be under threat when Rubashov finds within himself a "first person singular," an "I" or "grammatical fiction." This inner entity undermines the Party by its existence outside the collective and by its innate sense of morality and conscience. Rubashov recognizes this "I" is "out of the reach of ... logical thought." When this "I" emerges Rubashov cannot help but think of Arlova, of Little Loewy, of the missing portraits of the Old Guard. When his "I" is operating, Rubashov cannot stop muttering "I shall pay" because his conscience persistently reminds him of his complicity and guilt. Rubashov's affair with Arlova seems to have arisen from this "I," which at the time he was unaware of. He valued Arlova as an individual, and his sarcastic comments about the Party show his "I" existed during this period. His sarcasm exhibited a lack of Party orthodoxy that would, if known, undo him. Arlova was a Party loyalist, and it's unclear if the charges brought against her are true. It's more likely that her association with relatives "in the service of the opposition" led to her condemnation without any proof of wrongdoing. Yet Rubashov represses his desire to save her in order to save his own skin.

It is no surprise that the emergence into Rubashov's consciousness of his "first person singular" is nearly always accompanied by the onset of toothache. As always, the toothache represents Rubashov's guilt regarding his past actions as a Party functionary. It may also represent the conflict between Rubashov's official role and his newfound individuality. Since the Party denies the individual, it makes sense that when his "I" occupies Rubashov's mind his toothache acts up.

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