Literature Study GuidesDarkness At NoonThe Second Hearing 4 6 Summary

Darkness at Noon | Study Guide

Arthur Koestler

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



The Second Hearing: 4

Rubashov has a new neighbor, the prisoner in cell 406 who keeps tapping "ARIE, YE WRETCHED OF THE EARTH." Perhaps the fact that 406 leaves out the letter "S" (in ARISE) indicates his isolation from the world and other people during his decades-long imprisonment. (The line is from "The International," an anthem of communist revolution and the Soviet national anthem until 1944.) Rubashov thinks the man must be insane, so he ignores him. Yet Rubashov keeps up a tapping dialogue with 402, even though he finds their exchanges rather tedious. When Rubashov asks 402 if he knows who 406 is, 402 tells him its Rip Van Winkle, a sociology teacher who'd fallen afoul of the authorities in a European country because of his revolutionary activities. Rip Van Winkle spent 20 years in prison, yet after being released, he headed straight to the blessed home of the revolution, the Soviet Union. Two weeks after arriving he was arrested; no one knows why. As Rubashov lies on his cot listening to 406 tap, his "grammatical fiction" appears in his mind, and he feels uneasy.

That afternoon Rubashov is taken to the barber for a shave. Neither man is permitted to speak, but the barber manages to slip a small note under the back of Rubashov's collar. Back in his cell Rubashov reads the note: "Die in silence." Rubashov wonders if his silence would in some way be "a turning point in history ... the one thing required of him." He wonders, "What was more honorable: to die in silence—or to abase oneself publicly in order to be able to pursue one's aims?" Again Rubashov wonders if No. 1 is right and he's been wrong all along. Rubashov stands still in the middle of his cell repeating "die in silence" until he realizes he's no longer so sure he will refuse Ivanov's offer to sign an open confession.

The Second Hearing: 5

After 11 days of soft treatment Rubashov is finally allowed out into the exercise yard. Guards march him out of his cell but stop in front of door 406. Rip Van Winkle is going with Rubashov to the yard. 406 turns out to be "a little old man [who] gave him a short, friendly nod," even though any type of communication between prisoners is forbidden. As the two men walk the prescribed circle in the yard Rubashov can hear 406 incessantly muttering the same phrase he taps on the wall. After a few minutes they're returned to their respective cells. Rubashov feels pity for 402 who, as far as he knows, has never been let out of his cell.

The next day is the same, with Rubashov and 406 walking the yard circle. On the third day outside Rubashov has brought with him his notebook and a pencil. When 406 notices them sticking out of Rubashov's pocket he grabs them and begins scribbling, holding the notebook under his blanket. When Rip Van Winkle hands back the notebook Rubashov sees he's drawn a map of the USSR with its flag in the middle. 406 takes the notebook again and produces the same map. He draws a third map with his eyes closed. Finally, when the guards are not looking, 406 tells Rubashov "It can't be helped ... I was put on the wrong train ... don't tell anybody that I know." As they're escorted back to their cells 406 says, "One must not give up hope. One day we will get there all the same."

The Second Hearing: 6

During supper one evening Rubashov has the feeling that "there was something unusual in the air ... something tense about the atmosphere." He taps to 402 to see if he feels it too, and 402 says he does. When Rubashov asks why the prison feels so tense, 402 taps "TONIGHT POLITICAL DIFFERENCES ARE BEING SETTLED." It's "YOUR SORT. POLTICAL DIVERGENCIES," to be executed. Rubashov knows execution means a bullet in the back of the neck down in the cellar. Rubashov thinks "It was a logical consequence, a factor with which one reckoned; [death was] a technical detail."

Rubashov lies on his bunk wondering how executions are carried out. While Rubashov daydreams about Arlova, 402 taps "THEY ARE COMING" then "NO. 380. PASS IT ON." Rubashov goes to the other side of the cell and taps out the message for 406. Rubashov asks 402 who No. 380 is, but 402 only taps "HE IS SHOUTING FOR HELP." 402 adds, "THEY ARE BRINGING HIM. SCREAMING AND HITTING OUT." Rubashov keeps asking for a name until finally 402 taps "BOGROV. OPPOSITIONAL." Rubashov is shocked. Michael Bogrov was a navy commander and decorated hero of the revolution. Bogrov had been Rubashov's roommate during their exile in 1905. Twice a year Bogrov sent a letter to Rubashov to keep up the friendship. 402 taps urgently, "THEY ARE COMING. STAND AT THE SPY-HOLE. DRUM." All the prisoners in the cells along the corridor begin to drum on their cell door. Suddenly Rubashov sees "shadowy figures" pass his cell.

The image is forever "branded on Rubashov's memory." Two men in uniform dragged another man between them. This middle figure had clearly been tortured. He's held under his arms as his feet stretch out and are dragged behind him. His drooling mouth emits a "moaning and whimpering" sound that seems to be the vowels "u-a-o." When Bogrov is able to bellow loudly it's clear he's trying to say "Rubashov." Then the cell block falls silent.

Rubashov lies on his bunk with the sound of his name echoing in his mind. He's horrified, thinking with regard to Bogrov's death, "What had they done to Bogrov ... this sturdy sailor?" Then Rubashov wonders if they'd done the same terrible things to Arlova. Rubashov feels sick: He had never thought about Arlova's death before. Party executions had always seemed to him right and logical, but now this idea "seemed lunacy." "The inhuman sound of [Bogrov's] voice, which had called out his name ... smothered the thin voice of reason" in Rubashov.


Rip Van Winkle is a reference to the titular character in an 1819 short story by American author Washington Irving (1783–1859). In Darkness at Noon Rip Van Winkle (also known as 406) represents the fate of the Old Guard and its more humanistic ideology. He's rearrested upon entering the Soviet Union because he's no longer in sync with No. 1's ideology. That he sings a line from "The International" and says, "One must not give up hope. One day we will get there" indicates his naïve loyalty to and belief in the triumph of Communism. 406 seems not to realize how brutally the Communist Party has changed, and his fervent expression of hope seems almost pathetic or ridiculous in light of what the Party has become. But his thought crimes override his Communist loyalty. Rubashov's "grammatical fiction" and his conscience are awakened by 406 because Rubashov feels complicit in 406's lifelong suffering. "For that too you must pay," his conscience tells him.

The barber's note reveals his belief in the importance of the individual over the collective. The barber believes that silently accepting death is preferable to denouncing others who are likely guilty of nothing more than thought crimes, or opinions that differ from No. 1's. Rubashov is still uncertain about what to do, but the barber has no doubt that protecting individuals is far more important than saving yourself, especially if your life is forfeit anyway, as Rubashov's is. The barber's action reminds Rubashov of his sacrifice of Arlova. Yet somehow the barber's note has an unintended effect on Rubashov, who questions whether or not he will resist Ivanov.

Bogrov's death exemplifies the conflict between the collective and the individual, as well as the absurd consequences of thought crimes in light of one's loyalty to the Party and its ideology. Bogrov's death is described as "a logical consequence" of the political system. It has "an abstract character" because for the new Party the individual is nothing more than a material object; death is therefore merely "physical liquidation." Execution is reduced to "a logical equation [that] had lost any intimate bodily feature." That is, it's unrelated to the individual life being annihilated. Bogrov was a hero of the Communist revolution, but his legitimate disagreement with No. 1 is tantamount to treason, to betrayal of the Party he's devoted his life to. Bogrov is of the same generation as Rubashov, so both are guilty of harboring the ideology of the Old Guard, which No. 1 is sweeping away.

When Bogrov cries out Rubashov's name he shatters Rubashov's last attachment to cold ideological logic. After seeing how the Party has transformed the once-robust sailor into a quivering mass of tortured flesh, Rubashov can no longer think of execution as an abstraction, as part of a "logical equation" that balances Party ideology with the destruction of human material existence. For the first time Rubashov contemplates Arlova's death, which forces him to reject execution as a means of maintaining "mathematical equilibrium." With his awakened "I" Rubashov comprehends the horror the Party perpetrates in the name of ideology and logic. Rubashov's emerging conscience shows him that such horrendous human suffering utterly defeats inhuman Party logic.

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