Literature Study GuidesDarkness At NoonThe Second Hearing 7 Summary

Darkness at Noon | Study Guide

Arthur Koestler

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Darkness at Noon | The Second Hearing: 7 | Summary

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Summary

Rubashov is dreaming of his first arrest, but he's awakened by Ivanov standing by his bunk. Ivanov offers him brandy, and the two men drink and smoke. Ivanov says he wants to talk to Rubashov, but before he can say anything Rubashov states, "Until now I was tempted to believe you were acting in good faith. Now I see that you are a swine. Get out of here." Rubashov turns on Ivanov because he deliberately had Bogrov dragged past Rubashov's cell in order to force Rubashov to view Ivanov as his savior. Ivanov denies this and then asks for five minutes to speak to Rubashov. Ivanov admits Bogrov had been shot after being tortured, but dragging Bogrov past Rubashov's cell was Gletkin's idea, not his. In fact, Gletkin arranged it against Ivanov's express orders. Ivanov understands that, because of Rubashov's "humanitarian scruples and other sentimentalities," his seeing Bogrov was a mistake. Ivanov needs Rubashov to be logical, not emotional or moralistic. Only with logic can he come to understand why signing a confession is the right thing to do. Ivanov asks Rubashov if he's changed his mind, if he's realized his confession is a "logical necessity." Rubashov thinks this over but can't decide.

Rubashov's guilt resides in his "grammatical fiction," which is unavailable to logic. Ivanov says Rubashov likely wants to shout at him "Go away, Satan" (Apage Satanas!). Ivanov uses Christian metaphors to show Rubashov that God is a liberal sentimentalist, whereas Satan is "unmerciful to mankind" because he represents reason. Satan uses slaughter "to abolish slaughtering" as the Party uses liquidation to save the life of the collective. Satan's love for humans is "an abstract and geometric love" devoid of emotion or pity. Ivanov accuses Rubashov of having a conscience that "eats through the brain like a cancer." Before Ivanov can continue, Rubashov asks outright why Bogrov was executed. Ivanov tries to explain that it had to do with his idea of the tonnage submarines should carry. Bogrov thought large submarines carrying significant tonnage were better for national defense. No. 1 thought small submarines carrying less tonnage could better defend the homeland. His disagreement with No. 1 was Bogrov's undoing. A public trial would have been too risky because Bogrov was a revolutionary hero, so the Party "liquidated [Bogrov] administratively."

Rubashov says, "You did not hear him whimpering." Ivanov admits he did not, but says "What of it ... I have not a spark of pity." For the Party renouncing violence is unthinkable. Ivanov goes on to claim it is peace-lovers like Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948) and Russian writer Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910) who are the greatest threat to humankind because "history is ... amoral; it has no conscience." This is why the collective takes precedence over the individual. Rubashov recognizes Ivanov's viewpoint as having once been his own but which his moral "I" has now rejected. Rubashov wonders if he would have had Arlova, Richard, and Little Loewy executed if back then he'd had the moral backbone he has now. He's not sure, because he can't decide if their deaths were historically right or wrong. Would he send Arlova to her death today? He doesn't know, but he sees that the question "seemed to contain the answer to all other questions."

Rubashov asks Ivanov if he remembers Raskolnikov, the character in Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky's (1821–81) novel Crime and Punishment (1866). Rubashov wants to know if Raskolnikov had the right to kill the old woman in the novel. Rubashov thinks he didn't because people, such as the old woman, are not "mathematical units." Ivanov responds that the book should be burned because of its ridiculous and dangerous assertion that "the individual is sacrosanct." This, he says, is outmoded and dangerous Christian ideology. Further, Party ideology states that "a collective aim justifies all means [and demands] that the individual ... be subordinated and sacrificed to the community." Rubashov says that even if what Ivanov says is true, "look where [this ideology] has led us."

Yet Ivanov persists, saying all previous revolutions have failed because of their moralizing. Rubashov insists the Party's liquidations based on "differences of opinion" are arbitrary and indefensible. Ivanov counters by citing war, epidemics, famines, and other natural disasters as killing many thousands of people for no reason. Rubashov offers a litany of miseries and atrocities committed by the Party, but Ivanov responds only "Don't you find it wonderful?" because the atrocities are helping humankind slough off its old skin and acquire a new and ideologically better one. The revolution was a grand experiment, and no one knows how experiments will turn out. Yet that doesn't mean "we should shrink from sacrificing a few hundred thousand for the most promising experiment in history." Rubashov is exhausted. He says he'll think over what Ivanov has said, but he feels "already half-surrendered" to Ivanov's argument. While Rubashov is ruminating, Ivanov meets Gletkin and assures him "tomorrow [Rubashov] will sign." Gletkin doubts it.

Analysis

The confrontation between Ivanov and Rubashov is largely a conflict between logic and morality, or humanism. Ivanov's allusions to Christianity also make this section a contrast between religion and ideology. Critic Christopher Hitchens describes this intense confrontation this way: "Apart from Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor, in his 1879–80 novel Brothers Karamazov, there is no finer example in fiction of a pitiless interrogator facing a victim with the intention of saving his soul."

As Ivanov recognizes Rubashov's newfound "first person singular" moral identity, he understands that the arranged performance—dragging Bogrov past Rubashov's cell—was entirely wrongheaded and inappropriate. Ivanov understands a man who has developed a conscience would only have his moral sense strengthened by such a dreadful display of inhumanity. For Rubashov the dilemma is between morality and historical correctness. Two opposing ideas battle within him: whether he is right to feel moral guilt over those he betrayed and sent to their deaths, or to have condemned them because their deaths will help usher in a new and glorious historical era of Communism. Rubashov recognizes the answer to this question is the key to how he views his life and perhaps will determine his fate. Yet he cannot find the answer he seeks.

Ivanov's logic will have a powerful effect on Rubashov. Ivanov recognizes that Rubashov is in a state of what Ivanov calls "moral exaltation," awareness of guilt, but he must be brought out of this state and into the realm of logic. Ivanov knows he and Rubashov have both been shaped by ideological logic. He uses this commonality to challenge Rubashov: "if you became convinced of the logical necessity and the objective rightness of capitulating—would you then do it?" Rubashov hesitates, unwilling to be drawn into the logical argument. Only the feeling that capitulating would be a betrayal of Bogrov keeps Rubashov from agreeing.

The Party views Christianity, and all religion, as a threat to its ideology and its projection of power into the future. Ivanov denigrates Christianity as old-fashioned sentimental weakness, yet he lauds Satan because of his hard, pitiless logic. Ivanov turns Christianity upside down to show that logic is the ultimate historical good and Christian morality the ultimate historical evil. For him and the Party, God is a weak liberal much given to soppy charity. Ivanov makes the case that "as long as chaos dominates the world, God is an anachronism." It is Satan's razor-sharp, immovable logic that must rule. Even though Satan is "unmerciful to mankind out of a kind of mathematical mercifulness," even though he slaughters, sacrifices, and whips people, it is only to harden society for its glorious revolutionary future. Radical social change requires harshness and cruelty, not misplaced compassion and kindness. Pity is counter-revolutionary because "the ecstasies of humility and suffering are ... cheap." Rather, "sympathy, conscience ... and atonement are for [the Party] repellent debauchery."

The argument over Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment reveals the conflict between Party ideology and individual action. Ivanov argues that Raskolnikov was wrong not because the murdered woman has value but because his murder of the old woman was his free act as an individual. Ivanov says, "If Raskolnikov had killed the old woman at the command of the Party ... then the equation would stand"; the killing would have been justified. Ideology justifies any crime or atrocity but always denies the individual. Ivanov defends the Party that kills people in the name of its great historical experiment. Rubashov vehemently opposes this argument as indefensible because Ivanov equates Party leaders' deliberate policies of wholesale liquidation with unavoidable natural disasters.

As Rubashov listens to Ivanov he comes to doubt his own experience and judgment. Although he now has a conscience, Rubashov questions whether his experience of a "grammatical fiction" makes Ivanov's logic any less true, compelling, or historically justified. Again, Rubashov's quandary is his inability to decide what is right and what is wrong. He contemplates ignoring his awakened moral sense because he cannot make a logical argument that it is right. Yet he's unable to reject logic completely and fully embrace his "first-person singular" identity. At the end of the confrontation Rubashov is beset by uncertainty. He thinks, "Who could call it betrayal if, instead of the dead, one held faith with the living?" Here, Rubashov is contemplating capitulating to Ivanov and ignoring those from the past who have been executed. Perhaps Rubashov's indecisiveness arises from his recognition of his own guilt.

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