Literature Study GuidesDarkness At NoonThe Third Hearing 4 6 Summary

Darkness at Noon | Study Guide

Arthur Koestler

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



The Third Hearing: 4

Gletkin uses sleep deprivation to break Rubashov down both physically and mentally. Rubashov had thought that after signing a confession at the first hearing with Gletkin it was all over. But now he realizes interrogation was just the first in a series. Rubashov learns his "powerlessness [is] bottomless." The temptation he fights against is his longing for sleep (death), which is related to the dictum, "Die in silence." Sometimes Rubashov "identified the tempter with [his] grammatical fiction."

Gletkin tries to get Rubashov to admit he'd "negotiated with representatives of a foreign Power ... to overthrow the present regime." Rubashov denies this but wonders how Gletkin can know about a long-ago conversation in which Rubashov and a German friend discussed political matters, including the desirability of a new government in the USSR. The discussion was not serious, but Gletkin interprets it as treasonous. Rubashov realizes this innocent conversation now "fitted into the chain so well that it was not difficult for [him] to see it otherwise than through Gletkin's eyes." Rubashov wonders if the whole point of the interrogation is to "punish him, not for deeds he had committed, but for those he had neglected to commit." Still, Rubashov signs a confession that he was, in fact, engaged in this treasonous plot.

Rubashov asks Gletkin what happened to Ivanov. Gletkin says Ivanov has been arrested for "expressing cynical doubts [about] the accusation" against Rubashov. Rubashov also asks Gletkin why he's never been physically tortured, and Gletkin explains Rubashov is the "type of accused [who has] political utility" only if his confession is made voluntarily in a public trial. Gletkin calls him the "tenacious kind," which pleases Rubashov. Each time he signs another confession, after arguing tenaciously in his own defense, Rubashov feels a kind of pride. Despite this, Rubashov wonders why he doesn't just confess to everything and be allowed to get some sleep. There is no "possible doubt about the final result," so why is he arguing so much?

Rubashov scores one victory, albeit rather meaningless: he convinces Gletkin to drop the charge of sabotage when Rubashov headed the aluminum trust. This leads to a discussion of the unjust treatment of Soviet industrial workers. Rubashov argues it is mistreatment of workers, even killing them for mistakes or inefficiency that results in poor industrial production. Gletkin uses his own life experience to insist workers need strict chastisement because peasants are too lazy and ignorant to know better. Without the threat of physical abuse or death, Gletkin says, "the peasants would lie down to sleep on the factory yards until grass grew out of the chimneys." The masses are uneducated and ignorant through no fault of their own; therefore, it's useful to single out a few as scapegoats for harsh punishment. Gletkin insists history requires scapegoats. The masses must be told they are "heroes of work" and poor production is the fault of the scapegoated "devils and saboteurs." The scapegoat is a symbol, Gletkin says, the same way Jesus and God are symbols, and the peasants believe literally in all of them. In the course of this conversation Gletkin accidentally reveals Ivanov has been executed.

Rubashov is strangely unmoved by Ivanov's death, though he knows Gletkin's power comes from the revolution made by men like himself and Ivanov. Gletkin is "merely completing the work of the generation with the numbered heads," the Old Guard. Gletkin derides Ivanov as a cynic because he had "trailed his past after him to the end." Gletkin has no past, "nothing to erase," and definitely no sentiment.

The Third Hearing: 5

In this diary fragment Rubashov questions the right of the Old Guard, including himself, to "look down with such superiority" on people like Gletkin. He compares the Old Guard to civilized apes who look down on and laugh at the dumb, brutish Neanderthals such as Gletkin. The Neanderthals "transgressed against every law and tradition of the jungle" because they were "a barbaric relapse of history." Even today, Rubashov writes, chimpanzees "turn up their noses at the sight of a human being."

The Third Hearing: 6

Rubashov faints at an interrogation where he's being pressed to expose the motive for his treasonous plot with a foreign power. After he regains consciousness, Rubashov throws up and the doctor says Rubashov needs some fresh air. Rubashov is taken back to his cell and then escorted out to the exercise yard. Rubashov feels "intoxicated by the biting fresh air." He looks at the sun, the sky, the snow and thinks himself a fool "not to appreciate this blessing." He decides to "shake off the nightmare of Gletkin's room" and pretend he's living a normal life.

Rubashov's ruminations are interrupted by the peasant in the bast shoes (woven from tree bark fibers), who tells Rubashov "you look ill ... you won't last much longer." The peasant talks about what his real life was like at this time of year. He says it was the time for sowing and taking the sheep to graze up in the hills. The peasant laments that Party ideology ensures "the old days when we were happy must not come back." Rubashov, who had been gazing at flying birds, asks "Were you really so happy in those days?" The peasant mumbles something unintelligible. Rubashov asks if he remembers the Bible "where the tribes in the desert began to cry: Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt." The peasant nods but clearly does not understand. Rubashov is led back inside to Gletkin's room.

Gletkin broaches "the concluding question of the motive for [Rubashov's] counter-revolutionary activities." It is the last question, and Gletkin says when Rubashov "has signed that, we will have finished with one another." Yet Rubashov insists he had no counter-revolutionary motive but acted on his convictions. Gletkin scoffs at this, quoting Rubashov's diary: "The question of subjective good faith is of no interest. He who is in the wrong must pay. ... That was our law." When Rubashov doesn't respond, Gletkin quotes another diary entry: "Honor is: to serve without vanity, and unto the last consequence." Rubashov says he's already signed countless confessions, why is the Party demanding another, more humiliating one? Rubashov says his revolutionary actions are Party history, so what does the Party gain now by denigrating them?

Gletkin reads again from the diary: "What is presented as right must shine like gold; what is presented as wrong must be black as pitch." Rubashov understands he's to play the devil at his own trial. Gletkin explains Rubashov's "testimony at the trial will be the last service [he] can do the Party." The Party will tolerate no oppositional voices because they threaten its continued survival. Gletkin explains that it was a mistake for the Old Guard to have put so much effort into exporting the revolution to other countries, for that brought a "wave of reaction" that put the Party at risk. The Party has since awakened to the danger and liquidated the Old Guard who had created this risk. Gletkin says No. 1 understands that any sacrifice is sanctioned in the name of what is most important for the Party: "not to perish." Anyone who compromises this ultimate goal has to be gotten rid of.

Gletkin says Rubashov must help heal the tear in the Party made by the Old Guard by admitting openly and to the masses that "opposition [is] contemptible ... a crime." Gletkin reiterates that, as Rubashov wrote in his diary, "If [I was] wrong, I shall pay." Perhaps in the future, history will rehabilitate the Old Guard and what they did for the revolution. Gletkin pushes the confession of motive toward Rubashov, who signs it. Finally Rubashov just asks for the chance to sleep, and Gletkin orders he be taken back to his cell and not be disturbed.


Rubashov must understand that in the new historical narrative his role in revolutionary history is irrelevant. Old Guard opposition and its history have been annihilated by the Party's new historical narrative, bolstered by wholesale liquidation. As George Orwell wrote, "it was the weakness of the Old [Guard] to have remained ... more akin to the society they overthrew than to the new race of monsters." The only thing Rubashov can hope for is "to wait until posterity did [the Old Guard] justice." Gletkin suggests in the future "your friends of the older generation ... will be given the sympathy and pity which are denied you today." Gletkin's lie and mawkish insincerity are apparent.

Rubashov challenges Party logic and its accusation of sabotage. Party logic states that guilt is assumed at "the root of charge ... even when [the] root is ... only of a logical, abstract nature." Rubashov sees that if Gletkin can prove the charge correct, he then has "a free hand to insert the missing details." Once ideological logic is nailed down, any incriminating details can be added to support it. After Rubashov signs the confession of motive he looks up to see the portrait of No. 1. He understands the "expression of knowing irony" on the dictator's face. No. 1 is all-powerful. How laughable it is for any individual to think they could escape his will.

Party power is dedicated to its one paramount duty: to ensure it does not perish. Gletkin says "the bulwark must be held, at any price and with any sacrifice." The Party must ensure everything and everyone standing in the way of its unity and survival be destroyed. Yet Party power also reveals its hypocrisy, as when working people are executed as scapegoats for poor productivity. Party ideology exalts the masses, but then the Party acts to pander to their ignorance through random sacrifice. Instead of educating and supporting the masses, the Party sacrifices some workers as scapegoats who are blamed for the masses' errors. The Party lies, telling the people they're heroes who have been betrayed by the scapegoated saboteur. Yet the Party may be wrong in believing the masses are fooled by these tactics. The peasant Rubashov walks with is a reactionary because he knows the Party will never allow "the old days when we were happy [to] come back." It's likely many among the masses feel the same way. That's why the Party forces Rubashov to face a public trial where his testimony will have "political utility." As a devil he can be the scapegoat blamed for the suffering of the masses. Just as workers are executed by the Party to appease the masses, so will Rubashov be sacrificed to fortify its power and ensure its continuance.

At times during his interrogation Rubashov is tempted by his individuality, his "grammatical fiction." He sometimes identifies with that "silent partner" who is the moral individual within him. He knows he should ignore his "I" during interrogation, yet it generates a sense of pride in him. His "sense of duty" to himself seems to force Rubashov to contest each accusation Gletkin makes, even though Rubashov knows the battle is lost. Rubashov cannot help using his "own conviction and conscience" to defend himself against the ultimate charge against him.

The final charge of conspiring with a foreign country to overthrow the Party turns the earlier examples of complicity upside down. Previously Rubashov felt guilty at his complicity with the Party in denouncing and sending innocent men and women to their deaths. Here Rubashov is inadvertently complicit in his own condemnation because he admits the conversation with Herr von Z. took place. There is no way Rubashov can explain to Gletkin the intellectual banter that occurs between members of the Old Guard class. A peasant like Gletkin could never understand, and the Party refuses to. Thus Rubashov can never refute the Party's interpretation of his actions as treasonous. Rubashov is also inadvertently complicit in assuring his own guilt based on his diary entries. Gletkin uses Rubashov's own words against him to force his confession. He quotes back at Rubashov his words about serving "unto the last consequence," about what is "wrong must be black as pitch," and that "if wrong, I shall pay." Each quote condemns Rubashov and cuts off any means of defense.

Religion is used to represent complicity in one's own terrible fate. Rubashov tells a Bible story to exemplify a form of collective complicity. In that story the people seek "a captain" who will "let [them] return into Egypt." The "captain" references No. 1, to whom the masses willingly subjugate themselves. The return to Egypt indicates their desire to become slaves (as the Israelites were slaves in Egypt).

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