Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Nicholas Rubashov, former commissar of the people and once a power in the party, is in prison. Arrested at his lodgings in the middle of the night, he is taken secretly to cell 404, which bears his name on a card just above the spy hole. His cell is located in an isolation block for political suspects.

At seven o’clock in the morning, Rubashov is awakened by a bugle, but he does not get up. Soon he hears sounds in the corridor. He imagines that someone is to be tortured, and he dreads hearing the first screams of pain. When the footsteps reach his own section, he sees through the eye hole that guards are serving breakfast. Rubashov does not receive any breakfast because he reported himself ill. He begins to pace up and down the cell, six and a half steps to the window, six and a half steps back.

Soon he hears a quiet knocking from the wall of the adjoining cell, 402. In communicating with one another, prisoners use the “quadratic alphabet,” a square of twenty-five letters, five horizontal rows of five letters each. The first series of taps represents the number of the row; the second series the number of the letter in the row. Thus, words can be spelled. From the communications Rubashov has with his neighbor, Rubashov pictures him as a military man, one not in sympathy with the methods of the great leader or with the views of Rubashov himself. From his window he sees prisoners walking in the courtyard for exercise. One of these, a man with a harelip, looks repeatedly up at Rubashov’s window. From his neighbor in cell 402, Rubashov learns that Hare-Lip is a political prisoner who was tortured in a steam bath the day before. A little later Hare-Lip, in cell 400, sends Rubashov his greetings, via the inmate of 402, but he will not give his name.

Three days later, Rubashov is brought up for his first examination. The examiner is Ivanov, Rubashov’s old college friend and former battalion commander. During the interview the prisoner learns that he is accused of belonging to the opposition to the party and that he is suspected of an attempt on the party...

(The entire section is 855 words.)

Darkness at Noon Summary

The First Hearing
Darkness at Noon begins with its main character, Rubashov, being locked in his solitary...

(The entire section is 1108 words.)

Darkness at Noon Summary and Analysis

Darkness at Noon Summary and Analysis: Part 1—The First Hearing—Chapters 1-7

New Characters
Nicolas Salmanovitch Rubashov: a distinguished Party official who is arrested and put on trial for his alleged crimes against the Party

Vassilij (also known as "Wassilij"): an old porter as well as a veteran who served on the Party's side of the Civil War

Vera Wassiljovna: Vassilij's daughter

Warder: the warder of Rubashov's prison

No. 1: this is Rubashov's name for Stalin, the leader of the Soviet regime and the Party

Summary
Rubashov has just been escorted into his cell. He pauses for a cigarette before taking his coat off, putting it on his straw mattress, and looking out the cell window into the prison yard. As he lies down and removes his pince-nez, he feels safe and believes he will not be questioned for a few days. It is 5:00 on a winter morning as Rubashov, an ex-Commissar of the People, lies down to sleep.

An hour earlier, as two men from the People's Commissariat of the Interior were coming to arrest him in his apartment, Rubashov dreamt of his earlier arrest by three Nazi policemen. In his dream, the three men came into his bedroom and waited for him to put on his dressing gown. Growing impatient, they beat him with the butt of a pistol. He emerged from the dream to look up at a print of the Party leader, No. 1, and heard the two Commissariat men pounding on his door. Vassilij, a porter and veteran of the Civil War, stood in the elevator of Rubashov's building as the two men banged open the door to his apartment and informed him of his arrest. Rubashov responded skeptically to the news, but got his clothes together and walked with them out to their car.

Rubashov arrived at the prison and was put in his isolation cell, No. 404. The prison is filled with electric light, and each cell is equipped with judas-eyes that allow the authorities to look into the cells.

Rubashov wakes at 7 a.m. to a bugle call, smokes the end of his cigarette, and realizes that he is going to be executed. He ponders the demise of the Revolutionary old guard, of which he is a member, before sensing the warder watching him through the judas-eye, and telling him he has a toothache. Thinking about No. 1 as he walks in his cell, Rubashov anticipates hearing the screams of tortured prisoners, but instead only sees the upturned palms of No. 407 being given his bread. This sight prompts Rubashov to recollect a vague memory that he cannot quite elaborate on. Rubashov impatiently waits for his bread before raising a fuss...

(The entire section is 1041 words.)

Darkness at Noon Summary and Analysis: Part 1—The First Hearing—Chapters 8-9

New Characters
No. 402: the man who is being held in the cell next to Rubashov's

Richard: a Party leader in a south German town who was expelled from the Party by Rubashov

Summary
Rubashov returns to pacing his cell and thinks about what the officer thinks of him. He looks out the window at the prison yard, which except for its path is covered with slightly frozen snow. Then he hears tapping from No. 402. Rubashov and No. 402 begin using the quadratic alphabet to talk to each other. Rubashov tells No. 402 his identity and receives a contemptuous reply. No. 402 refuses to say who he is, but Rubashov guesses that he is a counter-revolutionary officer from his...

(The entire section is 798 words.)

Darkness at Noon Summary and Analysis: Part 1—The First Hearing—Chapters 10-12

New Characters
Hare-lip (also known as "Kieffer"): Rubashov's fellow prisoner, who is later revealed to have implicated him in an effort to kill No. 1

Little Loewy: a leader of the Party in a Belgian port town

Summary
The scene returns to Rubashov in his cell, looking out the window to realize he has spent almost four hours walking in the cell. Two men, one of whom has a hare-lip, are walking on the prison yard's path. "Hare-lip" looks up at Rubashov's window, directly above the path. Rubashov asks No. 402 who he is. No. 402 says that Hare-lip, No. 400, is also imprisoned for "POLITICAL DIVERGENCIES" and was tortured yesterday. As he begins smoking his last...

(The entire section is 990 words.)

Darkness at Noon Summary and Analysis: Part 1—The First Hearing—Chapters 13-14

New Characters
Ivanov: Rubashov's old friend and colleague in the Party

Arlova: Rubashov's former secretary

Summary
On the first night of his incarceration, Rubashov sleeps poorly and is hounded by thoughts of Richard and Little Loewy. He awakens in the morning to a bugle's blare and is escorted to the prison doctor, who examines his teeth. The doctor sees that Rubashov has no upper left teeth, and "the root of the right eye-tooth is broken off and has remained in the jaw." The doctor offers to remove the root, but Rubashov rejects the offer, demanding proper treatment. He is put under examination three days later.

On that day, the warder leads him to...

(The entire section is 788 words.)

Darkness at Noon Summary and Analysis: Part 2—The Second Hearing—Chapters 1-3

New Characters
Gletkin: the Party official who takes over the interrogation of Rubashov from Ivanov

Summary
On the fifth day of his imprisonment, Rubashov makes a diary entry. In it, he looks back on the Party's neo-Machiavellian nature and the fact that it is "sailing without ballast." Its morality brings No. 1 to kill some agriculturalists because they disagreed with No. 1 on the issue of proper manure. In this atmosphere, mistakes are paid with death, and lies are often better than truth. However, Party members cannot discern the truth, and so Rubashov says they rely on "faith in one's self" instead.

Ivanov and Gletkin had discussed the...

(The entire section is 892 words.)

Darkness at Noon Summary and Analysis: Part 2—The Second Hearing—Chapters 4-6

New Characters
No. 406 (also known as "Rip van Winkle"): a Party follower who was held in prison for twenty years before coming to Rubashov's prison

No. 380 or Bogrov: Rubashov's old close friend and a distinguished Party official

Summary
On the morning of the tenth day after Rubashov's arrest, the inmate of cell No. 406 began regularly tapping out the message, "ARIE, YE WRETCHED OF THE EARTH." Meanwhile, Rubashov and No. 402 have developed a small friendship, with No. 402 telling tales from his officer days. No. 402 responds to Rubashov's query by saying that No. 406 is "RIP VAN WINKLE." He explains that Rip van Winkle was arrested in a foreign country for...

(The entire section is 929 words.)

Darkness at Noon Summary and Analysis: Part 2—The Second Hearing—Chapter 7

Summary
Rubashov is awoken the next morning when the light in his cell is turned on, and after briefly dreaming that he is free rather than in prison, he sees Ivanov standing at his bedside. Ivanov has a bottle of brandy brought in and points out that Rubashov has a badly swollen right cheek. Rubashov's toothache is worsening. Rubashov scorns the offer of brandy but begins to talk, asking Ivanov to put away his scheme of gaining a confession from Rubashov and leave his cell. However, when Ivanov protests that this is not his intent and asks to talk for five minutes, Rubashov agrees.

Ivanov confirms the shooting of Bogrov and says that Gletkin deliberately had Bogrov dragged past Rubashov's cell....

(The entire section is 768 words.)

Darkness at Noon Summary and Analysis: Part 3—The Third Hearing—Chapters 1-2

Summary
Rubashov's second diary entry, made on the twentieth day of his imprisonment, discusses the "'pendulum movement in history, swinging from absolutism to democracy.'" He theorizes that the alternation between absolutism (which is also known as totalitarian dictatorship) and democracy reflects a situation in which economic and technological change outpaces the ability of a population to comprehend and adapt to this change. When the population has adapted to change, it becomes a democracy. However, Rubashov argues that until the population does adapt, absolutism is possible and sometimes even necessary. He claims that socialist theory failed to recognize this. Instead, it mistakenly believed...

(The entire section is 593 words.)

Darkness at Noon Summary and Analysis: Part 3—The Third Hearing—Chapter 3

Summary
Rubashov waits two days after turning in his statement to be taken to Ivanov. During this time, he thinks about the impact of his statement within the Party and imagines that it will cause a great deal of agony for the Party officials. He believes that the theories set forth in his statement are extremely heretical to the Party's philosophy and will therefore astound and bewilder those officials. He considers the demise of the Party's old guard and the grotesque nature of the debates over so-called "'revolutionary philosophy,;" which were only used to secure No. 1's hold on power. With his toothache gone, he wishes that he were able to develop his theory by pursuing studies in a library and...

(The entire section is 1108 words.)

Darkness at Noon Summary and Analysis: Part 3—The Third Hearing—Chapters 4-6

Summary
Rubashov descends the stairs to submit again to the examination by Gletkin. These examinations continue for at least several days and nights, and they are broken only by one- or two-hour intervals. Gletkin, by doing all the examinations himself, deprives Rubashov of "the moral superiority of the victim" and destroys Rubashov's sense of day and night. Gletkin's impressive durability contrasts with Rubashov's sense of degradation. He faces an accusation with seven points, and each point is examined by Gletkin and resisted by Rubashov. Rubashov recalls his meeting with Herr von Z., a representative of a foreign Power, after a diplomatic lunch. In this meeting, the two went from lightly discussing the...

(The entire section is 1073 words.)

Darkness at Noon Summary and Analysis: Part 4—The Grammatical Fiction—Chapters 1-3

Summary
Wassilij, the porter formerly called Vassilij, is read the newspaper account of Rubashov's trial by his daughter, Vera. The newspaper informs its audience that Rubashov pled guilty to all points and repented his crime. He also gave an account of his path from opposing the Party to betraying the Fatherland, and was questioned regarding his shameful lies that led to Arlova's execution. Wassilij thinks about Rubashov's past triumphs as the newspaper article is read to him. Vera insists, over Wassilij's protest, that Rubashov is a traitor. She adds that her cell secretary asked about Wassilij's relationship with Rubashov. Vera returns to reading the article as her father sips some tea. Wassilij comments...

(The entire section is 919 words.)