Summary and Analysis: Part 1—The First Hearing—Chapters 1-7
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
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 and also demands a pencil and paper. An officer warns him to cease his insubordination.
Rubashov and the other characters in this novel are fictional, but as the author says in his introductory note, they are based on the real historical circumstances of the Soviet Union in the 1930s. The author informs the readers that "the life of the man N. S. Rubashov is a synthesis of the lives of a number of men who were victims of the so-called Moscow Trials." These trials, which took place in the mid to late 1930s, were an effort by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to destroy opponents to his regime by attacking them as traitors, saboteurs, and counter-revolutionaries seeking to destroy the Communist Party.
However, most of the allegations against Stalin's opponents were fabricated and made with only the intent to kill or imprison Stalin's opponents. The author, in his note, is telling the readers that his novel is an effort to examine the trials and the historical circumstances that produced them. The Moscow Trials took place in the Soviet Union under Stalin's Communist Party rule. The Communist Party was founded on the principles of Marx and believed in the good of the many and the power of the worker. The "Party" in Koestler's Darkness at Noon is closely modeled on the Communist Party under Stalin's rule, where disagreement with Stalin could mean death.
The direct juxtaposition of Rubashov's arrest by the Party and his earlier arrest by the Nazis highlights the two regimes' similar brutality and tactics. The temporary confusion created by...
(The entire section is 1,041 words.)