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

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1041

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

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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

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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.

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Latest answer posted May 10, 2007, 12:14 am (UTC)

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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.

Analysis
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 this juxtaposition sets a foreboding tone, and this tone grows deeper as Rubashov enters the prison. The bright lights and judas-eyes convey the impression that the prisoners have no private life and can withhold no secrets from the prison authorities. Rubashov's awareness of his imminent execution and the disappearance of the Party's old guard extend this gloom further. Yet Rubashov is not yet defeated: his memory is still intact, as his vague recollection of an outside memory, sparked by No. 407's upturned palms, shows. Rubashov continues to assert his individuality and identity when he loudly complains to the officer about his missing breakfast and pencil and paper. Thus begins the theme of Rubashov's individual struggle against the collective force of the regime of Stalin. Stalin here is called No. 1 in what seems to be an ironic attempt to convey the sense that Stalin has his own number. He is just like the prisoners in Rubashov's prison, even though he rules the nation and the Party.

The entire book is narrated by an omniscient third-person narrator, which has the effect of disembodying Rubashov while still allowing the reader to access his dreams and thoughts. The reader can identify with Rubashov and his terrible position, but Rubashov is not allowed to tell his own tale. In this way, Koestler further emphasizes the lack of individuality in the Party. Koestler does not define the principles of the Party in the novel, but his Party is closely modeled on the historical version. Karl Marx was the primary inspiration for the development of Communism. Marx's economic and social theories included his allegation that the masses were oppressed by a ruling elite that exploited them economically and controlled them politically and culturally. Marx also supported the eradication of private property and replacing it with government ownership of land and government control of the economy. His ideas gave rise to a movement among European intellectuals and activists to establish Communist governments based on his ideas in their countries. In Russia, this movement succeeded in creating the Soviet Union, which was governed by the Communist Party.

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