Characters

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1986

Nicolas Salmanovitch Rubashov

Rubashov is the protagonist of Darkness at Noon and is intended to represent an amalgamation of real Soviet intellectuals and politicians. A former Commissar of the People, he is a member of the “old guard,” the intelligentsia who led the Russian Revolution and fought in the Russian Civil War—and who are now being eliminated by their former comrade No. 1, leader of the Communist Party and the USSR. Described as a small man in his fifties with a pointed beard and a pince-nez, Rubashov is arrested at his apartment in the middle of the night and taken to prison, where he is kept in solitary confinement in cell No. 404. During his imprisonment, Rubashov—already disillusioned with what has become of the Party—undergoes a crisis in which he questions the Party logic and rationality that he believed in for most of his life. He also becomes aware of what he terms the “grammatical fiction”: his repressed individuality with all its illogical associations and its tendency to manifest in the form of toothache. After ruminating on the people he has denounced and, especially, hearing his old friend Bogrov call his name on his way to be executed, Rubashov comes to the conclusion that, contrary to Party ideology, the end does not always justify the means. Nevertheless, while being interrogated and deprived of sleep by Gletkin, he agrees to confess to false crimes and denounce the opposition to the Party at a public trial. At the end of the novel, Rubashov is executed.

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Wassilij

The porter in Rubashov’s apartment building, Wassilij is a thin, elderly man with a scar on his neck from a wound received in the Russian Civil War, where he served as a soldier in Rubashov’s Partisan regiment. Until his daughter, Vera, threw it out along with his Bible, Wassilij had a portrait of Rubashov hanging above his bed next to a portrait of No. 1. The news of his former commander’s downfall fills him with despair, and he mumbles Bible verses to himself, comparing Rubashov to Christ, as Vera reads him the description of the trial from the newspaper. Fearing being denounced by Vera—who he believes wants to take over his apartment by sending him to prison—Wassilij agrees to sign her petition demanding the extermination of traitors.

No. 1

“No. 1” is the name given to the novel’s fictionalized representation of Joseph Stalin, the real-life leader of the Communist Party and dictator of the USSR at the time. He appears in the novel only in Rubashov’s thoughts and memories, but his behind-the-scenes role as the powerful, inscrutable embodiment of Party logic and the orchestrator of the novel’s trials and executions is an important one.

No. 402

Rubashov’s neighbor in prison never reveals his name, so Rubashov refers to him by his cell number, No. 402. Now serving a twenty-year sentence, No. 402 is an old-fashioned military man who fought on the side of the Czarist counter-revolutionaries during the Russian Civil War. He argues with Rubashov via the “quadratic alphabet” and offers him information about events and inmates at the prison. More than anything, No. 402 wants to regale Rubashov with stories of the “jolly good fun” he had as a soldier and to hear Rubashov describe the last time he slept with a woman. Although he never actually sees his neighbor—No. 402 never seems to be let out of his cell—Rubashov imagines that he is handsome, wears a monocle, and twirls his mustache. For his part, No. 402 is initially somewhat hostile toward his neighbor due to their political differences, but he demonstrates his compassion by attempting to send Rubashov tobacco and, before Rubashov’s execution, offering him advice and companionship. Terribly lonely and bored in his cell, No. 402 envies Rubashov his impending death.

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Richard

Richard was the nineteen-year-old leader of a Party group in a town in southern Germany, where Rubashov met with him at an art gallery. Rubashov was sent to formally expel Richard from the Party for distributing his own pamphlets instead of official Party propaganda—propaganda with which Richard strongly disagreed. Richard’s pregnant wife, Anny, had just been arrested. Stammering anxiously, he begged in vain for Rubashov not to denounce him. Rubashov is now tormented by guilt for his role in Richard’s death.

Little Loewy

Little Loewy was the leader of the dockworkers’ section of a Party cell in a Belgian port town. Cheerful, well-liked, and slightly hunchbacked, Little Loewy originally came from a town in southern Germany, where he became a Party member. Shortly before the rise of the Nazi Dictatorship, he was forced to flee. Receiving no help from the Party, Little Loewy drifted back and forth between Belgium and France, reluctantly making a living by skinning cats and repeatedly being imprisoned. Eventually he was reinstated in the Party by his former cellmate, Paul, and became the political secretary of the dockworkers’ section. It was Rubashov’s job to force Little Loewy and the other leaders of the dockworkers to aid in the covert transport of supplies from the USSR to Italy—and then to have those same local leaders expelled from the Party. Little Loewy hanged himself after being denounced, and Rubashov is now haunted by his memory.

Paul

Paul was the administrative secretary of the same Belgian dockworkers’ section to which Little Loewy belonged. A former wrestler, he was arrested for putting a policeman in a double Nelson during a strike riot and became Little Loewy’s cellmate. When the two were released, Paul had Little Loewy reinstated in the Party as a member of the dockworkers’ section. He later walked out of the meeting in which Rubashov attempted to convince the dockworkers to assist in transporting supplies from the USSR to Italy. His defining feature was his ability to raise his bowler hat off his bald head by waggling his large ears.

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Ivanov

Ivanov is the Examining Magistrate in charge of Rubashov’s case at the beginning of the novel. He is also an old college friend of Rubashov’s and was the commander of his battalion during the Russian Civil War. After a battle wound resulted in Ivanov’s leg being amputated, Ivanov begged Rubashov to bring him a deadly quantity of veronal, but Rubashov argued with him and was transferred to a different part of the front before he could decide what to do. Now outfitted with a prosthetic leg, Ivanov appears to still resent Rubashov for not aiding him in his suicide. Still, he hopes to use logic to convince Rubashov to make a partial confession and be sentenced to prison rather than to deny all the charges against him and be executed. Although the former commander claims to retain his belief in the aims and methods of the Party, Rubashov observes that Ivanov is in need of solace when he comes to Rubashov’s cell and begins to drink heavily, and Gletkin regards Ivanov as a cynic. Ivanov is eventually arrested for mishandling Rubashov’s case and shot for his supposed oppositional beliefs.

Arlova

Arlova, described as a heavy, languid woman with “good cow’s eyes,” was Rubashov’s secretary when he worked at the Trade Delegation in “B.” She idolized Rubashov and later became his lover, telling him, “You can do whatever you like with me.” Not long after being promoted to librarian at the Trade Delegation, Arlova was fired for “political untrustworthiness” and arrested. At her trial she called upon Rubashov to testify to her innocence, but Rubashov remained silent until proclaiming his own Party loyalty, thereby preserving his life and sealing Arlova’s fate. Rubashov is now haunted by the knowledge of having been largely responsible for the innocent Arlova’s death and believes he can smell her “sisterly scent” in his cell.

Gletkin

Gletkin is Ivanov’s subordinate and the primary antagonist of Darkness at Noon. He is in his thirties, keeps a revolver in his belt at all times, and has a large scar—the result of having been tortured—on his shaved head. Rubashov disparagingly thinks of him as a “Neanderthaler,” a member of the new generation who grew up after the Russian Revolution with no ties to the pre-revolutionary past. Unlike Ivanov, Gletkin believes torture, not logical conversation, is the only way to elicit confessions. After Ivanov’s arrest, Gletkin ruthlessly interrogates Rubashov, shining a bright light in his eyes and depriving him of sleep until he confesses. Gletkin grew up in a small village and only learned to read as an adult. He performs every action with an air of stiff correctness, as symbolized by his uniform, which has been pressed so stiffly that the fabric creaks when he moves. Rubashov resignedly reflects on the fact that humorless, brutal people like Gletkin, who hold an unwavering faith in the Party, are the heirs to the revolution to which he dedicated his life.

Rip Van Winkle

“Rip Van Winkle” is what No. 402 calls Rubashov’s new neighbor in cell No. 406. Rubashov tries to communicate with him, but Rip Van Winkle only ever taps out the misspelled line “ARIE, YE WRETCHED OF THE EARTH.” A former sociology teacher who became the leader of a commune in his unnamed southeastern home country, Rip Van Winkle was arrested and sentenced to life in prison for his revolutionary activities. After twenty years he was given early release and immediately made his way to the USSR. Two weeks later he was arrested as a member of the opposition. When Rubashov is partnered with Rip Van Winkle for the prisoners’ daily walk around the yard, he discovers that his neighbor is not insane as he at first imagined, although he has clearly been affected by his twenty years in solitary confinement. A small, neatly dressed, friendly old man, Rip Van Winkle habitually hums the tune of “Arise, ye wretched of the earth” (the Communist anthem also known as the “Internationale”) and is particularly proud of his ability to draw an accurate map of the USSR with his eyes closed. He advises Rubashov not to give up hope, but every time the prisoners return to their cells, Rip Van Winkle’s childlike smile turns into an expression of terror. One day he disappears, and while Rubashov vaguely assumes he has been taken away somewhere, Koestler never tells us his fate.

Michael Bogrov

Now the inmate of cell No. 380, Michael Bogrov is a former sailor and naval commander who was once Rubashov’s roommate in exile. Rubashov taught him to read and write, and ever since, Bogrov has sent Rubashov twice-yearly letters signed “Your comrade, faithful unto the grave, Bogrov.” Gletkin arranges to have Bogrov tortured and told of Rubashov’s presence in the prison, then led past Rubashov’s cell on his way to be executed. Rubashov is deeply affected by the sight of the huge man being limply dragged—white-haired, drooling, and whimpering—down the corridor, and even more so by the realization that Bogrov is calling Rubashov’s name. Ivanov later reveals that Bogrov was arrested because he advocated the use of large submarines appropriate to the pursuit of world revolution, while the Party now favors small submarines to be used purely for coastal defense.

Hare-lip

Hare-lip, whose nickname derives from his split lip, is the emaciated inmate of cell No. 404. He gazes up at Rubashov’s window every day while perambulating the prison yard and sends Rubashov his greetings via their mutual neighbor, No. 402. Rubashov also learns from No. 402 that Hare-lip has been tortured in a “steambath.” When Hare-lip is brought into Gletkin’s office to testify that he attempted to assassinate No. 1 on Rubashov’s orders, Rubashov finally recognizes the terrified, broken man before him as young Michael Kiefer, the son of his closest friend and colleague, Professor Michael Kieffer, who has already been executed. Hare-lip/Kieffer is later executed shortly before Rubashov; No. 402 reports that he “behaved quite well.”

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 397

Nikolai Rubashov

Nikolai Rubashov (nih-koh-LI rew-BAH-shof), a political prisoner, a former commissar once politically powerful but now in disfavor and accused of crimes he did not commit. He broods over his actual deeds for the Party and attempts to rationalize them. After publicly denouncing his supposed errors, he is executed. He resembles such old Bolsheviks as Leon Trotsky and Nikolay Bukharin, who wielded ruthless power for supposedly good ends in the early years of the Soviet Union and who were then liquidated by an even more ruthless dictator, Joseph Stalin.

Ivanov

Ivanov (ih-VAH-nof), a prison official, Rubashov’s old college friend and former battalion commander. After interrogating Rubashov on two occasions and persuading him to renounce his opposition to Party policies and to acknowledge his errors, Ivanov is executed for negligence in conducting Rubashov’s case. Like Rubashov, Ivanov resembles the old Bolsheviks whom Stalin regarded as dangerous enemies. Ivanov may also be compared to Fyodor Dostoevski’s Stepan Verhovensky.

Gletkin

Gletkin (GLEHT-kihn), another official who represents the new Party policy of practical application of theoretical principles. He believes in the power of brute force and the instilling of fear to maintain control and order in the state. He is reminiscent of Stalin’s police-state aides, of Dostoevski’s Pyotr Verhovensky, and of George Orwell’s O’Brien.

Mikhail Bogrov

Mikhail Bogrov (mih-ha-IHL bohg-ROHF), another prisoner, long a close friend of Rubashov. Frightened, beaten, and whimpering, Bogrov is dragged past Rubashov’s cell and shot.

Kieffer

Kieffer, called Hare-Lip , an informer, the son of a former friend and associate of Rubashov. After being tortured in a steam bath and later used to testify that Rubashov plotted to have him poison Number 1, Hare-Lip is executed.

Number 402

Number 402, an anonymous prisoner with whom Rubashov exchanges many tapped-out conversations through the wall that separates their cells.

Number 1

Number 1, the Party dictator who resembles Joseph Stalin and George Orwell’s Big Brother.

Richard

Richard, a young man arrested in Germany while Rubashov headed the Party Intelligence and Control Department.

Arlova

Arlova (ahr-LOH-vuh), Rubashov’s former secretary and mistress, who was executed after Rubashov shifted a charge of treasonable activities from himself to her.

Little Loewy

Little Loewy, a Party worker who hanged himself after being denounced as an agent provocateur.

Rip Van Winkle

Rip Van Winkle, a little old man, the inmate of cell 406 and a veteran of twenty years’ imprisonment.

Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1909

Arlova
A “heavy, shapely” woman with a sleepy voice, Arlova is Rubashov’s secretary during his job at the Trade Delegation. They have an affair, and Arlova tells Rubashov that “‘you will always be able to do what you like with me’” before the Stalinist purges begin, and she receives a warning in her new post as librarian to restock the books of opposition leaders. Shortly afterwards, Rubashov stops his little jokes with her, and she stops going to his room. Soon she is condemned as a traitor and sentenced to death.

Michael Bogrov
Bogrov is Rubashov’s old friend. Rubashov befriended Bogrov when Bogrov taught him to read while they were roommates in exile. Rubashov taps to his prison cell neighbor that Bogrov was a “FORMER SAILOR ON BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN, COMMANDER OF THE EASTERN FLEET, BEARER OF THE FIRST REVOLUTIONARY ORDER,” which signifies Bogrov was a prominent member of the “old guard,” since the Potemkin was the site of the first rebellion against the Tsarist regime. Rubashov is forced to watch as Bogrov is led to execution. Bogrov is executed because of his advocacy of long-range submarines to pursue the worldwide revolution, which goes against the Stalinist policy.

Elder Official
The older of the two officials who originally arrest Rubashov is slightly kinder than his younger counterpart, and more sympathetic and respectful to Rubashov than his counterpart.

Gletkin
Rubashov’s examining magistrate after Ivanov is arrested, Gletkin embodies the new generation of Soviet officials. A Civil War veteran with “expressionless eyes” and a shaven head with a large scar, he forces Rubashov to stay awake under blinding lights and ceaseless antagonism until, days later, the prisoner confesses to the specific charges against him. Gletkin has much to gain by “bringing down” Rubashov, and it is clear that Party members with Gletkin’s convictions and ruthless methods will be promoted and rewarded by No. 1.

The one time Gletkin reveals anything about his personal life coincides with Rubashov’s one triumph during his examination—the withdrawal of industrial sabotage charges. Gletkin describes the first time he was posted to watch over the peasantry, using it as an example of the necessity of force to get the Soviet industrial economy in functional order. As Rubashov recognizes, Gletkin and other “Neanderthalers” have no humanity because they have lived entirely under a system that eradicates individuality. Rubashov comes to believe that this is the logical extension of the basic Bolshevik principles of the Party and that the “Gletkins” are the inevitable result of the Rubashovs.

Ivanov
Rubashov’s old friend and his examining magistrate for the first two hearings, Ivanov is a former battalion commander with a wooden leg and, like Rubashov, a thinker of the old guard. Rubashov was present when Ivanov’s leg was amputated during the war, at which time Rubashov argued with him for an entire afternoon, finally convincing him not to commit suicide. In the prison, Ivanov engages in two long arguments with his friend about rationality and usefulness to the Party in order to convince him to partially confess. Recognizing that Rubashov will capitulate if allowed to follow his thoughts to their logical conclusion, Ivanov allows Rubashov two weeks for reflection. Although Rubashov does confess to a general oppositional tendency when his two weeks expire, it is because of Ivanov’s handling of Rubashov’s case that Ivanov is arrested and promptly executed.

Hare-lip Kieffer
Hare-lip is revealed to be the son of Rubashov’s old friend Professor Kieffer, who had been previously condemned as a traitor and executed. Hare-lip is seemingly the Party’s only evidence of the specific charges against Rubashov. Gletkin tortured Hare-lip to obtain the false confession that Rubashov incited him to assassinate No. 1, and Rubashov admits to this act despite the fact that he and Hare-lip never met to plan an assassination. In his exhausted state, Rubashov finds himself guilty because he had a dissenting political conversation with Professor Kieffer that Hare-lip overheard.

Having undergone severe torture, Hare-lip is a “human-wreck” with a chalky white and yellow face, and he continually looks to Rubashov for sympathy or salvation. Rubashov ignores him, however, and Hare-lip goes to his execution without having spoken to his supposed collaborator.

Little Loewy
Little Loewy is Rubashov’s contact for his mission for the Party in a Belgian seaport. Born in southern Germany with a deformed shoulder, Little Loewy learned to be a carpenter and was involved lecturing to his revolutionary youth club until a daring mission stealing weapons for the Communist Party made it necessary for him to leave his town. The Party abandoned him at this point, and left him wandering and in prison between Belgium and France for many years, in desperate circumstances, until he finally met an ex-wrestler named Paul who helped reinstate him in a section of the Belgian Party dominated by dock workers. Rubashov’s demand that the dock workers allow Russian-made weapons into Italy, however, finally breaks Little Loewy, and after he refuses to follow orders, he is denounced by the Party and hangs himself out of disgrace and disillusionment.

No. 1
The fictional representation of USSR leader Joseph Stalin No. 1 plays an important role in the novel, although he is entirely behind the scenes. He is the successor to the grand old leader, Vladimir Lenin, and he has eliminated all opposition to his reign. The dictator of the new, totalitarian party, No. 1 is immensely powerful, yet his alternate name implies that he is imprisoned like the other former leaders, perhaps by his own brutal policy that allows no deviation from the Party’s goals.

No. 402
Rubashov’s neighbor in prison with whom he taps conversations through the wall, No. 402 is a “conformist” loyal to the Tsar and a veteran of the Civil War. He has eighteen years of his sentence left to complete, and although he briefly resents Rubashov for his Communist beliefs, No. 402 is more interested in stories about women and sex. Rubashov finds No. 402 quite important to his time in prison; he envisions a variety of ways that No. 402 might look based on his personality traits, and he tells No. 402 just before he dies that their friendship helped him a lot. The individual human connection of their friendship, which is not based in politics, also gives No. 402 an important role as a representation of the novel’s theme of individuality.

No. 406
Also called Rip Van Winkle, No. 406 is an old peasant who walks next to Rubashov during his outings in the prison gardens. After fighting for the Communists in one of the small-scale civil wars that broke out across Europe during the Russian Revolution, he was arrested and imprisoned for twenty years. When he was finally released, he made his way to the USSR, the country of the Revolution, only to be arrested by the Soviets fourteen days after his arrival. Rubashov speculates that he might have mentioned one of the former Bolshevik heroes, having no idea that these “heroes” were now branded as “traitors.”

While walking next to Rubashov, No. 406 draws two pictures of the USSR, one without looking, and tells Rubashov that he must have been sent to the wrong country. In this way, Koestler uses No. 406 to emphasize the disparity between the government of the 1930s and the original goals of the Revolution.

Reactionary Peasant
The unnamed peasant who walks next to Rubashov at the beginning of the novel’s “The Third Hearing” section refused, like many peasants, to comply with government regulations for mass immunization. He and his family burned government supplies because of superstition and traditional values, and a month later they were arrested as “reactionaries.”

Richard
The leader of a Communist group in southern Germany, Richard has a nervous stutter, deep concerns about his pregnant wife’s imprisonment, and has been disillusioned about the support of Communist leaders in Moscow. After Rubashov informs Richard that he is no longer a member of the Party, Richard begs him not to “‘throw me to the wolves, c-comrade,’” referring to the Nazi Secret Police.

Nicolas Salmanovitch Rubashov
Ex-Commissar of the People, Rubashov is the principal character in the novel and the person through whose mind almost all of the story unfolds. Arrested on charges of conspiracy to assassinate No. 1, industrial sabotage, espionage, and general oppositional tendencies, Rubashov is examined by two magistrates and denied sleep by the second until he confesses to the specific charges. He goes to public trial and is executed by being shot twice in the back of the head.

Rubashov is an intelligent and important thinker, who for all of his life has held a conviction in rationality and a belief in Communist ideology. He was a military and intellectual hero of the Bolshevik Revolution, worked abroad for many years to sponsor international Communist goals, and remained loyal to the Party while being tortured in foreign prisons. He worked closely with No. 1, was paraded and championed upon his return to Russia after his major imprisonment (although he immediately left on another mission abroad despite a leg injury), and held a high position in the Soviet Trade Delegation.

A combination of major personalities of the Moscow Show Trials, Rubashov’s personal appearance has been likened to Leon Trotsky whom Stalin and others drove out of the Party and into exile until one of Stalin’s henchmen eventually murdered him abroad. Rubashov’s political and personal history is perhaps closest to that of Nicolai Bukharin, the former head of the Comintern (the international organization intended to spread the Communist Revolution) who was tried and executed in 1938. However, Rubashov’s admission of specific conspiratorial charges is closer to that of the former Bolshevik heroes like the head of Soviet propaganda, Karl Radek. In any case, Rubashov is intended to generally represent the dying “old guard.”

As becomes immediately clear in the novel, however, Rubashov is a unique and psychologically profound character whose outlook develops a great deal through the course of his imprisonment and trial. He is quite shaken just after his imprisonment, but he comes to the rational conclusions of the Ivanovs and many of the intellectuals on whom his character is based. In the course of his sleepless examination by Gletkin, however, Rubashov descends into a unique sort of irrational logic, a paradox of thinking that causes him to admit to specific charges because of his belief he is guilty of oppositional thinking and the fact that a confession to “blacken the Wrong” is a service to the Party. But by the end of the novel, Rubashov has questioned the fundamental assumptions of this thinking and discredited the philosophy that the “ends justify the means.”

Vassilij
Rubashov’s thin, old porter before the arrest, Vassilij has a large neck scar from the Civil War, in which he fought in Rubashov’s partisan regiment. Vassilij reappears in the novel’s “The Grammatical Fiction” section to hear his daughter read the newspaper account of Rubashov’s trial, although his name is here changed to “Wassilij.” He is a religious man, although his daughter has taken away his Bible, and he fondly remembers Rubashov’s eloquent ability to speak in phrases that seem to him divine. Worried that he is too old to go to prison, however, he signs a petition condemning traitors and allows his daughter to throw away Rubashov’s portrait.

Wassilij
See Vassilij

Young Official
The younger of the officials who arrest Rubashov is an impetuous and aggressive soldier of the new type.

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