Darkness at Noon Critical Essays
- Darkness at Noon is a political allegory, and Arthur Koestler based the character of Number 1 on Joseph Stalin, the notorious dictator of the Soviet Union.
- The Communist Party members in the novel ascribe to the dictum that the ends justify the means. This philosophy allows them to justify atrocities as "for the good of the Party."
- The novel places particular focus on the brutal "show trials" conducted by Communist Party leaders, which frequently involved torture. Koestler wanted to point out the dangers of relying solely on logic, which often dehumanizes people and leads to human rights violations.
When Arthur Koestler began writing Darkness at Noon in 1938, much of Europe squirmed under the heel of totalitarian forces. The threat of fascism was very apparent to many intellectuals, but that of communism not nearly so much. Many naïve and prominent figures looked to the Soviet Union for leadership in the long march to a distant utopia. Koestler, a Communist Party activist for most of the 1930’s, knew the reality at first hand. He had seen countless numbers of friends censored and executed by the Communist Party. He had traveled extensively in the Soviet Union and seen its economic backwardness and widespread famine. Against this historical background, Darkness at Noon may be viewed first of all as a factually accurate account that uses the techniques of fiction. Koestler writes in a spare, straightforward fashion without stylistic flights. The understatement of the horrors and madness of the prison conveys its sordidness without adornment. The characters are not the anguished superhumans of Greek tragedy but small gray figures in a bureaucratic nightmare. They ride along in a train of destiny over which they not only have no control but also have no understanding.
Koestler focuses on the show trials as the particular manifestation of the Communist suppression. These trials took place throughout the 1930’s and represented the bloodthirsty, paranoid effort of Joseph Stalin (who is represented as Number 1 in the novel) to consolidate his position as dictator by liquidating all opposition, including his own former comrades in the Russian Revolution. The protagonist of the novel, Rubashov, is fictional, but he represents many Communist Party leaders who did exist and met their deaths through trumped-up charges brought against them by the Soviet police. Much of the narrative takes place inside the mind of Rubashov and presents a brilliant psychology study. Rubashov is a man trying to reconcile his present dilemma with the beliefs and actions of his earlier years. More specifically, Koestler addresses an issue that puzzled political analysts of his day: Why did those accused in the show trials plead guilty in open court to crimes that they did not commit? In answering this question, Koestler leads the reader through many dark labyrinths of Rubashov’s logical mind. The book on one hand sheds light on Rubashov’s conviction in the ultimate rightness of all the Communist Party’s actions and on the other shows his cynicism about the economic and political realities of the time. Koestler describes Rubashov’s sad mistreatment in the prison and then demonstrates with flashbacks that the high-ranking Communist is no innocent. Previously he has thrown people to the wolves for political reasons and once merely to save himself. Ultimately Koestler seems to suggest that Rubashov confesses because of exhaustion and his reasoned conviction that in doing so he will render the Party one last service. Rubashov had previously resisted torture successfully in a fascist prison. While in the service of the Communist Party, he had shown great moral and physical courage.
Koestler’s theme is means and ends. To Rubashov, the push to an honorable and humanitarian goal justifies unsavory actions to achieve that goal. In this case the goal is a utopian Communist society in which no one wants economically, in which the upper class...
(The entire section is 944 words.)