At a Glance

  • Arthur Koestler based the character of Number 1 on Joseph Stalin, the notorious dictator of the Soviet Union. Stalin was known for turning against former allies at the drop of a hat and frequently used brutal tactics, such as exiling, torturing, and assassinating supposed enemies of the Communist Party. Stalin even had former communist leader Leo Trotsky assassinated.
  • The Communist Party members in Darkness at Noon ascribe to the old dictum that the ends justify the means. If the Party's goal is to root out its enemies and crush treason with an iron fist, anything (including torture) can be justified as a means of obtaining that goal. A philosophy like this makes it easy to write off atrocities as "for the good of the Party."
  • Darkness at Noon is a political allegory about the Soviet Union. Koestler placed particular focus on the "show trials" conducted by Communist Party leaders, who endorsed the use of torture during interrogations if torture was in the interest of the Party. Koestler wanted to point out the dangers of relying solely on logic, which often dehumanizes people and paves the way for human rights violations.

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Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 944 words.)