Darkness at Noon Summary
by Arthur Koestler

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Darkness at Noon Summary

Based on the events of the Stalinist purges of the 1930s, Darkness at Noon tells the story of Nicolas Rubashov, a once-important figure in the Communist Party who is arrested and imprisoned for treason.

  • Rubashov is interrogated by his old friend Ivanov. He is accused of being a member of the "opposition" and plotting to assassinate the Party leader. In exchange for his confession, Ivanov promises a twenty-year sentence instead of the death penalty.
  • Alone in his cell, Rubashov recalls people from his past whom he betrayed and reflects upon the ruthlessness of the new generation.
  • Ivanov is executed and replaced by Gletkin, who elicits a confession by torturing Rubashov. Rubashov is executed.

Summary

The First Hearing

Darkness at Noon begins with the arrest of ex-Commissar of the People Nicolas Salmanovitch Rubashov. After being taken from his apartment by two officers in the middle of the night, Rubashov becomes the inmate of prison cell No. 404, where he expects to remain in solitary confinement until he is executed as an enemy of the Party. Rubashov is a member of the “old guard,” the Communist intellectuals who led the Russian Revolution under Vladimir Lenin and are now being “liquidated” at the command of their former comrade, No. 1 (Joseph Stalin), now leader of the USSR.

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Rubashov begins to communicate with his neighbor in cell No. 402 through the “quadratic alphabet,” a system in which prisoners use combinations of knocks or taps representing letters to spell out words on their cell walls. Although a Czarist and therefore politically at odds with Rubashov, former soldier No. 402 is eager to converse with his neighbor. Later, Rubashov remembers an assignment he carried out for the Party in 1933. In a town in Germany, Rubashov met with a young man named Richard, the leader of the local revolutionary cell, and expelled him from the Party for distributing his own pamphlets instead of official propaganda. Rubashov himself was arrested by German officials a week later, and he now finds himself haunted by the memory of Richard’s pleas for Rubashov not to denounce him.

Once a day, some of the prisoners are allowed to walk around the prison yard in pairs. Rubashov notices that an emaciated man with a harelip stares up at his window every day. No. 402 tells Rubashov that “Hare-lip,” who is his neighbor in No. 400 and was recently tortured, sends Rubashov his greetings.

Tormented by an ache in the root of a tooth that was knocked out during his torture in Germany, Rubashov continues to ruminate on his past. Rubashov was celebrated upon his return from Germany to the USSR, but when he discovered No. 1 was beginning to eliminate members of the old guard whom he considered a threat, Rubashov asked for a mission abroad. No. 1 sent him to a Belgian port where he met with a Party member called Little Loewy, a leader among the city’s dockworkers. Rubashov’s assignment was to convince the local Party cell to defy an official boycott and aid in the covert transport of goods from “Over There” (the USSR) to the “aggressor” (Italy). The leaders of the cell reluctantly agreed after Rubashov explained that they must prioritize the industrial development of the “Country of the Revolution” over “sentimentality.” Those same leaders were expelled from the Party a few days later, and Little Loewy hanged himself after being denounced. Like Richard, Little Loewy now haunts Rubashov’s memory.

A few days later, Rubashov is brought to an administrative office to be interrogated. The magistrate in charge of his case turns out to be his old friend and former battalion commander, Ivanov. Although aware that criticizing the Party will only increase his chances of being executed, Rubashov tells his old friend that the Party has failed: it no longer understands or represents the masses and now makes politics rather than history. Ivanov reminds Rubashov of how suspicious it looked when he went abroad immediately after...

(The entire section is 3,965 words.)