Book Review: Darkness at Noon
Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov is a Bolshevik and Commissar of the People under communist Russia in the 1930’s. He suddenly gets arrested for plotting against the State and attempting to kill Number one, a crime he has not committed. While he is in his cell waiting for the interrogations and the trial, he thinks about the persons whose lives he has ruined for the sake of the Party and he now realizes that the system he was part of and fought for has trapped him and made him one of its victims. One of these people is Arlova, his former secretary and lover whom he denounced to protect himself and has been executed. Rubashov’s two interrogators are Ivanov, an old friend of his with whom he studied, and Gletkin a young and ruthless man, strongly devoted to the State. Ivanov does not think that Rubashov is guilty but he asks him to confess as a last service for the Party. Gletkin is part of the new generation that was born after the revolution and has known nothing else but communist Russia: he is “in complete isolation both from the outside world and the past” (1). Gletkin therefore thinks that Rubashov must be proved guilty because the Party says he is. In the middle of his captivity, Rubashov learns that Ivanov was taken away and executed because his treatment of the prisoners was too mild. After endless and harsh interrogatories, Rubashov finally confesses to the false charges. He is then executed. Even though "Darkness at Noon" refers to a single totalitarian regime, Stalinism, I think that the Stalin's methods and abuses described in the book are pretty much similar to the ones of any totalitarian regime because totalitarianism needs very careful and specific methods to operate. In the book, Rubashov is kept awake for endless hours with a bright light shining straight in his face and is forced to confess in these conditions. Gletkin thinks that by inflicting a psychological tyranny on the prisoner, the prisoner has no choice but to confess to any charge because this is "a matter of constitution" (3): human nature cannot withhold such a pressure and must therefore accept anything that will release the individual from his pain and exhaustion. These tortures and false accusations are used by the totalitarians to maintain their power and brainwash the people. With their methods, they can wipe out any political dissident and therefore terrorize the people to completely control them. By applying this total censorship, only the totalitarian's point of view is available, people are therefore brainwashed and progressively become sheep following and executing what the shepherd, aka Party, says. The ideology depicted in the novel is the one that was ruling, USSR at the time: Bolshevism. The Bolsheviks are the people who seized power after the October Revolution of 1917. For Koestler, the problem with Bolshevism is in the fact that Bolsheviks think that the only way they can get to the socialist ideal is through a quick and violent revolution. They then establish a dictatorship in which they are the truth givers, crush any opposition and totally ignore the will of the people. In the book, Rubashov explains that the Bolsheviks only believe in a violent revolution because the masses do not know what is good for them: they therefore need leaders to take actions and decisions for them. That is where, for Koestler, they make a terrible mistake because they ignore the needs of each person individually, which leads us to the next theme. A significant part of the book explores the effects of Stalinism on the individual. The Party requires that the individuals renounce any self-interest, individual and personal thoughts or attitudes. Everything must be aimed towards the common good and the individual is therefore suppressed to reach this goal. Rubashov even mentions the fact that between Party members they are told not to say "I" but "we". Uniqueness is lost to conformity and melting of the individual into the...
References: 1. Orwell, George. "A review of 'Darkness at Noon." The New Statesman & Nation 21.515. 4 Jan. 1941: p15-16
2. Koestler, Arthur. "A note on Darkness at Noon." New Statesman 1996. 136.4868. 29 Oct. 2007: p62.
3. Koestler, Arthur. “Darkness at Noon”. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1941
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