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Darkness at Noon

Term Definition
Darkness at Noon

In Darkness at Noon, Koestler portrays a character who was originally a member of the Bolshevik Party that instituted the USSR in the first place, but who was later arrested and condemned for treason against the USSR under the rule of Stalin. One of its key themes is the travesty of justice that occurred within the USSR, with accused persons essentially being tortured into confessing to crimes that they never committed. 

Darkness At Noon Story

Darkness at Noon is a 1940 novel by Hungarian author Arthur Koestler (1905-1983). Dealing with fictionalized portrayals of party life and betrayal in the Russian communist system, the story draws from the author's own disillusionment with the ideology under its then-current Stalinist totalitarian state.

Set in 1938 during a string of purges that mirror the Moscow Show Trials, the novel focuses on the plight of Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov, a fiftysomething hardliner arrested on trumped-up disloyalty charges. Confined to a gulag to contemplate his fate, he ruminates on the many missions he served his state in the name of ideology. Following orders from the high command, he tricked and deceived various parties—in Berlin, Belgium, and elsewhere—into fatally incriminating words and actions; and he did so without blinking an eye or showing a shred of remorse. A staunch believer in the communist utopian principle, he repeatedly doubled down on the notion that suffering and genocide in the present tense were necessary roads toward a perfect society of the future. As time wore on, however, he didn't see this future materializing, and his devotion started to wear thin. Now he sees the tables turned, with his own fate in much the same peril as those he betrayed in the name of party loyalty. In the heat of intensive coercion, he confesses to crimes he never committed, but to no avail. In the end he suffers the same fate as his mission targets.

Darkness At Noon Summary

Darkness at Noon explores the dichotomy between devotion and disillusionment, as well as the morally grey area in between. Throughout much of his recollections, Rubashov is a true believer in the communist ideology, and he takes this position to such an extreme that he mercilessly throws others to the hands of fate; seemingly viewing such people as mere roadkill on the march to utopia. But as his doubts in the system slowly surface, he stays the course, knowing that any deviation could resign him to a similar fate. 

Herein lies Rubashov's greatest character flaw: he's willing to carry out evil, despite his own misgivings, just to stay within the good graces of his party. At least he had the excuse of ignorance when he truly believed that his actions were in the name of good. Had he followed his better conscience earlier, he could have perhaps fled the horrors of 1930s Europe for the safe havens of the West. Instead, he doubled down on the party's behalf in spite of himself, and this sealed his fate more than anything.

More Information On Arthur Koestler

Darkness at Noon is the second in a trilogy of Koestler novels that explore political strife at various points in European history. The first and third novels are The Gladiators (1939), about the Spartacus Revolt during the Roman Republic; and Arrival and Departure (1943), which concerns the plight of a Hungarian refugee in the midst of World War II.

The first manuscript for Darkness at Noon was written in German, but translated to English by Koestler's partner, Daphne Hardy, just before the original was lost when the couple fled the Continent in light of Nazi encroachment. Though the novel has long been hailed for its telling depictions of servitude and punishment under Stalin, it was met with much resistance among 40s-era Hollywood scriptwriters, many of whom were communist sympathizers. Nonetheless, the novel was influential on fellow authors of the period, including George Orwell, who cited Koestler's work as a prime example of how the best political writing in English often comes from authors born outside the Anglosphere.

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