Places: Darkness at Noon

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1940

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: 1930’s

Places DiscussedPrison

Prison. Darkness at NoonSoviet detention center in which Rubashov is being held. With its dark corridors, closed off from the outside world and operating under its own logic, the suffocating prison is a physical manifestation of the communist dystopia and a metaphor for the communist rationale. Outside the prison, seasons change from cold, dismal winter to early spring. Inside its grim multistoried brick structure, prisoners are confined in cells behind thick doors with spy-holes. Barred windows overlook a snow-packed courtyard, where prisoners exercise. Armed guards patrol the ramparts. Down a dimly lit corridor is a barber shop and an unsanitary infirmary that reeks of carbolic and tobacco. The doctor’s desk is cluttered with bandages, swabs, and instruments. Beneath the prison is a room where beatings and near-boiling steam baths are used to force prisoners to confess to imaginary crimes against the state. Those found guilty are taken down a spiral staircase, stunned by blows to the head, and shot behind the ears with pistols.

Rubashov’s own cell, number 404, has a basin, a cot, and a bucket for his bodily wastes. At first, he hears only muffled sounds and echoes in the prison building. Later, neighboring prisoners communicate by tapping messages on the walls in a simple code. From the window, Rubashov observes other prisoners exercising in the courtyard. Through the spy-hole, guards observe him writing in a diary or lying on a straw mattress. Rubashov gets a limited view of the corridor and cells across the gallery. He observes Bogrov, a naval hero, being dragged down the corridor toward his execution. Prisoners drum the death march on the walls.

Rubashov is interrogated in the office of Warden Ivanov. Ivanov and his assistant, Gletkin, wear military uniforms with pistols in leather holsters; the desks are cluttered with files and reports. A photograph of party officials before Joseph Stalin became head of the Soviet Union is missing from the wall. During Rubashov’s seven-day interrogation, he sits on a hard-backed chair while Gletkin shines a spotlight into his red-rimmed eyes.

Art museum

Art museum. German museum in which Rubashov remembers being arrested by Gestapo officers while meeting with a fellow Communist Party leader to plan a reorganization of the German branch of the party, which the Nazi government has forced to go underground. They are surrounded by paintings of voluptuous nudes. These paintings, which represent worldly indulgence, contrast with a pen-and-ink drawing of the Madonna’s hands outstretched toward the needy of the world. After Rubashov was arrested, he was tortured. However, after Germany and the Soviet Union signed a nonaggression pact in 1939, Rubashov returned home to Russia a hero.

Belgian port city

Belgian port city. In another of Rubashov’s recollections, he meets with Belgian party members in a port city, where he noticed distinctive harbor smells, a town clock, and narrow streets where prostitutes hung out their laundry. The room in which the party met had walls covered with election posters and notices; its windows were smeared with paint, and planks on trestles served as tables for propaganda leaflets. Overhead, a naked light bulb and a strip of fly paper dangled. Five Russian ships, laden with supplies bound for Germany, lay at anchor in the harbor. When Rubashov ordered union members to unload the ships, the communist workers refused, and Rubashov had them expelled them from the party.

Rubashov’s apartment

Rubashov’s apartment. Shabby Moscow residence of Rubashov, into which armed Soviet soldiers burst when they arrested him. The building’s porter, Vassilij, watched silently as they escorted Rubashov to the creaky elevator. An American-made automobile then took them over littered and unpaved streets to the prison. After Rubashov’s execution, Vassilij and his daughter live in the apartment. The old man hides a picture of Comrade Rubashov, his hero, in his mattress and secretly reads the forbidden Bible.

BibliographyKoestler, Arthur. The Invisible Writing: The Second Volume of an Autobiography, 1932-1940. London: Hutchinson, 1969. Koestler discusses his activism in the Communist Party, his travels to the Soviet Union, his imprisonment in fascist Spain, and his denunciation of communism in Darkness at Noon.Levene, Mark. Arthur Koestler. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1984. Overview of Koestler’s political writing, including a chapter on Darkness at Noon.Pearson, Sidney A. Arthur Koestler. Boston: Twayne, 1978. Includes a chapter on Darkness at Noon.Rothkopf, Carol Z. “Darkness at Noon”: A Critical Commentary. New York: American R.D.M., 1963. Scholarly, complete, and well-written discussion.Sperber, Murray A. ed. Arthur Koestler: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1977. Includes essays by George Orwell and Saul Bellow. With an intellectually tortuous attack on Darkness at Noon by a French Marxist.
Categories: Places