23 April 2010

34. Darkness At Noon

Darkness at Noon - Arthur Koestler

This book is definitely not for everyone. It is very political. It is very psychological. It is very philosophical. It is unlike any book I have read in the past.

From the opening line the narration is gloomy and dark. What could be cheerful about a man who has spent his life supporting a revolution which has now turned against him? The very first line in the book sets the tone for the entire 216 pages. "THE CELL DOOR SLAMMED BEHIND RUBASHOV." It was written all in caps for some reason that I failed to grasp.

The entire story is actually the interrogation and trial of a man named Rubashov. He has spent his life promoting and loving the post revolutionary political system of Communist Russia. I do not specifically recall them saying it was Russia or communist, but that is quite obviously the scenario. They even have a leader who is definitely Stalin, but he is never named and is only called “Number 1” throughout the book.

The story almost entirely takes place in the prison cell and interrogation rooms where Rubashov discusses his beliefs and convictions as he works through his current dilemma and how it fits in with his past.

The book is full of political theory, ideology, and what should be considered socially moral. Rubashov is forced to use his own beliefs against himself. He has spent his life making logical arguments concerning the greater good of society outweighing the needs of an individual. He is lead to come to the “logical” conclusion that he should confess to numerous crimes for which he is not-guilty in order for the Party to maintain it’s prominence.

Though it is never plainly stated that we are discussing Marxism or socialism, it is that type of society being described. Rubashov had lead the revolution in order to free the people in order to pursue a utopian society and has conflicts within himself about whether that society being lead by a dictator that forcefully suppresses any opposition is acceptable. Do the “ends justify the means”? Is the ultimate socialist goal worth accepting a brutal totalitarian leader?

I think the most fascinating part of this book is near the end. After Rubashov confesses and the trial is over he is waiting in his cell. He is waiting for his own execution. He has spent his time in this cell contemplating his life and occasionally having “conversations” with is neighbors using the “tap” system of communication. When he is in his cell at this point he taps a single word. He taps this on a wall where he knows he has no neighbor. The one word is “I”. He types “I” twice. That is all.

Why is this so interesting to me? Rubashov has spent his entire life promoting the Party. He has said the individual is insignificant compared to society. Yet, when it came to the end what was important. Was it a realization that the individual is all he really has? Something along those lines anyway. I just found it interesting that he tapped that word.

SAT Word Alert:
SCROFULOUS: morally degenerate; corrupt

AGUE: a fit of fever or shivering or shaking chills, accompanied by malaise, pains in the bones and joints, etc.; chill.

PERFIDY: deliberate breach of faith or trust; faithlessness; treachery

QUIXOTISM: An idea or act that is caught up in the romance of noble deeds and the pursuit of unreachable goals; idealistic without regard to practicality.

I enjoyed this book, but it took me a while to finish it. I guess life happened. Spring came and I went outside. The yard looks better. The vegetable garden is planted. The chickens are happy. We went on vacation to the beach for a few days. All that stuff happened and I did not read. Whatever. It isn’t like I broke the law or anything. I just took a while to finish this book. Why would I even think that it matters? Maybe I am crazy. 

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