Darkness at Noon

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Themes and Colors
Ideology and Contradiction Theme Icon
The Individual, or the “Grammatical Fiction, vs. the Collective Theme Icon
Logical Reasoning and Bureaucracy Theme Icon
Change and the Laws of History Theme Icon
Truth, Confession, and Performance Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Darkness at Noon, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Change and the Laws of History Theme Icon

Darkness at Noon is concerned with the laws by which history functions: it asks fundamental questions about whether historical laws should be considered scientific or social, whether historical laws can be used to predict or enforce change, and whether it’s wise, in the first place, to reduce to a “law” the complex interplay of forces that shape a society over time. Each major character’s actions and choices about his relationship to the Party and his use of power are shown to be predicated on his own ideas about the workings of historical laws.

Indeed, the major distinction between the “old” and the “new” guard of Party committee members may turn on the interest, or lack thereof, in history. The new guard is content to let the central committee emit its decrees and its specific points of policy without questioning them. Gletkin and others like him are bureaucrats, rather than intellectuals: they have little concern for overarching laws or philosophies that may justify their actions. But the old guard, represented by Rubashov and Ivanov, was involved in shaping this very system and, as such, is still deeply invested in these laws. They have shepherded the country through the socialist revolution, one that was supposed to lead to greater happiness. In fact, for Karl Marx, the author of the Communist Manifesto, there was even more at stake: he thought it was inevitable for this revolution to eventually occur, at which point all the strife and conflict of history would end—meaning that, in some ways, the revolution would spell out the end of history itself. Indeed, the form of Bolshevik communism that this old guard espouses is directly tied up with a theory of history: it characterizes capitalist production as necessarily leading to failure, and the growing class consciousness that results from capitalism’s failure as inevitably leading to a revolution that will do away with all material want and scarcity. What Rubashov calls the “laws of motion” are, therefore, not just political goals to strive after. To him, they are inevitable to the course of history, like the laws of physics are inevitable to motion. What distinguishes the Party, he argues at one point, is that it simply learned enough about human beings and history to understand these laws.

Nonetheless, as time goes on, Rubashov increasingly questions the confidence of those who presume to know how historical laws work. He begins to look at the arc of history on a longer scale, past the current-day political situation, and he realizes that he can’t know what will happen in the future, and thus he can’t know if the laws he believes to be true will actually be proved true in time. This realization troubles Rubashov; he has been acting all along on the assumption that he is right, which justified his own willingness to betray people to the Party. The climactic choice of the novel—Rubashov’s decision about whether or not to confess—hinges on his understanding of historical laws. In his decision-making process, he asks himself whether he might be wrong about the inevitability of history, as well as what it might mean if history were to prove No. 1 and all of his violent tactics right. This uncertainty is part of what makes the book both a vivid novel of suspense and also a philosophical novel of ideas: these two genres are closely associated in Darkness at Noon, precisely because, in this society, ideas have taken on a deadly, world-historical force.

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Change and the Laws of History Quotes in Darkness at Noon

Below you will find the important quotes in Darkness at Noon related to the theme of Change and the Laws of History.
The First Hearing: 6 Quotes

The horror which No. 1 emanated, above all consisted in the possibility that he was in the right, and that all those whom he killed had to admit, even with the bullet in the back of their necks, that he conceivably might be in the right. There was no certainty; only the appeal to that mocking oracle they called History, who gave her sentence only when the jaws of the appealer had long since fallen to dust.

Related Characters: No. 1
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Rubashov ruminates here on the power and allure—both impressive and fear-inspiring—of No. 1, whose portrait watches over nearly every room in the unnamed country. It is not simply, though, that No. 1 exerts a tyrannical power over everyone else through brute force and cruelty. There’s also a powerful ideology behind his power. This ideology is bolstered by careful logical and intellectual reasoning that seeks to justify any actions taken by No. 1 or enacted in his name. As a result, anyone in opposition to the state cannot simply claim moral righteousness as a justification for their beliefs or actions. In addition, the all-encompassing ideology of totalitarianism makes it impossible not to question what counts as true and how history will portray the players involved. Even more chillingly, Rubashov recognizes here that he will either be judged or absolved long after his death: in the span of an individual life, in this framework, no one can tell what is right and wrong, true and false.


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The First Hearing: 9 Quotes

“The Party can never be mistaken,” said Rubashov. “You and I can make a mistake. Not the Party. The Party, comrade, is more than you and I and a thousand others like you and I. The Party is the embodiment of the revolutionary idea in history. History knows no scruples and no hesitation. Inert and unerring, she flows towards her goal. At every bend in her course she leaves the mud which she carries and the corpses of the drowned. History knows her way. She makes no mistakes. He who has not absolute faith in History does not belong in the Party’s ranks.”

Related Characters: Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov (speaker), Richard
Page Number: 43-44
Explanation and Analysis:

Rubashov is speaking to Richard at the gallery in Germany, criticizing Richard for having thought to follow his own path by printing his own pamphlets rather than following the Party’s official message. Richard believes in the Party cause, but he also thinks that Party officials might make mistakes in spreading their message to Germany—mistakes that Richard is uniquely qualified to correct since he’s present on the ground. Here, Rubashov shows that the very idea that the Party can make a mistake is a contradiction in terms when one really subscribes to its own ideology. If the Party is the “embodiment of the revolutionary idea in history,” and if revolution is the ultimate goal to strive for, then one must follow revolution, history, and—as a logical result—whatever the Party decides.

Here, Rubashov acknowledges some of the casualties of this insistence on history: he portrays it as intent and powerful but cold, with little concern for the “drowned” left in its wake. At the same time, his reasoning is both logical and circular: he seems to be implying that history’s laws find their proper fulfillment the Party, which is proved by the fact that the Party follows history’s laws. If there’s complete overlap between the two, then there’s no contradiction—but this circularity also makes it difficult, if not impossible, to disprove the Party’s assumptions or to question anything that the Party does (indeed, this is precisely the point).

The First Hearing: 11 Quotes

“Yet I would do it again,” he said to himself. “It was necessary and right. But do I perhaps owe you the fare all the same? Must one also pay for deeds which were right and necessary?”

Related Characters: Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov (speaker), Richard, No. 402
Page Number: 56-57
Explanation and Analysis:

Rubashov has been thinking of how he sacrificed Richard, and about the taxi driver who seemed loyal to Communism (but whose friendly offering Rubashov dismissed in order to stay discreet). These memories are also interspersed with Rubashov’s conversation with No. 402, whom he asks for tobacco. Initially No. 402 says no, and Rubashov, irritated, decides that 402 owes him nothing. Then 402 does send Rubashov tobacco from the warder. Suddenly Rubashov is forced to question how easily he scorns and dismisses others who seem unable to serve his own needs.

This, in turn, causes Rubashov to reflect on how he acted with Richard. He doesn’t, at this point, think that he had another option: he believes that the needs of the Party should come before any individual cause. At the same time, Rubashov starts to wonder if he still “owes the fare” to Richard—that is, if he is indebted to him in any way, or indebted in the broader (even theological) sense of the term, on a cosmic scale. This is a related question to the one Rubashov has asked about the laws of history; he won’t know whether he must pay for wrongs, or even if he wronged anyone at all, until it’s too late.

The First Hearing: 12 Quotes

The Party’s warm, breathing body appeared to him to be covered with sores—festering sores, bleeding stigmata. When and where in history had there even been such defective saints? Whenever had a good cause been worse represented? If the Party embodied the will of history, then history itself was defective.

Related Characters: Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov (speaker)
Related Symbols: Christian Symbolism
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

Rubashov is feeling desperate for a cigarette and, in his desperation, he begins to be overwhelmed by thoughts of the Party and of his own interrelationship with it. Indeed, even as Rubashov now begins to question his own role in asserting the dominance of communist ideology, he realizes that there’s no way to separate himself out from any evils of the ideology, as his entire life has been tied up with Communism.

At this moment in particular, Rubashov uses a remarkable metaphor to think about the morally compromised nature of the Party. First of all, he compares it to a living body, which echoes the “social body” to which many political leaders often refer when they seek to get across the importance of collective interests and actions. But Rubashov also uses religious and, in particular, Christian imagery: the stigmata were originally the wounds on Jesus’s body from being crucified, and it is said in Christianity that when a person begins to show similar wounds or wound-like marks, it’s a sign that the person is a saint. Rubsahov links this notion to the idea of individual sacrifice for collective use—a central Party tenet—but he also suggests that such sacrifice has been deformed grotesquely, turned away from its proper purposes.

The First Hearing: 13 Quotes

For the movement was without scruples; she rolled towards her goal unconcernedly and deposed the corpses of the drowned in the windings of her course. Her course had many twists and windings; such was the law of her being. And whosoever could not follow her crooked course was washed on to the bank, for such was her law. The motives of the individual did not matter to her. His conscience did not matter to her, neither did she care what went on in his head and his heart. The Party knew only one crime: to swerve from the course laid out; and only one punishment: death.

Related Characters: Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

The narration steps back here from Rubashov’s particular experience in order to make a broader and, in many ways, poetic comment on the workings of a totalitarian government, specifically in the post-revolutionary Russian context. The “movement” is described here just as History has been described earlier, as a powerful but impersonal force, unconcerned with the suffering of individuals and acting according to broad, collective laws. Then, the “movement” is equated to the “Party,” in a slippage that suggests just how much the idealism of collective action has become an authoritarian regime of certain individuals. There’s no room for subtlety in this framework, either—there’s a foreshadowing here of Rubashov’s ultimate fate, even though, at this point in the novel, it still seems as though he might be able to be saved by a confession.

The First Hearing: 14 Quotes

“But we had descended into the depths, into the formless, anonymous masses, which at all times constituted the substance of history; and we were the first to discover her laws of motion. We had discovered the laws of inertia, of the slow changing of her molecular structure, and of her sudden eruptions. That was the greatness of our doctrine. The Jacobins were moralists; we were empirics. We dug in the primeval mud of history and there we found her laws. We knew more than ever men have known about mankind; that is why our revolution succeeded. And now you have buried it all again….”

Related Characters: Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov (speaker), Ivanov
Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:

Ivanov is purportedly interrogating Rubashov, but the two seem to be having more of a two-way conversation than a one-way examination. This is perhaps due to their former friendship and their mutual respect for intellectual questions. Here Rubashov returns to a former time when he didn’t question the Party, its historical laws, or his own position within them. The “we” to which Rubashov refers are the members of the Party leadership that sat around the table at the initial congress, immortalized in a photograph. While other revolutions have existed in the past, Rubashov argues that the exceptionalism of the Bolshevik revolution was that this group had not just acted according to desires or even morals, but had studied the laws of history and the workings of the masses.

Rubsahov talks about these laws as analogous to laws of physics: by stressing that the leaders were “empirics” rather than “moralists,” he argues that they didn’t try to determine what was right, but rather they sought to delve into the rules and laws of society just like physicists interrogate the laws of the universe. For this reason, the laws they uncovered should have been infallible. Now, Rubsahov seems to suggest, the new Party policies are doing away with all the knowledge and discovery that this logical process created.

The Second Hearing: 1 Quotes

“Yet for the moment we are thinking and acting on credit. As we have thrown overboard all conventions and rules of cricket-morality, our sole guiding principle is that of consequent logic. We are under the terrible compulsion to follow our thought down to its final consequence and to act in accordance to it. We are sailing without ballast; therefore each touch on the helm is a matter of life or death.”

Related Characters: Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov (speaker)
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

This section of the novel begins with an extract from Rubashov’s diary, as he tries to puzzle through the implications of his imprisonment, not just for himself, but also for what it says about how the Party has changed. He wonders whether that change is accidental or an inevitable result of internal contradictions of its ideology. “Cricket-morality” is Rubashov’s term for the nineteenth-century liberal, bourgeois assumptions of individual sovereignty and consideration of various means and ends. Rubashov, like Ivanov, still at this point considers such morality to be weak, naïve, and passé: as long as a person or a state has proper goals, the means by which these goals are achieved must not be considered. In other words, one should rely on “consequent logic” alone.

Nevertheless, Rubsahov recognizes that the result of such logic is another kind of uncertainty. While the Party is, for him, too logical and even courageous to take refuge in facile moral precepts, that does mean that it’s not clear how to judge whether or not an action is right. The responsibility this places on those in charge of the Party is, then, remarkably high.

The Second Hearing: 4 Quotes

He had sacrificed Arlova because his own existence was more valuable to the Revolution. That was the decisive argument his friends had used to convince him; the duty to keep oneself in reserve for later on was more important than the commandments of petty bourgeois morality. For those who had changed the face of history, there was no other duty than to stay here and be ready. “You can do what you like with me,” Arlova had said, and so he had done. Why should he treat himself with more consideration?

Related Characters: Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov (speaker), Arlova
Page Number: 128-129
Explanation and Analysis:

Rubashov continues to muse about the relationship between the status of individual people and the collective goals of the revolutionary society. He’s beginning to sense, even if only implicitly, a contradiction in the Party’s espousal of using any means necessary to achieve collective ends: these ends always include the safety and security of those individuals who happen to be in power. Arlova was not, then, just sacrificed on behalf of something greater than herself, but on behalf of one other person, Rubashov. The Party doesn’t seem to have an answer to this contradiction, other than to continue to insist that the Party leadership perfectly embodies the goals of the collective. Now, though, Rubashov is beginning to see that even this logic must ultimately apply to himself if he continues to insist on being consistent and intellectually rigorous. He too, perhaps, will have to face the laws of history and be judged according to them, even if those laws of history end up having particular faces, like that of No. 1.

The Second Hearing: 7 Quotes

“History is a priori amoral; it has no conscience. To want to conduct history according to the maxims of the Sunday school means to leave everything as it is. You know that as well as I do. You know the stakes in this game, and here you come talking about Bogrov’s whimpering….”

Related Characters: Ivanov (speaker), Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov, Michael Bogrov
Page Number: 156
Explanation and Analysis:

Ivanov and Rubashov continue their interrogation-cum-intellectual conversation. While Rubashov has kept the details of his concerns about the “grammatical fiction” to himself until now, at this point he’s just told Ivanov that Ivanov, having failed to hear Bogrov’s cry, can’t possibly understand that there may be limits to the Party’s logical reasoning. Ivanov, here, sounds quite a bit like Rubashov himself at earlier moments: he once again underlines the shared intellectual heritage with which they both began their time as members of the Party leadership. Referring to Sunday school, Ivanov again brings up Christianity as an alternative moral system, one that the Party claims to have quashed entirely—though it’s still present enough for the interrogator to have to point to it as a continuing danger, a weakness against which diligent Party members must militate. Indeed, Ivanov seems to chide Rubashov, reminding him that Ivanov is not saying anything Rubashov doesn’t already know. For Ivanov, Rubashov’s newfound humanitarian conscience is not the beginning of an alternately imagined society, but a passé weakness that he must conquer in order to remember what is most important, that is, the power of the revolutionary society (or at least its leaders).

“We whip the groaning masses of the country towards a theoretical future happiness, which only we can see. For the energies of this generation are exhausted; they were spent in the Revolution; for this generation is bled white and there is nothing left of it but a moaning, numbed, apathetic lump of sacrificial flesh….Those are the consequences of our consequentialness.”

Related Characters: Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov (speaker), Ivanov
Page Number: 162
Explanation and Analysis:

Still enmeshed in a fervent intellectual conversation with his interrogator, Rubashov responds to Ivanov’s points with a rousing performance, one in which he uses the rhetorical and strategic skills he’s developed in service of the Party (as a diplomat abroad, for instance) to portray what he sees as the historical arc of the revolution. Rubashov refers to the revolution as the moment of greatest idealism, when it seemed like a happy future would come into being. But Rubashov refers to his and Ivanov’s generation, the one that put the revolution into action, as a “lump of sacrificial flesh.” Again employing religious imagery, Rubashov suggests that their sacrifices are no longer for the future happiness of the masses, but to preserve the numb stasis of the present, in which the many are “whipped” by the few. Rubashov does see the revolution as incredibly consequential, with sweeping effects throughout the country, if not the world, but he’s begun to see such pervasive effects as devastating rather than productive.

“We all thought one could treat history like one experiments in physics. The difference is that in physics one can repeat the experiment a thousand times, but in history only once.”

Related Characters: Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov (speaker), Ivanov
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:

In an earlier section of the book, Rubashov himself employed the language of science and experimentation in order to discuss how he, a loyal and powerful member of the Party leadership, ended up imprisoned. Now he shares with Ivanov some of the results of his theorizing: he’s come to see that it’s not necessarily that the Party’s ideology and logic were ultimately correct but simply misapplied or mistakenly dealt with vis-à-vis Rubashov, but rather that there is a flaw within the ideological assumptions themselves. Rubashov has also previously taken pride in the impeccable logical reasoning that has enabled the Party to succeed in a communist revolution like no place else. Yet now he realizes that what the Party thinks of as the laws of history don’t work just like the laws of physics: first, because history can’t be repeated, and second, because human beings are involved. Of course, history can be treated like a physics experiment—and it has been, Rubashov argues—but the result is that individuals are manipulated or destroyed.

The Third Hearing: 1 Quotes

“In periods of maturity it is the duty and the function of the opposition to appeal to the masses. In periods of mental immaturity, only demagogues invoke the ‘higher judgment of the people.’ In such situations the opposition has two alternatives: to seize the power by a coup d’état, without being able to count on the support of the masses, or in mute despair to throw themselves out of the swing—‘to die in silence.’ There is a third choice which is no less consistent, and which in our country has been developed into a system: the denial and suppression of one’s own conviction when there is no prospect of materializing it.”

Related Characters: Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov (speaker)
Page Number: 173-174
Explanation and Analysis:

Once again, a section of the novel opens with an excerpt from Rubashov’s diary, where he continues to attempt to work out the implications of his own position. Now, far more than earlier, he seems to consider his role as a member of the opposition (an identity that, after denying it as an accusation made by others, he has slowly started to claim as his own). Here he also continues to develop an intellectual theory, what he will call the “theory of relative maturity,” that will help him account for what went awry between the idealistic days of the revolution and now. The country now finds itself, he argues, in a period of mental immaturity. This assertion shows Rubashov’s continued elitism and sense of superiority with respect to the masses. Indeed, he thinks that by appealing to the masses—even if that’s just a cover for its own power—the Party has lost the intellectual thrust that used to define it.

In listing the options available to the opposition, Rubashov first postulates a coup, which he knows to be impossible, given the fractured, exhausted state of the surviving old guard. Then he considers the injunction to “die in silence” given to him by the barber. Finally, he ponders the realization he’s beginning to have about the way ideology permeates through all action and even thought. He recognizes that he himself has internalized this ideology so much that it’s grown almost impossible for him to know what he truly believes and what he’s coached himself into saying and thinking. This is not just an individual choice, he concludes: it’s one that has become a “system,” one that fits exactly into the Party’s own interests, but also profoundly complicates the ability to ever know what is true and what is false.

The Third Hearing: 3 Quotes

Instead of the old portraits, a light patch shone from Ivanov’s wallpaper; philosophical incendiarism had given place to a period of wholesome sterility. Revolutionary theory had frozen to a dogmatic cult, with a simplified, easily graspable catechism, and with No. 1 as the high priest celebrating the Mass.

Related Characters: Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov (speaker), Ivanov, No. 1
Related Symbols: No. 1’s Portrait
Page Number: 179-180
Explanation and Analysis:

Rubashov is waiting to be interrogated by Ivanov again, and as he waits he thinks again about the changes that have taken place between the time of the revolution and the time of his imprisonment. There is abundant visual and material evidence of these changes. The libraries, for instance, have been purged of the books that tell any story of the revolution other than what the Party wants to be the truth (and, in particular, what No. 1 wants to hear). In this quotation, the same is true for the replacement of certain portraits with others, or their removal entirely: this is a literal erasure of history. Rubashov is coming to terms here with the contradictions inherent to the ideology of a group that claims to represent and fulfill history, but then changes and tweaks the truth whenever historical reality doesn’t fit its own purposes.

Rubashov also takes issue with the replacement of idealistic, intellectually driven leaders (ones steeped in political thought and communist theory) with a static, “sterile” set of doctrines that cannot be questioned or debated. Although Rubashov has tried to find in Christian symbolism a way out of the ideological dominance of the Party, here he thinks about Party doctrine as simply another kind of state religion. This sense of religion has to do less with the emphasis on individual sovereignty, as discussed elsewhere, and more with the powerful institution of the church (such as the Orthodox Church in Russia), which—like No. 1—speaks for all people through a powerful hierarchy and denies any ability to challenge this hierarchy.

“Rubashov laughed at my father, and repeated that he was a fool and a Don Quixote. Then he declared that No. 1 was no accidental phenomenon, but the embodiment of a certain human characteristic—namely, of an absolute belief in the infallibility of one’s own conviction, from which he drew the strength for his complete unscrupulousness.”

Related Characters: Hare-lip (Young Kieffer) (speaker), Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov, Professor Kieffer
Page Number: 208
Explanation and Analysis:

Hare-lip has been brought in by Gletkin, presumably after having been tortured, in order to rehearse an accusation against Rubashov. Rubashov has been in something resembling Hare-lip’s position before: Rubashov falsely betrayed Arlova, and now he himself has been falsely accused. As the center of his story, Hare-lip uses a meeting between Rubashov and Hare-lip’s father, Profssor Kieffer, who was executed for refusing to change the history books in response to changing “necessities” of the Party.

Rubashov, in this anecdote, comes across as a pragmatist—he is willing to laugh and roll his eyes at No. 1, at least among friends, while also continuing to work in the service of the cause. That’s why he calls Kieffer a “Don Quixote”: he refers to the Cervantes character who pursues a hopeless quest because of his naïve idealism (this reference comes up, in fact, several times in the novel). The anecdote also serves as a reminder of Rubashov’s insistence on thinking in logical, abstract terms, even as he’s coming to question what the implications of this type of thinking are. He takes No. 1’s attitude not just as a quirk, but as indicative of a broader trend, one that can perhaps define totalitarian dictators. It’s uncertain how Hare-lip overheard this conversation, and it’s clear that what Rubashov really meant is up for question, but, in this environment of constant surveillance, such critiques are all too dangerous.

The Third Hearing: 6 Quotes

“The policy of the opposition is wrong. Your task is therefore to make the opposition contemptible; to make the masses understand that opposition is a crime and that the leaders of the opposition are criminals. That is the simple language which the masses understand. If you begin to talk of your complicated motives, you will only create confusion amongst them.”

Related Characters: Gletkin (speaker), Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov
Page Number: 243
Explanation and Analysis:

As Gletkin instructs Rubashov in the use Rubashov can play for the Party, Gletkin emphasizes direct, clear messages without ambiguity. Little could be further from the way Rubashov once thought about communist ideology, which was intellectually rich enough to foster debate and disagreement. Now logic continues to be considered the goal to strive for, but it’s a kind of logic that pares down any complexity into discrete, replicable steps. Gletkin also emphasizes the importance of performance and rhetorical skill in convincing the masses of the truth. Indeed, it’s not altogether clear whether Gletkin fervently believes that what Rubashov is being tried for is the truth or whether Gletkin really is simply pragmatic and means-focused, dedicated to considering truth as a function of Party necessity, just as Ivanov and Rubashov had been. The novel contains evidence for both notions; one way of reconciling them would be to say that in the framework in which Gletkin is working, there is no difference between truth as historical reality and truth as convenient fiction—the boundaries have blurred too much.

The Grammatical Fiction: 1 Quotes

“Covered with shame, trampled in the dust, about to die, I will describe to you the sad progress of a traitor, that it may serve as a lesson and terrifying example to the millions of our country…”

Related Characters: Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov (speaker), Vera Wassiljovna
Page Number: 249
Explanation and Analysis:

While these are the words of Rubashov at his trial, it is Vera, Wassilij’s daughter, who is speaking them to her father, since the transcript of Rubashov’s trial has been printed in the newspaper for all to read and learn of his crimes. Indeed, this is the idea behind the very public nature of the confessions. It is not enough for the Party to simply root out examples of nonconforming thought and behavior among the citizens and to torture or imprison any dissidents. Dissidents cannot be shut away from society because the idea that the masses are a collective group that is unanimous in its thoughts and opinions is what justifies the fact that the masses are “led” by a small, powerful group. With the masses united, the leadership can claim to speak on behalf of everyone, but when one person dissents from the official line, this is not just an individual crime that needs to be prosecuted, but a threat to the entire system and to the ideological basis of the country. As a result, people like Rubashov need to perform their own guilt in front of everyone, repenting of their nonconforming ideas and allowing those ideas to be publicly quashed by the collective.

The Grammatical Fiction: 2 Quotes

They were too deeply entangled in their own past, caught in the web they had spun themselves, according to the laws of their own twisted ethics and twisted logic; they were all guilty, although not of those deeds of which they accused themselves.

Related Characters: Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov (speaker)
Page Number: 258
Explanation and Analysis:

As he prepares to die, Rubashov thinks of his comrades who also believed that they were acting in the service of a larger, collective cause, and who found themselves undone and betrayed by that very system. He has a sharp sense of the irony of his situation: not only does he, who once unthinkingly betrayed people in the service of the Party, now find himself condemned by that same logic, but he also recognizes that the historical laws which he considered so valuable and impervious are actually subject to individual, fallible interpretation. Here Rubashov even goes so far as to imply that these laws are not laws of history (as the comrades thought) but rather human laws, which explains why the laws can be massaged so easily depending on who is in power. Rubashov’s thoughts about guilt also suggest a different kind of intellectual and ideological framework from communism, one in which personal and collective responsibility is far greater than in a logical, means-based system. Now Rubashov thinks that all people bear some responsibility for the crimes of some.