Darkness at Noon

Darkness at Noon

Toothache Symbol Icon

Rubashov has been plagued by toothache for years, since well before his imprisonment: he’s bothered by it during his travels as a diplomat in Germany, for instance. It’s particularly bothersome to him when he arrives in prison, and it serves as an excuse for him to refuse to eat. Gradually, however, the pain that Rubashov feels in his tooth comes to be associated with a more intellectual and even emotional “ache” or sense of unease. It is when he begins to think of individuals—of what he dubs the “grammatical fiction”—that Rubashov inevitably begins to feel his tooth ache once again. Conversely, when he’s concentrating on his physical needs or on the day-to-day life of the prison, without musing further on his own past and current condition, the problem fades away. The toothache thus represents Rubashov’s gradual realization, over the course of the novel, that he has potentially been accounting for history and for individual lives according to a mathematical formula that simply doesn’t work. At the same time, a toothache is dull and unpleasant without being overpowering. Rubashov’s sense of unease, too, never bursts out into a dramatic scene of outrage, disavowal, or conflict: instead it festers within him, minor but persistent, and urging him to face his own past.

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Toothache Symbol Timeline in Darkness at Noon

The timeline below shows where the symbol Toothache appears in Darkness at Noon. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The First Hearing: 6
Ideology and Contradiction Theme Icon
The Individual, or the “Grammatical Fiction, vs. the Collective Theme Icon
...warder enters and asks why Rubashov hasn’t gotten up. Rubashov says he’s sick with a toothache, and he’s left alone. He’s bored and has a sudden craving for a newspaper, though... (full context)
The First Hearing: 9
Ideology and Contradiction Theme Icon
Logical Reasoning and Bureaucracy Theme Icon
...run him over: he’d cheated them of the fare. He woke up feeling nauseous, his tooth aching. He was arrested a week later. (full context)
The First Hearing: 10
Ideology and Contradiction Theme Icon
Logical Reasoning and Bureaucracy Theme Icon
...not knowing what to expect: otherwise one can stand it like the extraction of a tooth. (full context)
The First Hearing: 13
The Individual, or the “Grammatical Fiction, vs. the Collective Theme Icon
Truth, Confession, and Performance Theme Icon
...their heads shorn, and come to the infirmary. The warder says the prisoner has a toothache. Rubashov looks at the doctor through the pince-nez as the doctor barks at him to... (full context)
The Third Hearing: 3
Ideology and Contradiction Theme Icon
The Individual, or the “Grammatical Fiction, vs. the Collective Theme Icon
Rubashov’s toothache is gone and he feels nervously impatient. He continues to work, but has to stop... (full context)
The Grammatical Fiction: 3
The Individual, or the “Grammatical Fiction, vs. the Collective Theme Icon
...cellar stairs in a spiral, into the darkness. He thinks that it’s strange how his toothache had stopped in the moment of the trial before he said that he bowed before... (full context)