Thursday, February 28, 2008

Darkness at Noon – A compelling history chapter

“I plead guilty to having followed sentimental impulses, and in doing so to have been led into contradiction with historical necessity. I have lent my ear to the laments of the sacrificed, and thus became deaf to the arguments which proved the necessity to sacrifice them. I plead guilty to having rated the question of guilt and innocence higher than that of utility and harmfulness. Finally, I plead guilty to having placed the idea of man above the idea of mankind”


– This is what, the communist protagonist in ‘Darkness at Noon’ by Arthur Koestler says during the course of a forced confession to his interrogator.

The book needs to be read by young men and women to know how history has its own pockets where our school textbooks rarely shed light. A man belonging to the party is arrested suddenly though not completely unexpectedly and is subject to torture through different methods to extract the confession that would suit the regime – headed by No. 1, apparently, the reference is to Stalin.

The book is organized into three confessions each giving the reader an insight into the prisoner’s mind and his motives for the manner in which he conducted himself. His belief that the revolution would result in public good gets shaken and at the same time, he gives in to the party’s high command despite his conscience pricking. The author’s own personal experience has added to the authenticity evident throughout.

The prisoner feels like this about the party:

“The party denied the free will of the individual and at the same time it exacted his willing self-sacrifice. It denied his capacity to choose between two alternatives and at the same time it demanded that he should constantly choose the right one. It denied his power to distinguish good and evil – and at the same time it spoke pathetically of guilt and treachery…There was somewhere an error in the calculation; the equation did not work out.”

Initially he reasons that the party line has to be adhered to in complete abeyance of doubt but later his own thinking in the prison establishes that humanity should be given the respect it deserves and that in the name of a distant dream, freedom shouldn’t be the victim. The old guards thus did not see in Stalin the fruition of their struggle but rather a strong authority and a towering personality.

The passages in the book are a window into Russian history and it’s past. I have always been interested in Russia as a topic in fiction ever since I read Dostoevsky’s works. This work hence proved to be a very deeply satisfying read that I’d always cherish. Special mention is due of that part in the book where Koestler in his own style, proves that the means are as important as the ends.

2 comments:

Madhuri said...

Seems like an interesting book. I have not read Koestler yet, but have had him on my to-read list for a long time.

If you are interested in Russian history, I would highly recommend Joseph Roth's The Silent Prophet. It also narrates the story of a disillusioned revolutionary hero, and is a deeply involved text.

shiva said...

Madhuri, yes it was definitely interesting...

thanks for the recommendation...will look up