The Conflict Between the Individual and the State and the Grammatical Fiction in Darkness At Noon
“The Party denied the free will of an individual-and at the same time exacted his willing self-sacrifice.” The obvious contradiction of the above definition of the Communist party is depicts the conflict between the individual and the State in Arthur Koestler’s novel Darkness at Noon. Koestler’s protagonist Nicolas Salamanovich Rubashov, devout communist and former leader of the Communist party, falls victim to his own system during the time of the Moscow trials. Accused and imprisoned for crimes he did not commit, Rubashov is forced to choose between the ideology he has faithfully followed for the past forty years of his life, or a new found sense of self, which he calls the “grammatical fiction”.
During the beginning of Rubashov’s solitary incarceration, he begins to doubt the infallibility of the Communist regime, and for a time, views himself independent from the Party. Rubashov’s pulling away from Communism is evident in his conversation with the examining magistrate, Ivanov, during his first hearing. Rubashov addresses Ivanov’s collective viewpoint with the developing views of his own:
“Your argument is somewhat anachronistic,” said Rubashov. “As you quite rightly remarked, we were accustomed always to use the plural ‘we’ and to avoid as far as possible the first person singular. I have rather lost the habit of this form of speech; you stick to it. But who is this ‘we’ in whose name you speak to-day? It needs re-defining. That is the point.”
Apart from the Party, Rubashov no longer functions as part of the Communist unit, but rather as an individual. Within communist doctrine the individual is only a piece of a larger system, and for the true communist the pronoun ‘I’ is not even part of his or her vocabulary. Rather, the personal ‘I’ is replaced by ‘we’, which represents the Party. The significance of Rubashov’s statement is that even his speech patterns, a physical manifestation of one’s subconscious, display his self-detachment from the Communist Party in that he has lost his ability to associate with the communist We.
Over and over Rubashov is tormented by the idea “I shall pay”, an unrest due to his uncertainty about the foundation of Communism he has placed himself on. Shortly after his first hearing he writes in his diary “The fact is: I no longer believe in my infallibility. That is why I am lost.” It is evident that he is beginning to take personal responsibility for the actions he has committed on behalf of the Party, the people that he has betrayed and the seemingly absurd doctrines he has readily submitted to. Both Rubashov’s mental disquiet, and his observable, critical actions are owed to his new found recognition of himself as an individual, a loophole in Communist doctrine.
All his life Rubashov had “burnt the remains of the old illogical morality from his consciousness”, and was unaware that ideas outside of those expressed by the Party had any logical basis. He once thought that any other view was irrational and false. In his cell waiting to be taken to his execution, Rubashov reflects on his former devotion to the Party:
For in a struggle one must have both legs firmly planted on the earth. The Party had taught one how to do it. The infinite was a politically suspect quantity, and the “I” a suspect quality. The Party did not recognize its existence. The definition of an individual was a multitude of one million divided by one million.
As a Communist he had sacrificed his individuality for the benefit of the Party, and forty years later he had lost the capability to even think outside the lines of the Party’s dogmas. He had denied the individual within himself, which is why he is confused at the emergence of his “silent partner”, the free-thinking individual within himself. His conscious self had been founded in the ‘we’, until he was imprisoned. Facing death, Rubashov realizes the destructiveness of a political system that doesn’t account for the individual.
No longer confused by his apathy for the Party, Rubashov’s final hours are marked by a fatalistic mindset and an internal sense of peace. In Rubashov’s conversation with Ivanov during Rubashov’s second hearing, Ivanov states: “The greatest temptaion for the like of us is: to renounce violence, to repent, to make peace with oneself”. Ivanov represents rubashov’s former viewpoint. However, no longer subject to the repressive Communist order, Rubashov does find reconciliation with himself:
He was a man who had lost his shadow, released from every bond. He followed every thought to its last conclusion and acted in accordance with it to the very end. The hours which remained to him belonged to the silent partner, whose realm started just where logical thought ended. He had christened it the ‘grammatical fiction’ with that shamefacedness about the first person singular which the Party had inculcated in its disciples.
At this point Rubashov rests. The inner turmoil he had from being torn between two avenues of thought had ceased. He has realized the futility of the Party’s actions, and in his own way repented of those actions by dissociating himself from the Party. Although the Party had essentially banished Rubashov first, Rubashov’s conflict had resulted from his mental loyalty for the System to which he fell victim. Having lost his faith in Communism, Rubashov devotes the remaining part of his life to the “grammatical fiction”, and finds contentment. Rubashov is no longer afraid of death because death is imminent, and not even the most logical thought or powerful dictator can alter the natural law of death. After enduring emotional and mental torment, he realizes he has “earned the right to sleep” and die peacefully.
Rubashov’s experiences in prison altered his view of the communist system and upturned the faith he had for it. The idea that a doctrine in which the individual is not accounted for becomes an absurdity. The appearance of the grammatical fiction in Rubashov’s case, is representative of the larger conflict between the individual and the State. Rubashov’s experience is a microcosm of the people who suppressed their own individual thought and reason for that of the Party and Stalinist dictatorship. The idea expressed by Koestler in Darkness at Noon is that the Communist system’s ultimate failure lies within its idea that the individual is a “sacrificial lamb” for the Party. Instead, it is the individual that is the essential factor in making a society. An individual can survive without a government, but a government can not survive without the support of the individual, and it is for this reason that no form of Communism has ever reached the utopian peak in which Marx and Engles expressed in The Manifesto of the Communist Party.
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