Author(s): John SteinbeckDownload
Taken by surprise, a small coastal town is overrun by an invading army with little resistance. The town is important because it is a port that serves a large coal mine. Colonel Lanser, the head of the invading battalion, along with his staff establishes his HQ in the house of the democratically elected and popular Mayor Orden.As the reality of occupation sinks in and the weather turns bleak, with the snows beginning earlier than usual, the “simple, peaceful people” of the town are angry and confused. Colonel Lanser, a veteran of many wars, tries to operate under a veil of civility and law, but in his heart he knows that “there are no peaceful people” amongst those whose freedom has been taken away by force. The veil is soon torn apart when Alexander Morden, an erstwhile alderman and “a free man,” is ordered to work in the mine. He strikes out at Captain Loft with a pick axe, but Captain Bentick steps into its path and dies of it. After a summary trial, Morden is executed by a firing squad. This incident catalyzes the people of the town and they settle into “a slow, silent, waiting revenge.” Sections of the railroad linking the port with the mine get damaged regularly, the machinery breaks down often, and the dynamo of the electricity generators gets short circuited. Whenever a soldier relaxes his guard, drinks or goes out with a woman, he is killed. Mayor Orden stands by his people, and tries to explain to Col. Lanser that his goal – “to break man’s spirit permanently” – is impossible.The cold weather and the constant fear weighs heavy on the occupying force, many of whom wish the war to end so that they can return home. They realize the futility of the war and that “the flies have conquered the flypaper.” Some members of the resistance escape to England and ask the English for explosives so that the townspeople can intensify their efforts. English planes parachute-drop small packages containing dynamite sticks and chocolates all around the town. In a state of panic, the army takes the Mayor and his friend Dr. Winter, the town doctor and historian, hostage and lets it be known that any action from resistance will lead to their execution. Mayor Orden knows that nothing can stop his people and that his death is imminent. He tells his wife that while he can be killed, the idea of Mayor (and freedom and democracy) is beyond the reach of any army. Before his execution, Mayor Orden reminds Dr. Winter of the dialogues of Socrates in the Apology, a part he played in the high school play, and tells him to make sure that the debt is repaid to the army, i.e., that the resistance is continued.
Some Reviews: 1513 in Goodreads.com
Short and bitter sweet, The Moon is Down shows what becomes of docile countryfolk when they are invaded and subjugated.
Not sure what to expect from this lesser known work by Steinbeck, my first impression after a few pages was that I was in for a light comedy, a sort of Catch-22 anti-war declaration, apparently with silly citizens and gullible army officers acting out a daffy pre-“Hogan’s Heroes” farce.
But then it turned serious and dark, and actually hopeful. There are small heroes, tiny victories. The struggle is not valiant. There are no action-packed depictions. It is furtive. Victory over their oppressors is implied. But the main point is that those supposedly conquered should struggle against their oppressors. Most will and most will never give up the fight.
Aspects of The Moon is Down had a deja vu familiarity about them and then one particular scene jarred my memory and sent me back 30 years or more to a TV version of All Quiet on the Western Front. In it actor Richard Thomas (aka “John Boy”) plays a German. I think in the early 80s he was trying to get away from his good-guy Waltons persona. Playing a soldier from an antagonistic army pushing himself on a woman from the conquered country would do it. Well anyway, the scene in question is not, to my recollection, from All Quiet…, but rather from this book. I hope Steinbeck got some credit.
By 10:45 it was all over. The town was occupied, the defenders defeated, and the war was finished.
Not quite. In Steinbeck’s 1942 story of a small unnamed town invaded by an unnamed enemy, the war was far from finished.
The book begins with an almost farcical tone – the mayor needs to have his ear hairs trimmed before his meeting with the conquering colonel, the ratfink mole who’s been informing on the townsfolk seems surprised that he should not continue to live amongst them, and one of the soldiers is bitten by the mayor’s feisty cook. Because of the ease the invading army had in taking the town, the officers assume that the local citizens will fall into line and accept them as their new rulers. The mayor predicts that things will not be that easy. “The people are confused now. They have lived at peace so long that they do not quite believe in war. They will learn and then they will not be confused anymore.”
Things turn ugly after an incident at the local mine, and the mayor’s prediction comes true as the oppressed people begin to exact their revenge.
Steinbeck presents a unique look at life during wartime, and humankind’s desire to be free.
Loved it and very nearly rated it as a 5. Written ostensibly as intelligent propaganda for the allies in WWII – and from reading the afterword in the edition I read, it was seemingly massively effective and influential in that context across many occupied countries. Whilst being criticised as being over simplistic, I feel the book stands extremely well indeed as a novel in its own right – simply written and with such clarity, it goes to the heart of the human experience and is all the more powerful for doing so. An overlooked classic in my eyes – don’t miss.
I read this in one night when I flopped drunk on my friend’s girlfriend’s couch after a night around the bars.
It’s so timely as to be telepathic.
One character literally remarks, regarding the town his troops are occupying, how he is puzzled that there were no flowers or candy thrown at the soldiers who “liberated” them, as everyone had promised they would.
I mean, Come On, how can that not blow your mind, just a little bit?
It was written as Allied propaganda during WW2 explicity at the request of the government, with Steinbeck’s full compliance.
It was contraband in Italy, where one could be put to death for transmitting it. it was printed on tissue paper to be smuggled through fascist occupation and the courageous souls who took it upon themselves to get it out to the Allied soldiers narrowly missed death more than once.
This is what Literature’s all about- for me. Writing (and reading!) like your life depended on it. And it’s immensely gratifying to know that for some, it actually did.
It’s not necessarily a literary masterpiece, but its of sufficient quality to be valuable as a piece of art than as a simple historical artifact.
It’s even sympathetic to the Nazi characters! They are portrayed as human beings, not monsters, since that would be ironically to play into the fascist game after all- didn’t the Nazis, for example, attempt to claim that they were superhuman?
An overtly propagandistic novel which actually addresses the humanity of the enemy (and that’s quite an enemy we’re talking about here) is a mightly impressive and respectable feat, says I.
I’m just glad I read it. What it represents, on several levels, is gratifying and positive that this very minor book should never be forgotten.
This is filled with ironic humor. Line after line after line. Or is my brain twisted?!
Isn’t it kind of funny that the value of propaganda, which is what this was when it was originally written in 1942, all depends on which side you stand? Propaganda is usually seen as “bad literature”. Not here. This is the first time I have read propaganda that gets its message across through humor, and it is good!
Here is a little background information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Moon…
I thoroughly enjoy the ironical humor delivered in this book. Steinbeck wrote it during WW2 as encouragement to the people of those countries which were occupied by the Germans, to encourage resistance! I believe Steinbeck has through humor achieved his purpose. I removed one star because the message delivered is a bit heavy handedly presented in the latter half. Heck, it was meant to be written as propaganda. It certainly achieved its purpose.
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