Steinbeckathon 2012: The Moon is Down
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"Lanser had been in Belgium and France twenty years before and he tried not to think what he knew—that war is treachery and hatred, the muddling of incompetent generals, the torture and killing and sickness and tiredness, until at last it is over and nothing has changed except for new weariness and new hatreds." - John Steinbeck, The Moon is Down
This is the discussion thread for John Steinbeck's The Moon is Down
Linda / lindapanzo will be hosting this thread.
Spoilers are welcome, but please indicate them in your message out of
respect for those who are reading at a different pace. Enjoy!
Steinbeckathon main thread: http://www.librarything.com/topic/130105
The Moon Is Down was published in 1942 and secretly published in Nazi-occupied areas, to be used as propaganda.
If you participate in the TIOLI challenges, many readers are using this book for the April TIOLI Challenge #1.
I read this book back in about the mid-1970s but I don't remember much about it (I was still in high school then). It's quite short. In fact, Amazon shows it at 144 pages.
Anyway, I hope that you all enjoy this month's choice and are looking forward to where Steinbeck takes you next.
Please feel free to let us know you're joining in and comment as you can. However, please be sure to be careful with spoilers.
Personally, I hope to start my re-read of this book during the upcoming week.
In the last little bit, I've been looking up info on it. It was distributed by resistance fighters during WW2, in Europe. It was banned in Italy, and the penalty for reading it was death.
Thanks for hosting, you'll do just fine.
ETA: and thanks to Ilana for keeping the threads coming.
Thanks for setting up the thread, Ilana, and thanks for hosting, Linda!
Edit: read the first chapter this morning and again this feels all different from the previous books. It reminds me of a Brecht or Duerrenmatt play in prose.
Spoilers, but not plot spoilers:
Not my favorite Steinbeck, I prefer the longer and also later novels we've read so far. The whole book felt like a didactic play in prose and strongly reminded me of something I had to read in high school. Either Duerrenmatt or Brecht or Frisch. As was doubtlessly intended I felt uncomfortable throughout my read. Actually I think that contrary to the other novels, this one here doesn't leave much room for interpretation.
Small spoiler for chapters 1 and 2:
I haven't started The Moon is Down yet, but I am aware of it as propaganda, which doesn't bode well as a thoughtful and subtle read. A perfectly good read, yes, but there's a point that will be made and it will be made loud and clear. Not quite what we have experienced in the other Steinbeckathon works we've read so far.
When there's a world war on, I wonder what the artists and authors do. Do they contribute to the war effort in their own way?
Of course I have no idea whether I'll like this book or not based on the comments I've seen here yet, as haven't started reading it yet, but I AM glad that we've managed to fit in enough variety—not just in terms of different stories, but also different approaches—to help us get a good general overview of Steinbeck's output. I would have liked to fit in more of his non-fiction work as well, but there are only so many books we could fit into 12 months!
When there's a world war on, I wonder what the artists and authors do. Do they contribute to the war effort in their own way?
That's a good question Linda. I guess that depends entirely on the artist or author. Some obviously do feel a moral obligation to contribute, while others feel an equal obligation to comment "objectively" or criticize, while others simply can't help but be influenced in indefinable ways, and still others—and here I can't help thinking about Jane Austen as an example—choose to ignore the issues completely and tell the stories of those who just keep on in the business of daily life outside the front lines.
What strikes me so far is the fortitude of Mayor Orden. So far he's keeping a level head and I admire him for understanding that the people are confused and he was elected not to be.
Secondly, while his wife is concerned about the little things (So Steinbeckish) the Mayor tends to see the big picture. Will be interesting to see if he stays steadfast.
If this was the first Steinbeck book you ever read, would you read more from him?
I read the Introduction to the book this time, before reading the book, which made for a more rounded experience. Having written it for a specific purpose, I think he succeeded admirably. I fully agree with >18 EBT1002: (EBT1002).
>21 lindapanzo: - If this had been my first Steinbeck, I would read more. I'm looking forward to the rest of the Steinbeckathon, to re-read some old friends and discover new ones. So far, for me, Steinbeck is a writer who can almost do no wrong.
I did not have an introduction to read - nor did I come to this thread before I was finished. Since it was so short, I just wanted to go it alone. (Alone? In a GR? Well, yeah.)
So, I did not actually know this was written expressly for propaganda! And it did not occur to me while I was reading it that it was. Guess I'm pretty dense.
But in reading this, I saw two sides of the war; the conquerers and the conquered... which is which? I read this more from philosophical and compassionate perspectives, I guess. But that made it quite interesting.
Also - Mamie made a good point. This was about "...the little things that happened behind the battle fronts ... little vignettes about the the moments that didn't make the front pages...." And I will add - the courage was no less amazing.
Very glad to have read it. If it was my first Steinbeck, yes I would read another - and perhaps be very pleasantly surprised with his other masterpieces :)
Of course, I have been in love with John Steinbeck ever since I read The Grapes of Wrath many, many years ago. I think he is one of America's most gifted writers, and although The Moon Is Down is quite different from his usual works, I am sure I am going to enjoy it.
And here's a quiz on The Moon is Down: http://www.funtrivia.com/trivia-quiz/Literature/The-Moon-Is-Down-168076.html
#32 Glad you're enjoying it. I might be finishing my other book today and then will move onto The Moon Is Down.
Thanks for the quiz and info avidmom.
At the time, James Thurber and Clifton Fadiman criticized The Moon Is Down, saying that it was too fluffy to be effective propaganda. History later proved Thurber/Fadiman wrong.
Q 1: Would a more heavy-handed approach have been more effective?
Originally, Steinbeck set the book in a fictional American town but a wartime government agency wouldn't approve of that.
Q 2: Would setting The Moon Is Down in a fictional American town, instead of in a town in a country that sounds like Norway, have made a difference in the novel's effectiveness as propaganda?
I just finished The Moon is Down this morning. I really enjoyed this month's Steinbeck; he's becoming one of my favorite authors. I'm anxious to start The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (that is next month's read, isn't it?).
36: Q1: I don't think a more heavy-handed approach would have been more effective. To me, a lot of the tragedy of this novel is because people on both sides (the conquered, the conquerors) were victims of that militaristic mindset. It was very easy to see the common humanity of both sides.
Q2: If the book had been set in a fictional American town, it might have been less effective, I think. The reader is not really sure where the action is taking place, but surely it couldn't be in America, right? As the plot progresses, I found myself thinking, well, maybe it could happen here. I'm glad that Steinbeck left it to the reader to imagine where the action was taking place.
Question 1: I agree with Karen, the fact that Steinbeck could show the conflicting emotions on both sides really hit home.
Question 2: Remembering when this book was published, I think setting the book in a fictional European town was the way to go. This situation was actually happening all over Europe, and although the timing makes one think of Norway, other countries like Holland, Denmark, Greece etc. were being invaded and conquered.
I did read The Grapes of Wrath last year and really enjoyed it, but the shorter novels are great.
I really liked the character of the Mayor - he was true to his position all the way.
What he said to Alex was really good.
#31 I thank you too for the article and quiz. I did ok but not great on the quiz. Two major snags for me were that I have a real problem with retaining names and that I often don't remember who said what.
#36 I'm not sure how to answer either question Linda. In the first case, I guess that would depend on what the goal was. If the goal was to create hard-hitting propaganda, I'd agree that a more heavy-handed approach would have made the message that much more direct. That's the approach the Nazis took with their own propaganda and it left no room for interpretation. However, the lighter touch Steinbeck used here is what has made this work an enduring piece of fiction that stands on it's own merit now 70 years later. For this reason, unlike some who have commented that this novel isn't typical of his work, I think the fact that Steinbeck created complex characters and didn't resort to gross generalizations, thus leaving room for interpretation made this very much one of his signature works.
Had the novel been set in America, I'd venture to guess it might have made a greater impact on Americans, but it certainly wouldn't have become such a strong symbol of resistance in the occupied countries of Europe.
ETA: Nope, not there. Did it go by a different name?
Finished reading: 6 April 2012
Readers and commentators make a lot noise about the didactic value of The moon is down, and apparently originally regretted that Steinbeck portrays the oppressors in the book as human rather than monstrous. It seems these commentators forget that literature often serves a didactic purpose, intentionally or unintentionally.
The moon is down tells the story how a village is conquered and occupied by a alien army force, which then puts the villagers to work to extract coal to support the needs of the occupying army. The story is wryly humourous. The oppressors are portrayed as civilised and orderly, but rigid and cruel when met with opposition. However, they are powerless against subtle resistance and refusal to be liked. As resentment among the oppressed rises, the populace is increasingly willing to run risks and extend its actions from passive resistance to active resistance, to repel the oppressor, and deal serious blow upon blow.
The didactic value of the novel lies in the fact that it shows how anyone can take part in passive resistance and which roads are open and possible to both passive and active resistance. Portraying the oppressor as human makes it possible to understand and see the possible weaknesses of that oppressor. An enemy who is perceived as superhuman, can not be understood, only feared. The novel convincingly shows which possibilities people have in a situation like that; to readers in Nazi occupied Europe, the parallels between their situation and the novel would be evident. As the overall tone of the novel is optimistic, it would be enjoyable to read, and instructive at the same time.
With hindsight, knowing or assuming the oppressor to be the Nazis, the novel is an interesting read that illustrates the situation of war-like occupation, as is known from many novels and history books, written after the war.
Other books I have read by John Steinbeck:
The acts of King Arthur and his noble knights
The wayward bus
The winter of our discontent
Thanks for putting into words something I'd been struggling to express for a while now. Great review Edwin, thanks for sharing it with us.
#46 Judy, I looked it up at the library, and you won't be shocked to hear I didn't find it. Great poster though. Kind a cool in a garish sort of way.
Short, but powerful!
I read that this was written as propaganda to encourage the occupied countries in Europe to engage in resistance activities against the Germans.
Reading it from my perspective, I found this book to be so much more than that. Steinbeck did a good job of actually humanizing the invaders and allowing the reader to see that the 'bad' guys are pretty much the same as the 'good' guys.
‘Their talk was of friends and relatives who loved them and their longings were for warmth and love, because a man can be a soldier for only so many hours a day and for only so many months in a year, and then he wants to be a man again, wants girls and drinks and music and laughter and ease, and when these are cut off, they become irresistibly desirable. And the men thought always of home.’
His language is beautiful.
I can't wait for more Steinbeck! Onward to the Grapes of Wrath
Full review is at: