Critical Assessment

“Most works of propaganda do not survive the crises that produce them. The Moon is Down is an exception. . . . The novel’s endurance suggests that while The Moon is Down may have been conceived, written, and used as propaganda, it is probably best described as a work of literature that served as propaganda. Judged by purely artistic standards, it is not among the author’s best efforts. Scholars and reviewers have most frequently criticized its wooden characters and transparent didacticism, flaws characteristic of novels of ideas. But few literary works in our time have demonstrated so triumphantly the power of ideas in the face of cold steel and brute force, and few have spoken so reassuringly to so many people of different countries and cultures. Against the fiercest assault on freedom during this century, John Steinbeck calmly reaffirmed in The Moon is Down the bedrock principles of democracy: the worth of the individual, and the power deriving from free citizens sharing common commitments.”

Donald V. Coers, Introduction to The Moon is Down, 1995.

First Excerpt

“Now it was that the conqueror was surrounded, the men of the battalion alone among silent enemies, and no man might relax his guard for even a moment. If he did, he disappeared, and some snowdrift received his body. If he went alone to a woman, he disappeared and some snowdrift received his body. If he drank, he disappeared. The men of the battalion could sing only together, could dance only together, and dancing gradually stopped and the singing expressed a longing for home. Their talk was of friends and relative 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. The men of the battalion came to detest the place they had conquered, and they were curt with the people and the people were curt with them, and gradually a little fear began to grow in the conquerors, a fear that it would never be over, that they could never relax or go home, a fear that one day they would crack and be hunted through the mountains like rabbits, for the conquered never relaxed their hatred.”

imagesSecond Excerpt

“Down toward one end of the village, among the small houses, a dog complained about the cold and the loneliness. He raised his nose to his god and gave a long and fulsome account of the state of the world as it applied to him. He was a practiced singer with a full bell throat and great versatility of range and control. The six men of the patrol slogging dejectedly up and down the streets heard the singing of the dog, and one of the muffled soldiers said, ‘Seems to me he’s getting worse every night. I suppose we ought to shoot him.’

“And another answered, ‘Why? Let him howl. He sounds good to me. I used to have a dog at home that howled. I never could break him. Yellow dog. I don’t mind the howl. They took my dog when they took the others,’ he said factually, in a dull voice.

“And the corporal said, ‘Couldn’t have dogs eating up food that was needed.’

“‘Oh, I’m not complaining. I know it was necessary. I can’t plan the way the leaders do. It seems funny to me, though, that some people here have dogs, and they don’t have even as much food as we have. They’re pretty gaunt, though, dogs and people.’

“‘They’re fools,’ said the corporal. ‘That’s why they lost so quickly. They can’t plan the way we can.’

“‘I wonder if we’ll have dogs again after it’s over,’ said the soldier.”