The Moon Is Down
Author : John Steinbeck
Published January 1st, 1942
144 pages Hard Cover collection from Amaranth Press
The Moon Is Down jumps immediately into the action. There’s no long setup, no overly descriptive prose to set the scene. Steinbeck gets right into the action with the small town being invaded and occupied within the very first pages. From there the story weaves through varying viewpoints as the struggle for normalcy and peace unfolds.
The invaders see themselves as unstoppable conquerors, and in many ways they may be just that. However, they have orders to attempt to use the leaders of the people they conquer to help them move into a smooth and peaceful transition.
In this case that takes the form of Mayor Orden and his adviser Doctor Winters. Even though Colonel Lanser, the commanding officer of the invading force, attempts to keep things running in a peaceful and civil order, the people of the town rebel in the only way they can.
Being unarmed, they turn cold to the invading army and little by little people escape and word begins to spread. Help is on the way, and through a series of small rebellions, sabotages, and willpower they attempt to hold tight to their freedoms with the hope help will arrive to liberate this once free people.
While this story is relatively short, it’s a terrific study of a population of free people refusing to be broken. It’s a story detailing how, no matter what promises are made in the name of peace, when you try to conquer a free population you’ll never find peace.
People will hold to the ideals of freedom until they either achieve it once more or they die trying. Once the invaders begin despair, due to the coldness of the citizens and an early winter that dampen moods further, they realize that maybe they never will go home and never find peace. Moral among the soldiers begins to plummet as slowly their willpower to conquer is eroded, replaced by wanting to go home where they can have normal human contact once more.
Coming off the heels of reading Steinbeck’s epic journey through the Great Depression in The Grapes of Wrath, The Moon Is Down feels like a sprint through a powerful idea. An idea influenced, no doubt, by the events of World War II. Steinbeck has a clear message and where The Grapes of Wrath could wander through it’s desolation, The Moon Is Down is a direct onslaught of hope.
Hope in the face of desperation.
And while this story certainly contains a lot of death and sadness, the focus remains on the people that live on and the power they hold for better days ahead… the power of hope and freedom.
The people share a belief in what is right, an understanding that it won’t be easy. But their freedom, and their ultimate survival, depend on holding tight to the hope they can change things. The hope that no matter how grim the odds, death is better than being enslaved and therefore it’s worth continuing the fight.
While John Steinbeck and his classic literature novels are certainly not going to be for everyone, due to the slower paced style and his approach to storytelling, the work is still worth exploring. Even if only to enjoy the beautiful way he has of letting a story unfold through beautiful language, they are worth reading at least once.
This book especially, being a short read at under 150 pages, packs a big punch in terms of the powerful message it delivers and the engaging way the story unfolds.
If you have the patience, the storytelling and message of this short novel is worth your time.
The Moon Is Down gets a 3 out of 5 stars.
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