Understanding The Moon is Down

Understanding The Moon is Down

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War affects everyone involved - the conquerors and those being conquered.  War is a struggle that is internal and external.  Man can be a dedicated and loyal soldier for only so much at a time.  He then longs for laughter, music, girls, a good meal and more.  In The Moon is Down, the soldiers feel the need to return home.  They begin to doubt what they are doing and if they are being told the truth.  They become uneasy when the enemy doesn't talk to them.  The townspeople's hatred is growing. They remained indoors and stared from behind curtains while the patrol walked through the town.

     Lieutenant Tonder was a romantic naive poet who felt the enemy should love him.  Steinbeck presented Tonder as "a bitter poet who dreamed of perfect, ideal love of elevated young men for poor girls" (25).

     When Lieutenant Tonder first arrived in town  he thought that it was a nice country with nice people.  Tonder says, "There are some beautiful farms here.  If four or five of them were thrown together, it would be a nice place to settle, I think" (34).  The war was not ending as quickly as Tonder expected.  The townspeople had become the silent enemies of the soldiers or the townspeople became silent waiting for revenge.  "Now it was the conqueror was surrounded, the men of the battalion alone among silent enemies, and no man might relax his guard for even a moment" (65).  The soldiers now have only each other to talk to and Tonder longed to go home. "The men of the battalion came to detest the place they had conquered,...and gradually a little fear began to grow in the conquerors, a fear that it would never be over" (65-66).  In war, as time goes on fear begins to settle on soldiers.  "Thus it came about that the conquerors grew afraid of the conquered and their nerves wore thin and they shot at shadows in the night" (66-67).  Tonder starts to doubt the honesty of his fellow Germans Tonder says, "If anything happened- at home, I mean - do you think they would let us know...well, I would like to get out of this god-forsaken hole!" (70-71). Tonder felt at first that this town had nice, pleasant people but as time moved on, he changed his views.  "These people!  These horrible people!  These cold people!  They never look at you.

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They never speak.  They answer like dead men.  They obey, these horrible people.  And the girls are frozen" (71).  Tonder who once felt the enemy should love him, now fears the enemy.  Tonder starts losing control and says,  "The enemy's everywhere!  Every man, every women, even children!  The enemy's everywhere" (72). Tonder who once wanted to settle in this town now longs to go home.  Tonder says, "I mean this: we'll be going home before long won't we?" (75).  Tonder  is questioning if the town there are in has been conquered.  Tonder states, "Conquered and we're surrounded! (77). "Tonder already upset loses control and suggests to Joseph that the `leader' is crazy, that the war will never end, and hysterically avows that the `flies conquer the flypaper'" (Clancy 104).  In Tonder's loneliness he visits Molly Morden.  "Can you understand this - can you believe this?  Just for a little while, can't we forget this war?... can't we talk together like people - together?" (83).  Tonder's longings of dying on the battlefield come true when Molly kills him with her knitting needles.

     Colonel Lanser is the leader of the invaders.  He would execute any Nazi order.  Colonel Lanser asks the townspeople to be cooperative. Charles J. Clancy states, "Annie scalds some soldiers on the rear porch, and Lanser excuses her conduct in an effect to get Mayor Orden's cooperation" (103).  Lanser doesn't understand why all people don't follow orders.  He as a soldier is expected to carry our and follow orders.  His life as a Colonel would be simple if everyone followed orders.  He hoped in his mind that this war would not be like the last war.  "Lanser told himself he was a soldier, given orders to carry out ... he tried to put aside the sick memories of the other war and the certainty that this would be the same" (27).  The people being invaded will not cooperate and therefore Colonel Lanser's job will be difficult.  Lanser says, "We must get the coal.  If your people are not orderly, we will have to restore that order by force" (54).  Lanser is the only soldier shown as knowing what war is really about. Peter Lisca's opinion is "Of them all, only Colonel Lanser knew what war really is in the long run... treachery and hatred, the middling of incompetent generals, the torture and killing and sickness, until at last it is over and nothing has changed except for new weariness and new hatreds" (188).  Mayor Orden asks Colonel Lanser if he can refuse the soldiers living in his house.  "I'm sorry,"  The Colonel said. "No. These are the orders of my leader" (20).  When asked if Lanser will carry out his orders knowing they will fail he replied, "I will carry out my orders no matter what they are" (125). Colonel Lanser hopes that the mayor's town will listen and act orderly.  When asked by the mayor if the people don't follow orders Lanser stated, "I hope they will want to because they must.  We must have the coal.  They are an orderly people. They don't want trouble" (17)  Lanser at the end is hoping the townspeople follow his orders.  He is going to execute the mayor unless the townspeople follow his orders.  Colonel Lanser said, "I arrested you as a hostage for the good behavior of your people.  Those are my orders" (122).

     Mayor Orden is a simple man who believed in the fighting spirit of his townspeople.  He thought that no sacrifice was too great for freedom. Mayor Orden was confused about how to approach the invaders in his house. "He laughed softly.  `I'm a little afraid', he said apologetically.  `Well, not afraid, but I'm nervous.'  And he said helplessly,  `We have never been conquered, for a long time-'"(13).  He was quite upset when he discovered that George Correl, the collaborator (Clancy,103) prepared the town for the invasion.  Orden says angrily, "You have sat at my table, you have drunk port with me.  Why, you helped me plan the hospital!  This isn't true!  I do not wish to speak in this gentleman's company" (15).  The town elected the mayor and it is his job to protect the people from harm.  "The strength of the conquered people in The Moon is Down is that of the pioneers in the Leader of the People" (Lisca 190).  The mayor says,"Sir I am of this people, and yet I don't know what they will do... but my people have elected me.  They made me and they can unmake me" (18).  Lisca says, "Their leader is an expression of the body politics, one who happens to be going in the direction the people want to move" (190). 

Mayor Orden is uncomfortable with the idea of the soldiers living in his home. He is afraid the townspeople will think he is on their side. Orden says,"Am I permitted to refuse this honor?"(19).  He refers to this as an honor which shows he is very confused.  Orden was very upset when he discovers that the soldiers expect him to pass a death sentence on Alexander Morden.  The Mayor says, "I have no right to pass sentence of death... I would be breaking the law as much as you" (54).  His role of being mayor for so many years is now changing because of the invasion.  Mayor Orden in talking to Alex Morden during his trial tells him that his act of killing a soldier is the beginning of the town's expressing their anger. He tells him that he is uniting the town in their hatred and anger.  Orden says, "You will make the people one" (61).  Orden is now feeling the pressure that war has brought upon him as Mayor of his town.  At the beginning of the novel, Mayor Orden is concerned about the way he looks for the conquerors and at the end he is willing to die for his people. (Lisca 192). Lisca says, "He is made to rise from the triviality of the first scene, in which we see him getting the hair trimmed from his ears, so he will look neat for the conquerors, to the greatness of the last scene in which he is led out to be shot, he calmly quotes Socrates last words" (192).

     Molly Morden is very upset because her husband is going to be executed.  She kept on asking the Mayor if he was going to sentence her husband's death.  She wouldn't let Mayor Orden touch her to comfort her. Molly says,"Please don't touch me" (51). Lieutenant Tonder arrives at Molly's house.  She offers herself to him for two sausages.  Molly says, "Do I disgust you, Lieutenant?  Maybe I'm trying to.  My price is two sausages" (86).  She is so beside herself with grief and loneliness that she unraveled the wool from an old sweater so she can keep busy. She let Lieutenant Tonder near her.  She even put her hand to his cheek.  She told him she didn't hate him and that she too was lonely.  This is in contrast to her attitude toward the Mayor who she wouldn't let touch her.  Molly says, "The trouble I'm in no one can help me with" (95).  Molly hides a pair of scissors in her dress which she uses to kill Lieutenant Tonder, who trusts Molly (Lisca 196).

     In the novel, The Moon is Down, Steinbeck shows us how war affects different people.  Lieutenant Tonder started out as a poet who romanticized war.  He ended up losing control.  He felt that instead of being one of the conquerors he felt that the townspeople were the conquerors and that he was conquered. Colonel Lanser has a dilemma between his role as a colonel and as a human being.  He only knows how to communicate as a soldier. He is sad and repelled because of his position in the interest of order based upon senseless violence.  According to Richard Astro, "But despite his love for this world and the people who inhabit it, Steinbeck orders his novel to show beyond all doubt that it is as doomed to eventual extinction as the world of Colonel Lanser's overly integrated soldiers in The Moon is Down" (20). Mayor Orden started out as a man who was only concerned with the triviality of things and he changed by dying for his people. Molly Morden loses control when she kills Lieutenant Tonder.  War had a different affect on everyone.


Works Cited

Astro, Richard.  "Intimations of a Wasteland."  John Steinbeck. Ed. Harold Bloom.  New York: Chelsea House, 1987.  19-34.

Clancy, Charles J.  "Steinbeck's The Moon is Down (1942)."  A Study Guide to Steinbeck (Part II).  Ed. Tetsumaro Hayashi. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1979.  100-11.

Lisca, Peter.  The Wide World of John Steinbeck.  New York: Gordin Press, 1981.

Steinbeck, John.  The Moon is Down.  New York: Penguin Books, 1942.
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