The Moon is Down

John Stienbeck, 1942, 112 p

This sincere short novel written as Allied propaganda during WWII was very popular in Nazi-occupied Western Europe. Stienbeck’s focus is on the psychological effects on people whose countries are occupied–from initial confusion to the formation of underground resistance movements. This is also a novel of ideas, what Stienbeck calls “a kind of celebration of the durability of democracy.” The characters are more allegorical than nuanced, and the setting is almost like a fairy tale. The “herd men” follow “the Leader” and invade a peaceful, snowy unnamed country.

My favorite image: the Nazi machine is a snake with only one head and of democracy is a snake with ten heads–if one is cut off, then the other nine will rise up and revolt in the name of freedom. I love the writing style because it is not ranting, formula propaganda, filled with crude stereotypes. It is instead a very sympathetic approach, which portrays the invaders as human beings, who are acting on orders, but who don’t understand why they are planning, patrolling, and killing (American critics hated this). The language is very plain and unadorned, and will not impede comprehension for most high school students. I would highly recommend using excerpts with a high school class during a WWII or propaganda unit.

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