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John Steinbeck Goes to War

The Moon is Down as Propaganda

Written by Donald V. Coers

Publication Year: 2006

In March 1942, a desperate period for the allies in World War II, John Steinbeck published his propaganda novel The Moon is Down­—the story of ruthless invaders who overrun a militarily helpless country.  Throughout the novel, Steinbeck underscored both the fatal weakness of the “invincible” unnamed aggressors and the inherent power of the human values shard by the “conquered” people.

The Moon is Down created an immediate sensation among American literary critics; fierce debate erupted over Steinbeck’s uncommonly sympathetic portrayal of the enemy and the novel’s power as a vehicle for propaganda.  Fifty years later, Coers continues the debate, relying heavily on unpublished letters and personal interviews with the lawyers, book dealers, actors, publishers, and housewives associated with the resistance movements in Western Europe.  Clandestine translations of The Moon Is Down quickly appeared and were widely circulated under the noses of the Gestapo.   Coers documents the fate of Steinbeck’s novel in the hands of World War II resistance fighters and deepens our appreciation of Steinbeck’s unique ability to express the feelings of oppressed peoples.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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p. vii


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pp. xi-xvii

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1. Publication and American Reception

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pp. 1-25

By the time the Nazis launched their invasions into western Europe in the spring of 1940, John Steinbeck had reached the peak of his career. After the extraordinary critical and commercial success of The Grapes of Wrath a year earlier, crowning a half decade of achievement which saw the publication of Tortilla Flat (1935) ...

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2. Norway

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pp. 27-53

In 16 January 196, back at home in New York, one month after receiving the Nobel Prize for literature, Steinbeck wrote to his longtime Norwegian publisher, Harald Grieg, whom Steinbeck had visited during his trip to Stockholm. After a circuitous disparagement of his recent honor...

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3. Denmark

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pp. 57-83

Mogens Staffeldt's bookstore on the bottom floor of Dagmar House on Copenhagen's Town Hall Square bustled with more activity than usual early in 1943, and not merely because Danes were stocking their libraries during the third dismal winter under German occupation. Staffeldt had only recently finished printing illegal editions of ...

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4. Holland

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pp. 85-98

One of the provisions of the New Order imposed by the Germans after they overran the Netherlands between 10 May and 14 May 1940 required that Dutch actors who wished to continue performing in public join the Kulturkammer, a Nazi guild which held the power of censorship over all cultural life. Among those who refused to ...

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5. France

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pp. 99-111

Steinbeck was still writing The Moon Is Down in October 1941, when a young French artist named Jean BruIler put the finishing touches on a story soon to create a sensation in occupied France: Le silence de la mer (The Silence of the Sea). BruIler, destined to become famous as Vercors, ...

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6. Other Countries

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pp. 113-123

The wartime publication of The Moon Is Down was not limited to America and occupied Europe. Steinbeck's British publisher, Heinemann, brought out the first edition of the novel in England in 1942, and a "Middle East Edition" the following year. The English Theatre Guild printed ...

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7. Conclusion

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pp. 125-138

In June 1942, three months after the raging controversy over The Moon Is Down had begun, Stanley Edgar Hyman wrote in the Antioch Review that the effect of the novel as propaganda "will probably be somewhere along the line from the useless to the downright dangerous. No book that bases its hopes for the conquered peoples on such physical ...


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pp. 139-153

Works Cited

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pp. 155-165


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pp. 167-174

E-ISBN-13: 9780817381769
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817353285

Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 320324532
MUSE Marc Record: Download for John Steinbeck Goes to War

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Subject Headings

  • Steinbeck, John, 1902-1968. Moon is down.
  • Politics and literature -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Steinbeck, John, -- 1902-1968 -- Political and social views.
  • Propaganda, American.
  • Steinbeck, John, 1902-1968 -- Appreciation -- Europe.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- United States -- Literature and the war.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Propaganda.
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