Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
A town has been invaded with minimum casualties. Six of the local defense troops are killed, three are wounded, and three escape into the nearby hills. Mayor Orden is informed that the invading commander, Colonel Lanser, wishes to meet with him. Shortly thereafter, the colonel arrives at the mayor’s residence accompanied by a local shopkeeper, George Corell, who is now known to have been a spy for the invaders. The town doctor, Winter, who is a close friend of the mayor, is also present. Colonel Lanser informs the mayor that the invaders are there primarily to obtain coal and that they want the local people to mine it for them. He also informs him that the town will be allowed to keep its government as long as the people cooperate. The mayor and the doctor tell him that they are uncertain how the people will react to these demands.
Suddenly there is a disturbance in the back of the house: The mayor’s cook, Annie, has thrown boiling water on a soldier who had been looking at her through the window. The colonel orders the soldiers to move away from the house even though they had been following his earlier orders. Discussion continues about the likely reaction of the people to the idea of working for the invaders.
The colonel and his staff soon establish their headquarters on the upper floor of the mayor’s house. Days later, Corell arrives to speak with the colonel, suggesting that he be allowed to replace the mayor as the leader of the town. The colonel, however, recommends that he leave the area entirely. The colonel is trying to warn him of what is likely to happen to him if he stays. A report comes in that one of the invading officers has been killed. The man who committed the crime, Alexander Morden, a local miner, is quickly arrested. A trial is scheduled to take place at the mayor’s house. As the drawing room is being arranged, Joseph, the mayor’s servant, informs Annie the cook that two local men had escaped the night before in a boat for England. As the trial is about to begin the colonel tells the mayor that he regrets what has happened but that he needs to take steps to maintain order in the town. The mayor tells the colonel that his soldiers had killed six men when they invaded the town; if the miner is guilty of murder, he reasons, so too are the colonel’s own soldiers.
The trial begins during a day with heavy snow; the people in the streets are sullen and angry. Inside, after a brief review of the incident, the colonel declares Morden guilty. The mayor stands and speaks directly to the accused. He tells him that he is indeed going to...
(The entire section is 1059 words.)
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Chapter 1 Summary
On a Sunday morning, an unnamed coal mining town is invaded by the battalion of an unnamed enemy. The town’s fourteen soldiers are six miles away at a shooting competition, and the invasion is over by 10:45 AM. The town’s soldiers hurry back to the town when they hear the planes and see the parachutes. Six are killed, three are wounded, and three escape.
The invading battalion’s soldiers move into Mr. Corell’s warehouse, which was already prepared for them.
Colonel Lanser, the invaders’ commanding officer, requests a meeting with Mayor Orden at his “palace,” which is really just a large house. Captain Bentick arrives at the palace before Colonel Lanser for the purpose of searching it for firearms. He knows upon arrival that the Mayor has two guns in his house. Doctor Winter, the town physician and historian, is also present. While they wait for Colonel Lanser to arrive, the Mayor and his wife discuss whether or not they should offer the conquerors wine or tea. The Mayor decided to offer neither, because, according to the Mayor, “the people might not like it.”
When Colonel Lanser arrives, Mr. Corell is with him. Doctor Winter realizes that Mr. Corell had been spying for the invaders in preparation for the invasion. Mayor Orden is surprised and hurt by this realization. The Mayor tells Colonel Lanser that he will not take part in the meeting with Mr. Corell in the room, so Colonel Lanser asks Mr. Corell to leave. After protesting, Mr. Corell departs.
Colonel Lanser states his plans for the town: "You see, sir, this is more like a business venture than anything else. We need the coal mine here and the fishing. We will try to get along with just as little friction as possible."
When Doctor Winter and the Mayor suggest that the townspeople might not want to work the mines for the invaders, Colonel Lanser says, “I hope they will want to, because they must. We must have the coal.”...
(The entire section is 631 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
Colonel Lanser sets up his headquarters in the upstairs portion of the Mayor’s house. There are five men with him: Major Hunter, Captain Bentick, Captain Loft, Lieutenant Prackle, and Lieutenant Tonder.
Major Hunter is an engineer. "He was an arithmetician rather than a mathematician. None of the humor, the music, or the mysticism of higher mathematics ever entered his head."
Captain Bentick loves English culture. He vacationed in England before the war. He smokes English tobacco, reads English magazines, and keeps English dogs. He is older than most captains because he does not have the drive to move up the military ranks.
Captain Loft, on the other hand, “lived and breathed his captaincy. . . . A driving ambition forced him up through the grades.” He believes that being in the military and having a military career is the best thing a man can do, and he sees himself as a future general.
Lieutenants Prackle and Tonder were "trained in the politics of the day, believing the great new system invented by a genius [their country’s leader] so great that they never bothered to verify its results."
Prackle has a talent for drawing and dancing. Tonder is a “dark romantic,” a poet who imagines death on the battlefield.
Colonel Lanser has bitter memories of the “other war,” World War I (although it is not specifically named in the narrative), which his country lost. Because of this experience, he has a realistic idea of what war is—a violent, tragic, hateful undertaking. However, he tells himself that this time the war will be different. His men do not have this experience and therefore have an unrealistic expectation of what war is like.
Major Hunter sits at his drawing table designing a railroad siding. He orders Lieutenant Prackle to stop shaving and find the tripod for his drawing table. Captain Loft suggests that everyone should read Section X-12 in the manual...
(The entire section is 763 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
The townspeople have become morose and quiet. Although the day-to-day business of the town is taking place, the people now have the war on their minds.
Annie and Joseph bicker with each other as they struggle to move a large table into the Mayor’s drawing room. After throwing the hot water on the soldiers, Annie became a bit of a celebrity in the town. This has encouraged her to employ her angry disposition more often.
Annie and Joseph engage in a discussion about the invaders. They say that it is wrong for them to be here and that it would be wrong for them to sentence Alex Morden (the miner who killed Captain Bentick) to death. Joseph quietly tells Annie that two men from the town have escaped. He also...
(The entire section is 668 words.)
Chapters 4-5 Summary
On the day of Alex Morden’s trial, it snows heavily. The people don’t say much to each other and watch the patrols move through the street.
Morden’s trial is brief. He is found guilty and sentenced to death by firing squad. When asked if he is sorry for killing Captain Bentick, Morden says, “No, I don’t think I’m sorry.”
Mayor Orden takes it upon himself to speak at the end of the trial. He tells Morden, “Yours was the first clear act. Your private anger was the beginning of the public anger. . . . You will make the people one.”
Then the soldiers take Morden outside to the public square. A few moments later, the people hear the shots that mean Morden is dead. A moment later,...
(The entire section is 530 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
The soldiers continue to patrol the streets of the town. They walk in groups of six and speak of how much they miss the things of home, the food and the girls especially.
One cold night in one of the houses, Molly Morden sits working with a ball of yarn. She stops working when she hears a patrol pass by outside. A moment later there is a knock on the door; it is Annie.
Annie explains that Mayor Orden and Doctor Winter and the two Anders boys, Will and Tom, will be coming soon. The Anders boys are trying to escape because their brother Jack was found to have committed an act of sabotage. Although the invaders had already shot and killed Jack, they were still looking for the rest of the family. Annie says they...
(The entire section is 688 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
In the town, the snow lies deep and a cold wind blows in from the Pole. The houses are dark and the soldiers who patrol the village are cold and miserable. Soldiers near the mine listen for the sounds of airplanes above. On clear nights like this, bombs often fall.
In the village, a dog howls. One soldier suggests they shoot the dog, but another says he likes the howling, that it reminds him of the dog he used to have back home before all the dogs were rounded up and taken away.
Then the soldiers hear the planes. The townspeople hear them too, as does Colonel Lanser in his bed in the Mayor’s house. The people expect bombs, but instead hundreds and hundreds of small blue packages with tiny parachutes fall...
(The entire section is 579 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
The people of the town find out that the Mayor has been arrested and quietly pass the message around. They continue to find and hide the dynamite.
A guard is placed at Mayor Orden’s bedroom door. Doctor Winter, arrested, arrives at the Mayor’s house and the Mayor comes out of his room, past the guard, to meet him. The guard does not stop him.
The Mayor and Doctor Winter talk about the situation. Mayor Orden says that he is powerless to stop the townspeople from rebelling: “I couldn’t stop it if I wanted to.”
Doctor Winter, referring to the invaders’ point of view, says:
The time is nearly up. They think that just because they have only one leader and one...
(The entire section is 689 words.)
Bibliography (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Bloom, Harold, ed. John Steinbeck. New ed. New York: Bloom’s Literary Criticism, 2008. A collection of essays discussing various aspects of Steinbeck’s work and life. Part of Bloom’s series of author studies.
Coers, Donald V. Introduction to The Moon Is Down, by John Steinbeck. New York: Penguin Books, 1995. A clear, concise summary of Steinbeck’s purpose in writing the novel and the response to the novel in the United States and abroad during wartime. Based on Coers’s fuller treatment of the subject in John Steinbeck as Propagandist: “The Moon Is Down” Goes to War. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1991.
(The entire section is 472 words.)