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Image of Man in Steinbeck’s The Moon is Down


Image of Man in Steinbeck’s The Moon is Down

           Dr. R. Vithya Prabha

Professor and Head

      Department of English

Dr. N. G. P. Arts and Science College

Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India


The purpose of the article is that free men organised in a voluntary democratic group have strength that tyranny connote break. The social organism he has in mind is occupied with Norway and the tyranny in Nazi Germany. Image of man as an ideal leader is reflected in Mayor Orden. He is a product of centuries of Political and Cultural Revolution. Steinbeck prefers to universalise this conflict and make it relevant to the manifestations of symptoms even in his own nation. The coastal town of a peace-loving country is taken over an aggressive power, but hostile, continue and leads to face the firing squad.

Keywords: Conflict; Cultural and Political Revolution; Nazi, Society; Tyranny

Steinbeck’s most significant work relating to war is The Moon is Down. It is a kind of celebration of the durability of democracy. Steinbeck exposes the folly of war, the self-defeating futility of totalitarian regimentation and the anguish and frustration which men and women, both persecutors and victims, pass through. He espouses here the Socratean ideal of free men and suggests the efficacy of Gandhian passive resistance.

The Moon is Down provides an exalted image of the political man. The group is voluntary association of free man, who are above any kind of intimidation, external or internal to the group. The people are quite different from the striking fruit pickers or the migrant labourers. They are free men, a big family, voluntarily welded into an organic group, which chooses its leaders to carry out its common will. Further the broader line between the leader and the lead has disappeared; everyone is a potential leader. Such a highly evolved and thoroughly enfranchised group as the townspeople is brought in the novel. Dr. Winter spotlights this distinction:

They think that just because they have only one leader and one head, we are all like that. They know that ten heads lopped off will destroy them, but we are a free people. We have as many heads as we have people, and in a time of need leaders pop up among us like mushrooms. (132)

The concept of leadership in a society grounded in long democratic tradition is also explained to Col. Lanser by Mayor Orden. “Some people accept appointed leaders and obey them. But my people have elected me. They made me and they can unmake me. Perhaps they will if they think I have gone over to you” (24). He adds that his people “don’t like to have others think for them”.

This voluntary association of individuals in a free society is contrasted with a regimented society controlled by a self-appointed leader. Steinbeck’s opposition to a totalitarian system was effectively expressed in his Sea of Cortez. Because of its lack of resilience, its continued existence is also jeopardised in The log from the Sea of Cortez.

A too greatly integrated system or society is in danger of destruction since the removal of one unit may cripple the whole.

. . . Twenty-five key men destroyed could make the Soviet Union stagger, but, we could lose our Congress, our president and our general staff and nothing much would have happened (47).

Free men have such adaptability that they invariably throw up the right type of leadership when required and succeed in the struggle for survival. Though they are initially faced with reverses, they finally win. Mayor Orden told the colonel in his quiet but emphatic way that the enemy forces would be destroyed and driven out because the people did not like to be conquered. Free men cannot start a war, but once it is started, they can fight on in defeat. Herd men, followers of a leader, cannot do that, and so it is always the herd men who win battles and the free men who win wars.

Mayor Orden is a product of centuries of political and cultural revolution. Inheritor of a cherished and continuously nurtured tradition, he symbolises the hopes and aspirations of the group which he represents. Col. Lanser understands the true relationship in which he is held by his people. He tells the quisling Corelli: Mayor Orden is more than a mayor. ... He is his people. He knows what they are doing, thinking, without asking, because he will think what they think. By watching him I will know them (46-47).

In his wisdom, Orden also realises that he is only one among equals and that it is his office which lends importance to him and not vice versa. He tells his wife that “the Mayor is an idea conceived by free men. It will escape arrest (141). Nobody can arrest the idea of freedom! The real greatness of Orden is not because unto the last he keeps faith with his people. If he had done otherwise, they would have disowned him promptly. He is great in the sense that he holds aloft the highest of human values. He thinks nobly of man. Orden gives expression to his hope for man. He believes that man is endowed with unique qualities. “. . . I am a little man and this is a little town, but there must be a spark in little men that can burst into flame” (134). Significantly he tells Colone Lanser that the latter has taken up “the one impossible job in the world, the one thing that can’t be done” in other words “To break men’s spirit permanently”. (65)

By delineating Orden, Steinbeck adds a new element to his image of man. It is the privilege which a free spirit alone possesses viz. the capacity to choose. The right to make a choice about good or evil is the prerogative of an enfranchised individual. The uncommitted understanding which refuses to take sides, characteristics of Steinbeck’s earlier non-teleological thinking, undergoes a change. Hereafter he thinks of a man as endowed with a free will which makes it felt through discriminating action.

Mayor Orden is the highly evolved individual who reaches out towards a moral choice, independent of the concept of original sin. He is a courageous Socratean humanist who is indifferent to life and death but is most vitally concerned with correct action. This engenders in him an unusual feeling of fearlessness and exaltation “as though I were bigger and better than I am”. He tells Colonel Lanser: “I have no choice of living or dying . . . but I do have a choice of how I do it” (139). Earlier in his conversation with Dr. Winter, Orden quotes the words of Socrates: . . .  a man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying: he ought only to consider whether he is doing right or wrong” (134). Orden’s victory over himself is ultimately the most fascinating aspect of his character.

The Moon is Down is not merely a patriotic tract, breathing the narrow spirit of nationalism. It rather celebrates the wroth of man and envisages the universal prototype of enfranchised human being. Even the Germans come out well because, as Steinbeck stated in his essay, My Shorts Novels, I had written of Germans as men” (24). He exposes tyranny as an evil outgrowth in the evolutionary transformation of the modern man and attacks it as a pernicious symptom found in all countries and climes. The novel provides the rewarding image of the fully formed man who succeeds, by his innate strength and also by the compulsive forces of tradition and circumstances; in winning is sounding victory over his own weak self.

Works Cited

Allen, Walter. The English and American Novel from the Twenties to Our Time. London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1964.

Davis, Robert Murray. Ed. Steinbeck: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1972.

Levant, Howard. The Novels of John Steinbeck: A Critical Study. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1974.

Steinbeck, John. The Moon is Down. The Viking Press, Inc. New York. 1942.

Tedlock Jr. E. W. and C.V. Wicker. Steinbeck and His Critics. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1957.

Wagenknecht, Edward. Cavalcade ofthe American Novel. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1952.