The Moon is Down - Setting
Steinbeck initially set The Moon Is Down in a fictional American town, but the government agency he was working for disapproved on the grounds that the idea of an occupied America “would have a devastating effect on morale” (“Reflections on a Lunar Eclipse”). While he was working for several government agencies, including the Office of War Information, and the Office of Strategic Services, where he was writing all sorts of pieces for the war effort, he came to know many refugees from Nazi occupied countries. He was fascinated with their stories of resistance, and how they dealt with Nazi presence in their countries. With their encouragement, he changed the setting of the story to an unnamed occupied country, and it was this version of The Moon Is Down that the government accepted.
According to Steinbeck, he based the setting on a place that was “cold and stern like Norway, cunning and implacable like Denmark, reasonable like France” (3). The setting, however, is generally thought to be Norway. Indeed, the Norwegians believed so themselves, and clues in the book hint that they are probably correct. Donald Coers explains:
The manner of the fictional invasion (sudden and without correct diplomatic preliminaries) as well as the narrator’s observation that during January it is dark by three o’ clock in the afternoon and not light again until nine in the morning would in 1942 have implied either Norway or Denmark, both overrun by surprise attacks on 9 April 1940. But the immediate harshness of the occupation that followed, the rapid development of a popular resistance movement, the presence of a local quisling, and avalanches in nearby mountains would all have evoked Norway (30).
Since Steinbeck believed that people were essentially the same everywhere, a specific setting was probably not of much importance, especially when the themes of conquering and oppression were perennial ones, not specific to WWII.
Most of the action in Moon takes place in Mayor Orden’s palace. The reader hears about events occurring outside of the palace, but never actually witnesses them. The mostly static location is one of the indicators that the novel was first a play. At the beginning of the novel, the palace drawing room “was very sweet and comfortable,” but when the invaders use it as their headquarters, “the comfort seemed to have gone” (2, 60). Another significant scene occurs in the home of Molly Morden, when Lieutenant Tonder stops by one evening. Following his visit, members of the resistance use her home as a meeting place. The snow is heavy on top of her house, signifying the weight of the occupation on the townspeople. Soon after the invasion, the weather swiftly changes and winter comes early. Annie remarks, “The soldiers brought winter early. My father always said a war brought bad weather, or bad weather brought a war” (72). The constant snow and long nights blanket the story in psychological and political darkness.