The Moon is Down - Key Terms

Setting | Character Summaries| Plot Synopsis | Critical Reception
Cultural References | Key Terms and Concepts


In the novel, the military restricts individuality and independence of thought and imagination. Some men are perfect for the military way of life, such as Major Hunter who thinks of men in terms of numbers instead of as human lives. Then there are philosophical men like Colonel Lanser who follow orders despite the deep opposition he feels to his superiors and their decisions. The military of the invaders is not unique. It resembles the American military, which suggests something incongruous when a democratic country relies on a defense system that is structured like a totalitarian state.


A common theme in Steinbeck’s novels, loneliness is ubiquitous during wartime. It pervades the lives of the townspeople and the invaders. Molly Morden is lonely after the invaders execute her husband. The soldiers long for female affection and good food. 


Winter comes early after the invaders conquer the town. The nights are long and the snow is heavy. Steinbeck uses the motif of winter in another novel – The Winter of Our Discontent, the title of which is also taken from a Shakespeare play. In both novels, the value of morals and ethics has been grossly distorted – by war in The Moon Is Down, and by greed and false success in Winter.


Attention to memory resurfaces throughout The Moon Is Down. As the town historian, Doctor Winter has a long memory and is associated with the past. Colonel Lanser admits to having “certain memories,” but as a military man he must follow orders, even if that means ignoring the lessons he has learned from his past experiences in wartime. But it is Mayor Orden who seems to have the best memory among the three men, and he is the most in touch with the events at hand. Unlike Doctor Winter who sees the present as a future chapter in his town history, or Colonel Lanser who tries ignores his memory in order to focus on progress, Mayor Orden understands that certain sacrifices must be made for the future, but for him it is for the sake of freedom, not progress for the sake of industry and power.

Industrial War

It has been so long since the town was last conquered that no one knows how to react. Quaint formalities like drinking wine with the conquerors are no longer appropriate. The invaders explain that their conquest is really more of an engineering job, as their interest in the town is for the coal mine. Coal was one of the key energy sources in the Industrial Revolution. In WWII, the Germans used it for manufacturing synthetic petroleum. They needed coal to maintain their war machine. Despite their attempt at keeping relations harmonious, it is not long before the invaders employ violent tactics when the townspeople rebel, all resulting in the familiar horrors of war.

Time and Machines

Doctor Winter associates the invaders with time and machines. They are obsessed with progress, and like machines their actions are regulated. As part of the New World Order, they must obey their leader without question to his authority and genius.

Setting | Character Summaries| Plot Synopsis | Critical Reception
Cultural References | Key Terms and Concepts