JOHN STEINBECK’S PROPAGANDA NOVEL: The Moon Is Down

 

 

Viking Magazine’s recent issue on “The Unsung Hero of the Telemark,” reminded me that on April 9th, 1940, life changed for all Norwegians with the launch of Operation Weserübung, the invasion of their homeland by the Nazi’s. The country was taken entirely by surprise and it was a time of chaos for many Norwegians. Consistent with Germany’s Blitzkrieg doctrine, five divisions of Nazis invaded at once, Quisling was on the radio declaring himself Prime Minister and ordering all resistance to halt at once and the Norwegian military was left in a state of initial disarray due unclear mobilization orders from the government. The whole of the country was in a state of psychological shock from the Nazi invasion.

 

But did you know that John Steinbeck’s novel, The Moon is Down, was written as propaganda designed to encourage the resistance movement. In 1941, Steinbeck was working with a precursor of the CIA, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). He was in close contact with refugees from Norway and Denmark and the information they gave him helped him decide what kind of propaganda to write.

 

Steinbeck’s method was far subtler than that of the overcooked rant. There are no heel-clicking Huns, no depraved, monocled intellectuals, no thundering sieg heils in his tale. Yet nothing can disguise the theft of freedom, and eventually the local patriots’ desire to regain their freedom impels them to resist.

 

In spite of the Nazis’ efforts to suppress The Moon is Down hundreds of thousands of copies of the Norwegian, Danish, Dutch, and French clandestine editions circulated during the occupation. Mere possession of it often meant an automatic death sentence.

 

 

 

 

Steinbeck’s explanation for the perceptiveness that made his propaganda so effective was simple. During his visit to Norway in 1946 to receive King Haakon’s medal, he stated, “I put myself in your place and thought what I would do.”

 

STEINBECK HAD A SURE SENSE OF AUDIENCE.

 

WHAT ALL US WRITER TYPES HANKER AFTER.

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Your site was extremely interesting, especially since I was searching for thoughts on this subject last Thursday.

    • Just now found your comment. I hope it was useful as well as interesting. Steinbeck was a master.

  2. Not only did Steinbeck have a sense of audience – he really knew what would resonate with readers who had just lost their freedoms.

    I was reading a little e-newsletter that comes to me every day. This fellow did a little informal survey when he was hosting a book fair. He asked readers why they were buying a particular book. Their #1 reason? Resonance. That the story they chose had a special significance or meaning for them, that often went beyond the story itself (they were buying sci-fi, thrillers, suspense, whatever).

    Important info! And certainly a skill that – as you point out – Steinbeck had finely honed.

    Ta, chickie!!!

  3. Hi Fairlee,
    I did not know that and in fact have never read The Moon is Down, although I think I’ve read all of his other novels. I’ll have to ferret it out. Thanks!
    Eunie Boeve

    • The Moon is Down is not Steinbeck’s greatest, but it sure served the purpose for which it was intended. Thanks for all your comments.


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