The Moon is Down


John Steinbeck

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The Moon is Down: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Snow falls heavily over the town as the villagers wait for the verdict of Alexander Morden’s trial. Inside the drawing room, Captain Loft reads a statement of the events in the coal mine, and Orden tells Alex to sit down, asking a guard to give the young man a chair. Loft objects to this, saying that it is “customary for the prisoner to stand,” but Orden waves this off, suggesting that, if this is the case, Loft can write in the report that the prisoner stood. “It is not customary to falsify reports,” Loft says, but Colonel Lanser tells him to move on. When it finally comes time to sentence Alex, Lanser asks, “Do you want to offer any explanation? I can’t think of anything that will change the sentence, but we will listen.” Again, Loft interjects, saying he doesn’t think the colonel should say this, as it implies that “the court is not impartial.”
Even when dealing with his own comrades, Captain Loft is a stickler for order and procedure. When he criticizes Colonel Lanser, he shows that he’s unafraid of challenging his superiors, even if doing so risks making the officers look divided. As such, respecting protocol becomes for him an end in and of itself. Rather than following the rules because it communicates power and unity, he insists upon orderliness for the mere sake of orderliness. Orden, by contrast, shows himself once again to be deeply unconcerned with rules for their own sake, exhibiting instead an adaptable and human style of democratic leadership.
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Alex explains to the makeshift court that he lost his temper in the mines because he’s a free man who shouldn’t have to work against his will for the invaders. He says he actually meant to hit Loft, but Colonel Lanser ignores this, saying it doesn’t matter who he hit; “Are you sorry you did it?” he presses. Then, to the officers sitting next to him, Lanser says, “It would look well in the record if he were sorry.” Alex says he isn’t sorry, but Lanser declares that the record should show that “the prisoner was overcome with remorse.”
Similar to how Lanser shows a concerned awareness of Doctor Winter’s role as the local historian, here he blatantly falsifies the record (in defiance of Loft’s assertion that doing so is “not customary”) so that it demonstrates the invaders’ power over the townspeople. As such, he tries to support the notion that resistance is futile and only leads to “remorse.”
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Mayor Orden steps toward Alex and tells him that his act of “private anger” was “the beginning of public anger.” The young man is then taken outside, where Lieutenant Tonder is commanding the firing squad. Mere moments after the shots are fired, a shout sounds outside and something crashes through the drawing-room window. Lieutenant Prackle, who was standing in front of the window, grabs his shoulder, injured. Colonel Lanser jumps to his feet, shouting, “So, it starts!” He orders Captain Loft to go search for tracks in the snow while others look for guns throughout the town—anybody found with a firearm will be taken hostage, he declares. He turns to the mayor and tells him that he’s being placed in “protective custody.”
Colonel Lanser’s exclamation, “So, it starts!” recalls what he said upon first learning of Captain Bentick’s death: “We will shoot this man and make twenty new enemies.” He again demonstrates his understanding that war only breeds more and more violence. Nonetheless, his commitment to the fascist regime requires that he carry out his duty, and here he quickly forgets his characteristic pessimism and jumps to action, ordering his men to respond to the situation immediately and forcefully.
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