In the middle of a dark, cold night, patrolling soldiers hear the buzz of airplane engines above. At first they think the village is about to be bombed once more, but then they realize the planes are flying high and circling, which they don’t normally do if they’re about to drop bombs. As the planes circle, their underbellies open and release hundreds of small objects that sail through the air with little blue parachutes. In the fields and streets and on rooftops, these blue packages poke out of the snow. The soldiers collect several of these mysterious items and bring them to the palace, where Colonel Lanser, Captain Loft, and Major Hunter examine them. Hunter tells Lanser that the packages contain sticks of dynamite that, while simple, would prove quite effective in destroying the railroad or attacking the military.
The arrival of the packages in the town tells readers that the Anders made it safely to England. Despite the fact that Major Hunter identifies the dynamite as simplistic, Orden’s plan to wear out the invaders’ nerves seems as if it will come to full fruition, since now the officers must bear in mind the damage the villagers will be capable of inflicting on them. That his plan has succeeded indicates once again that fascist conquest can’t disable a vigorous democratic community, which will inevitably find ways to triumph over authoritarian rule.
The officers continue discussing what to do about the packages. Apparently, the dynamite comes with a piece of paper instructing civilians how to use it effectively, detailing the best ways to damage railroads, bridges, “transmission poles,” and even trucks. Lanser tells his men that the capital has ordered him to “stamp this out so ruthlessly” that the English forces won’t drop the packages in other towns. The government has also instructed him to booby trap the packages, but Lanser finds this suggestion ridiculous, since the villagers are too smart to fall for such obvious tricks. Loft objects to his attitude here, saying that something must be done and that Lanser is too much of a defeatist. “This is a new kind of conquest,” Lanser replies. “Always before, it was possible to disarm a people and keep them in ignorance. Now they listen to their radios and we can’t stop them.”
Yet again, Lanser shows himself capable of comprehending the nature of conquest—namely that it simply doesn’t work in a straightforward manner. Especially now, when communication runs unchecked throughout the community, it’s no longer “possible to disarm a people and keep them in ignorance.” His assertion that the townspeople are too intelligent to fall for booby-trapped packages once again shows that he has a certain amount of respect for the villagers—suggesting that perhaps some of his feigned civility has been genuine.
While Lanser and Loft argue about what to do, Mr. Corell arrives. Before Loft leaves, Lanser relents and allows him to investigate the situation further, telling him to bring along Lieutenant Prackle, too. In turn, Loft expresses that he’s uncomfortable with the way Prackle has been behaving lately, stating that the young man has turned “jumpy” and “gloomy.” “Yes,” says Lanser, “I know. […]It was a kind of shock to [these young men] to find out that they aren’t a bit braver or brighter than other young men.”
In this moment, Lanser criticizes his own regime’s propaganda, which promotes national pride by filling its soldiers with grand ideas about their own superiority over others. This is precisely what undid Tonder, who was “shocked” when it became obvious the townspeople hated him and didn’t think he was so glorious. Prackle is only now succumbing to the same disappointment, though Tonder could have used his friend’s sympathy weeks ago, when he was expressing his own feelings of disillusionment about the war effort.
After Loft leaves, Lieutenant Prackle comes in hoping to speak to Lanser, who anticipates the young man’s complaints: “You didn’t think it would be this way, did you?” he asks. “They hate us,” Prackle replies. Prackle then admits he’s taken a liking to a woman in town, but their relationship is strained because of how the townspeople see the invaders. He wants to go home, but Lanser guilts him into accepting that he must stay and finish out his duty, since he’s no longer a “man,” but a soldier. “You must take orders and carry them out,” he says. Then, showing some compassion, Lanser adds that the government should have prepared Prackle for difficult conquests, not unchallenged victories. Regarding Prackle’s love interest, he says: “You may rape her, or protect her, or marry her—that is of no importance so long as you shoot her when it is ordered.”
The distinction Lanser draws between being a man and being a soldier showcases how he deals with his own misgivings. Although he is pessimistic about war, he simply follows orders, compartmentalizing his emotions so that he can unquestioningly carry out his duties. But in this moment, when he tells Prackle that the young man can do whatever he wants with this new woman (including rape her) as long as he’s prepared to kill her, Lanser reveals once and for all that his commitment to his role in the fascist regime greatly overshadows his capacity for empathy.
Upon dismissing Prackle, Colonel Lanser finally welcomes Mr. Corell into the drawing-room. Corell informs Lanser that he has written to the capital because Lanser “refused [him] a position of authority.” He reminds Lanser that he urged him to push Mayor Orden out of office, explaining that the colonel should have taken his advice, considering that Orden—he has learned—was in Molly Morden’s house on the night Lieutenant Tonder was stabbed to death. Corell reveals that he followed Molly to “the hills,” where she was staying with one of Orden’s relatives, though she was gone by the time he arrived. Corell also suggests that Orden was involved with the small blue packages, though he can’t prove it.
By writing to the capital, Corell effectively exploits the bureaucratic nature of governmental hierarchies, using one authority to cancel out the orders of another. Of course, Corell does all this in order to secure a position of authority for himself, a fact that shows how important it is to the people in a fascist regime to occupy positions that enable them to wield personal power over others, even if those others are their own comrades.
In response to Corell’s strong words, Lanser asks him what he is suggesting. “These suggestions, Colonel, are a little stronger than suggestions,” Corell says, demanding that Orden be taken a hostage because “his life must [be made to] depend on the peacefulness of this community. His life must depend on the lighting of one single fuse on one single stick of dynamite.” With a commanding flourish, he brings out a piece of paper from the capital, which affords him a “certain authority” over the situation. As an aside, Lanser asks how Corell was injured, since his arm is in a cast. Corell explains that he was jumped on the night of Tonder’s murder, but patrolmen saved him—though the perpetrators still made off with his boat. Just then, an explosion sounds, and Lanser finally submits to Corell, yelling to a sergeant to place Mayor Orden and Doctor Winter under arrest.
Corell and Lanser’s relationship is a perfect example of how two people in the same fascist regime are liable to pit themselves against one another in a constant struggle for authority and control. It’s worth noting that no such power struggle takes place on the other side, where Mayor Orden governs his people by listening patiently and accepting whatever course of action his people decide upon. In this way, Steinbeck shows fascism to be a dysfunctional system of governance when compared to democratic rule.