The Moon is Down studies how authoritarian regimes try to implement order as a way of cementing their control over people. Throughout the novel, Colonel Lanser calls upon Mayor Orden to help him enforce—and to a certain extent regain—a sense of order over the townspeople. Of course, this is somewhat ironic, considering that the invaders themselves were the ones to disrupt the town’s order in the first place when they arrived with their weapons and fascist ways. Although Mayor Orden may seem to have no control over the townspeople, this is only because he invests himself in a different kind of order than Colonel Lanser: one decided upon not by political authorities, but by the people themselves. As such, Orden represents an altogether different sense of order: one that doesn’t depend on hierarchy or control of the people, but on equality and control by the people.
The obsessive Captain Loft is a perfect example of a person who invests himself in order, form, and control. Even amongst his own people, he advocates for total adherence to the rules and regulations laid out by “the Leader.” He argues that he and his fellow invaders must work within their hierarchal roles to exemplify to the townspeople that orderliness equals power. For example, when Captain Bentick goes on patrol without wearing his military-issued helmet, Loft criticizes his actions, saying, “‘It’s bad practice to leave it off. It’s bad for the people here. We must maintain a military standard, an alertness, and never vary from it. We’ll just invite trouble if we don’t.’” As he sees it, straying from the established rules will only “invite trouble.” He believes that by maintaining an appearance of order, he and his fellow soldiers simultaneously create an appearance of control over the conquered village. This commitment to decorum is essentially a commitment to military hierarchies, but it does little in the way of actually influencing the townspeople, who rebel against the invaders regardless of whether or not the soldiers are following “military standard[s].”
Steinbeck seems to suggest that governmental and militaristic hierarchies have little influence on a community’s freedom of thought or freedom of speech by showing how the townspeople disseminate information without the knowledge of the invaders. Whispers and messages travel throughout the community, and the invaders find it immensely difficult to stop or control this spread of information. Even Mayor Orden at one point wonders how it could be that the population he supposedly represents often knows things before he does. Doctor Winter replies by saying, “‘That is a great mystery. That is a mystery that has disturbed rulers all over the world—how the people know. It disturbs the invaders now, I am told, how news runs through censorships, how the truth of things fights free of control. It is a great mystery.’” By saying, “It disturbs the invaders now, I am told,” Winter slyly proves the extent to which “news runs through censorships,” since he himself seems to have been told something that the invaders would most likely not want him to know—that it disturbs them—and is now passing it on. When he says that “the truth of things fights free of control,” he asserts that justice naturally struggles against oppression until the truth evades all censorship. This means that any effort made by the invaders to impose order is futile when it comes to the power of free speech and the dissemination of information.
Unlike Colonel Lanser, Mayor Orden understands that “the truth of things fights free of control” no matter how hard a regime tries to control the people it wants to oppress. In fact, Orden readily relinquishes his own personal “control,” understanding and accepting that his influence over his constituents only operates insofar as he accurately represents their needs. This is much to the dismay of Lanser, who wants to use the mayor’s authority to his own advantage. Trying to explain that this is a flawed approach, Orden says, “‘You don’t understand. When I have become a hindrance to the people, they will do without me,’” indicating that the people control him, and not the other way around. It’s clear that Steinbeck has some fun with this dynamic between Orden and Lanser, especially when one considers that Orden’s name very closely resembles the word “order,” a fact that perhaps mocks Lanser’s belief that the mayor is a person who can control his people. “‘Mayor Orden,’” Lanser says earlier in the book, “‘you know our orders are inexorable. We must get the coal. If your people are not orderly, we will have to restore that order by force. We must shoot people if it is necessary. If you wish to save your people from hurt, you must help us to keep order. Now it is considered wise by my government that punishment emanate from the local authority. It makes for a more orderly situation.’” It’s worth noting that in addressing the mayor, Lanser uses the word “order” no less than five times, thereby emphasizing his conviction that Orden’s duty is to control his people. However, as Orden has told him, Lanser’s ideas about a mayor’s powers are mistaken because they fail to take into account the principle that the mayor is only powerful as a representative of his people, thus rendering it impossible for him to abuse his position to subjugate his constituents.
Order, Control, and Hierarchy ThemeTracker
Order, Control, and Hierarchy Quotes in The Moon is Down
And Orden said, “Yes, that’s clear enough. But suppose the people do not want to work the mine?”
The colonel said, “I hope they will want to, because they must. We must have the coal.”
“But if they don’t?”
“They must. They are an orderly people. They don’t want trouble.” He waited for the Mayor’s reply and none came. “Is that not so, sir?”
Mayor Orden twisted his chain. “I don’t know, sir. They are orderly under their own government. I don’t know how they would be under yours. It is untouched ground, you see. We have built our government over four hundred years.”
Lieutenants Prackle and Tonder were snot-noses, undergraduates, lieutenants, trained in the politics of the day, believing the great new system invented by a genius so great that they never bothered to verify its results. They were sentimental young men, given to tears and furies.
In marching, in mobs, in football games, and in war, outlines become vague; real things become unreal and a fog creeps over the mind. Tension and excitement, weariness, movement—all merge in one great gray dream, so that when it is over, it is hard to remember how it was when you killed men or ordered them to be killed. Then other people who were not there tell you what it was like and you say vaguely, “Yes, I guess that’s how it was.”
Winter said, “I would guess it is for the show. There’s an idea about it: if you go through the form of a thing, you have it, and sometimes people are satisfied with the form of a thing. We had an army—soldiers with guns—but it wasn’t an army, you see. The invaders will have a trial and hope to convince the people that there is justice involved. Alex did the captain, you know.”
At last Orden answered, “Why didn’t you shoot him then? That was the time to do it.”
Lanser shook his head. “If I agreed with you, it would make no difference. You know as well as I that punishment is largely for the purpose of deterring the potential criminal. Thus, since punishment is for others than the punished, it must be publicized. It must even be dramatized.” He thrust a finger in back of his belt and flipped his little dagger.
Lanser said, “No; it is true whether you believe it or not: personally, I have respect for you and your office, and”—he put his forehead in his hand for a moment—“you see, what I think, sir, I, a man of a certain age and certain memories, is of no importance. I might agree with you, but that would change nothing. The military, the political pattern I work in has certain tendencies and practices which are invariable.”
Orden said, “And these tendencies and practices have been proven wrong in every single case since the beginning of the world.”
Lanser laughed bitterly, “I, an individual man with certain memoires, might agree with you, might even add that one of the tendencies of the military mind and pattern is an inability to learn, an inability to see beyond the killing which is its job. But I am not a man subject to memories. The coal miner must be shot publicly, because the theory is that others will then restrain themselves from killing our men.”
Winter walked to one of the gilt chairs, and as he was about to sit down he noticed that its tapestry was torn, and he petted the seat with his fingers as though that would mend it. And he sat down gently because it was torn.