32 pages 1 hour read

John Steinbeck

The Moon Is Down

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1942

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Performativity and Social, Political, and Military Roles

The Moon is Down centers around one town’s experiences with occupation and the moral, ethical, and political implications of the actions on both sides of the war. Steinbeck discusses the moral complexities of war through the theme of performativity and how it occurs in different social, political, and military roles. By adhering to perceived duties and performing actions based on those duties, the characters of The Moon is Down struggle to differentiate between which actions are authentically theirs and which are performances given to fulfill perceived roles.

As the only character with past wartime experience, Colonel Lanser often remarks on how his staff is merely “playing war” by believing in the idealism their military recruiters and leaders disseminated among the soldiers prior to their deployment (22). Lanser himself acknowledges his own form of “playing war” by strictly adhering to protocol despite any disagreements he has with the actions his role forces him to take. This is seen in the performativity of Alex Morden’s execution trial. Lanser claims that “The coal miner must be shot publicly, because the theory is that others will then restrain themselves from killing our men” (49). Alex’s death is used as a performance of power by Lanser and his soldiers, as it fulfills their expected roles of conquerors and oppressors.