The Moon is Down and A Bell for Adano: Two specific examples of American propaganda literature in the Second World War

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2004 24 Pages

American Studies - Literature


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Importance and meaning of war propaganda

3. Biographical background: John Steinbeck and John Hersey- two “war reporting novelists”

4. Comparing The Moon is Down and A Bell for Adano
4.1. Discussion of Structural features, content and title
4.2. The Moon is Down: presenting the enemy as a means of propaganda
4.3. Propaganda in A Bell for Adano: characterizing Major Joppolo as the “ideal American hero“

5. Summary

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

“By ten-forty-five, it was all over. The town was occupied, the defenders defeated, and the war finished” and “Invasion had come to the town of Adano.” these are the opening lines of John Steinbeck's novel The Moon is Down and John Hersey’s A Bell for Adano. Although the first merely describes, what could happen when an invading army proclaims “mission accomplished” prematurely because of undemocratic and inhumane oppression and the second focuses on a humanistic approach towards invasion from a more democratic point of view, both can be considered novels of war propaganda. This is at least what is claimed by many of the reviews. Indeed the historical and biographical background refers to a time, where it was very likely that literature was used for war propaganda. This could open on the one hand the possibility to compare both works on the basis of influencing “America’s mind”. On the other hand, Pulitzer price winning novels seem to contain more than purely negative features of propagandizing.

Therefore discussing The Moon is Down and A Bell for Adano as two specific examples of American propaganda literature in the Second World War, at first, means to analyse the importance and the meaning of propaganda with respect to literature as a means of it. Considering the biographical background of the authors as primarily linked to the time, where the novels were written, the next part attempts to present the relationship between personal experiences as war reporters and writing the novels The Moon is Down and A Bell for Adano.

In order to compare both works with regard to means of war propaganda the third part includes a discussion of structural features, content and the choosing of the titles. This works also as a kind of preparation for analysing how the enemy is displayed that means the characteristic features in his personality in The Moon is Down and the discussion of the ideal hero represented by Major Joppolo in A Bell for Adano. The last part will then summarize the comparison of the two literary works also as an attempt to reveal problems in considering these works as (purely negative) propaganda in a unilateral sense.

2. Importance and meaning of war propaganda

Although it might seem strange that the meaning of propaganda could be relevant to contemporary politics, it certainly was during the time, when both novels were (written and) published. This time, the time of the Second World War was characterized by enormous campaigns waged by Hitler and Stalin, but also by people of other European states and America. In other words, though many people today do believe that propaganda is no longer an important issue since nothing comparable is being disseminated in our society today - what could of course be doubted- it was certainly an important issue of influencing people’s minds in all countries involved in the war during the 1930s and 40s especially in order to justify it.[1]

Propaganda today is merely understood in a political sense referring to “persuasive techniques that are applied by politicians, advertisers, journalists, radio personalities, and others who are interested in influencing human behaviour”[2]. But originally, as a short form of Congregatio de Propaganda Fide that means “congregation for propagating the faith,“ which denoted the committee of cardinals established 1622 by Gregory XV to supervise foreign missions, it was not used pejoratively in a negative sense.[3] The modern political sense of ideas or statements that may be false or exaggerated and that are used in order to gain support for a political leader, party etc. dates from World War I. But it actually does not matter whether talking about the reference to today’s political situation or the politics, parties and groups during the 1930s and 40s since the meaning the word propaganda refers to, was or is in both contexts nearly the same, a means of persuasion, often not “through the give-and-take of argument and debate, but through the manipulation of symbols and of our most basic human emotions”[4]. That would also lead to the conclusion that the exploration of these emotions is the basis for developing means of propaganda.

As history shows, the encouragement of “agitating emotions, exploiting insecurities, capitalizing on the ambiguity of language, and bending the rules of logic”[5] was quite successful, especially during the time of wars. Thus there are specific techniques, propagandists use to manipulate the people’s minds in order to support their mission. One of them is called the “plain-folks technique”. The speaker attempts to convince his audience that he, and his ideas, are of the people. It is thus a device which was/ is used by advertisers, politicians and writers alike.[6] Steinbeck’s The Moon is Down in this respect especially draws attention to the people and the “unconquerability” of the people. But here it is not only the content that encourages the reader and the people to stand the situation. It is also the structure and the interest in the most basic human emotions of the people that let them feel unique and unconquerable (see 4.1.). In Hersey’s A Bell for Adano the “plain- folk’s technique” works in a more humanistic sense since Major Joppolo wants to democratize the little town by attempting to develop a unique feeling of the people that means between conquerors and conquered people.

Another technique that is often used by propagandists and writers of propaganda literature can be recognized when regarding Adolf Hitler’s speech in 1932:

The streets of our country are in turmoil. The universities are filled with students rebelling and rioting. Communists are seeking to destroy our country. Russia is threatening us with her might, and the Republic is in danger. Yes - danger from within and without. We need law and order! Without it our nation cannot survive.[7]

Here he warns his audience (Germans) that disaster will result if they do not follow a particular course of action. This is called “fear appeal” and is often used to “redirect attention away from the merits of a particular proposal, towards steps that can be taken to reduce the fear”[8]. That means it is a kind of manipulation that can lead in certain situations to the support of actions that might normally be regarded unjust or even evil and cruel. The analysis of the speech reveals on the one hand that the effectiveness of fear appeals is characterized by the production of fear in an individual. On the other hand it shows that the production of fear in the individual has to be connected to a specific recommendation in order to reduce this fear. In this respect the fear appeal is a connection of addressing the basic human emotion of fear and a kind of rational solution by telling the people about how they should behave. The propagandist himself seems to take the “difficult search” for a solution. He seems to provide a way out of the fear. There is no doubt that the propagandists recommendation must fit to the “fear problem” in order to produce the “audience’s perception that the recommendation will be effective in addressing the threat”. But what is even more important is “the audience’s perception that they are capable of performing the recommended behaviour.”[9] In Steinbeck’s novel the people have fear because of the invasion. The model that is provided here is the reduction of fear by attacking the enemy and thus showing resistance. In A Bell for Adano fear is produced as well as in The Moon is Down by the invasion and the threat of a new policy. But there is also the condemnation of the old fascist one and the fear of punishment if not understanding or obeying the “laws” of the new system. The solution is here the acceptance of the conqueror that brings peace, order and education in a humanistic sense. It is the acceptance of an establishment of a democracy with equal rights.

Within the different techniques of propaganda “the name - calling technique” which links a person, or an idea, to a negative symbol is also used by propagandists. It is characterized by the hope of rejecting a person or an idea on the basis of the negative symbol instead of looking at available evidence. Thus “bad names” played a very powerful role in the history of the world, war and in our individual development since

they have ruined reputations, stirred men and women to outstanding accomplishments, sent others to prison cells, and made men mad enough to enter battle and slaughter their fellowmen.[10]

This is what actually was happening during the Second World War, and it may also be the cause of it. Maybe the whole war lasted so long because of the effective use of such propaganda. The “name- calling technique” can thus be found in many literary works written during the war. Regarding the two novels the use of the term “fascists” instead of Germans or Italians is striking. It is perhaps more obvious in Hersey’s novel, for Steinbeck’s The Moon is Down has an appeal that should work more like a general model. Nevertheless, the use of “bad words” in these works is certainly not surprising with regard to means of propaganda. But it is also important as a basis for the substance of the novels. The enemy must be classified or denoted with a (special) name and when referring to him as “fascist” the author also refers to a special group. That could include that “fascist” does not necessarily refer to all German or Italian people, although it was and is often used and understand as a “model” for them.

Although specific techniques were mentioned in this part, this analysis does not claim to be exhausted. And although it might seem that means of propaganda that were typical of campaigns of Hitler and Stalin in the 1930s and 40s, meaning Nazi- or fascist- campaigns, where also used by other countries that were involved in the war, especially the United States, it should not lead to the conclusion that American war propaganda was not different from Nazi propaganda. But the basis for developing means of propaganda was more or less the same: an appeal to the basic human emotions.

3. Biographical background: John Steinbeck and John Hersey- two “war reporting novelists”

In order to understand the two literary works and compare them on the basis of war propaganda, it is necessary to include historical information that is often linked to personal experiences of the authors, especially when regarding their carrier as war reporters.

Thus Steinbeck who attended Stanford University between 1920 and 1926 and who became popular with literary works like Tortilla Flat, In Dubious Battle, Of Mice And Men and The Grapes Of Wrath characterized by a naturalistic style, proletarian themes, and rich symbolic structures, wrote The Moon is Down during World War II (in 1942). As a war correspondent he had written several reports on war situations that he had observed himself before. Thus it is very likely that writing such a novel during a stint as a World War II reporter can imply a certain kind of digesting experiences made there. Further hints that Steinbeck’s The Moon is Down was written at least partly out of his own experiences during World War II, are provided because of his active support of anti- Nazi propaganda in Latin America. It is also assumed that he wanted to write about fascist tendencies which he had critically observed in his own country. The purpose here was warning his people of the effects of exaggerated nationalism. But although he recognized that tendencies of Fascism and Nazism did not only develop in Germany but also in the United States and in other countries, he was not allowed to write about them. Thus he probably decided to digest his experiences as a war reporter and the observed tendencies of Fascism in a novel with a rather vague or indefinite setting.[11]

As he did considerable research on resistance in occupied countries in his job as a war reporter, he probably found that though the countries had different histories, cultures, languages, etc., the most successful methods of resisting and fighting the enemy were the same. Therefore it is very likely that he wrote The Moon is Down out of his own experiences and observances to portray a method of resisting and fighting the enemy. Thus it can be regarded as one of several effective pieces of propaganda fiction.

Nevertheless, this “evolution” of The Moon is Down and its motifs are more or less vague since Steinbeck refused to put his work in a certain literary category. Some critics claim that collections of his works

remind us that, as a writer, Steinbeck was in some respects a ham 'n' egger. He would write about almost anything, sometimes for the money, sometimes for the challenge or just the sheer fun of it. He was willing to publish writing that was far less than ‘major’ literature.[12]

Others maintain that in his literary journalism

may be found ‘more of the whole man...than in any of his novels.’ since he “was always primarily an

observer and reporter of those parts of the human condition that happened to fall within his experience. He

wrote literary journalism, and he often wrote journalistic literature.[13]

Steinbeck himself never agreed or disagreed to these kinds of “characterizations” as well as he did not want to be assigned to any political party or group. He has not adhered consistently to the platform of any party or movement, although he seems to be generally sympathetic to the proletariat and to the rural labourer. Furthermore his works often contain naturalistic and regionalist elements and often present scenes of great cruelty and passion. But that does not mean that he can clearly be classified as a realistic or naturalistic writer.

But with regard to The Moon is Down, its motivations and its effects one can assume that it is propaganda literature and that it contains realistic and naturalistic elements since the time and his own experiences in war, his observances and research and the existence of Bombs Away, which was written in 1942, as well as the resemblance between characters in the novel and some of his friends, e.g. doctor Winter and Ed Rickens, gave certain hints towards a focus on propaganda in the sense of spreading the idea of resistance linked to realistic and naturalistic features.


[1] Aaron Delviche, Why think about propaganda?, The Institute for Propaganda Analysis (2004-06-29). URL: http://www.propagandacritic.com/articles/intro.why.html

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.etymonline.com/p10etym.htm

[4] Aaron Delviche, Why think about propaganda?, The Institute for Propaganda Analysis (2004-06-29). URL: http://www.propagandacritic.com/articles/intro.why.html

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Aaron Delviche, Why think about propaganda?, The Institute for Propaganda Analysis (2004-06-29). URL: http://www.propagandacritic.com/articles/intro.why.html

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Aaron Delviche, Why think about propaganda?, The Institute for Propaganda Analysis (2004-06-29). URL: http://www.propagandacritic.com/articles/intro.why.html

[11] Christopher Flannery, Steinbeck in good conscience: A review of America and Americans and Selected Nonfiction , CommonDreams.org (2004-06-29). Scott Simkins, Steinbeck as Realist/ Naturalist: The Problems with Categorization, John Steinbeck Page of the University of Southern Mississippi (2004-06-29). URL: http://ocean.st.usm.edu/~wsimkins/real.html

[12] Christopher Flannery, Steinbeck in good conscience: A review of America and Americans and Selected Nonfiction , CommonDreams.org (2004-06-29). URL: http://www.claremont.org/writings/crb/Spring2002/flannery.html

[13] Ibid.


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Moon Down Bell Adano American Second World




Title: The Moon is Down and A Bell for Adano: Two specific examples of American propaganda literature in the Second World War