I recently read The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck and I noticed that the conquerors and the conquered are not defined. Throughout the novel are several allusions that the conquerors are German. They talk about "the Leader"; Colonel Lanser says,

I've helped to occupy countries before. I was in Belgium twenty years ago and in France.

and the novel was written during World War II (1942 to be exact) but there is no indication who the conquered are.

It seems to be a European country since there is talk about America but my edition (Pan Books) says that the novel is set in Norway. I couldn't find the exact quote (book is at home, if necessary I can upload a photo later) but did find this summary from another Pan Books edition (emphasis is mine):

In this masterful tale set in Norway during World War II, Steinbeck explores the effects of invasion on both the conquered and the conquerors. As he delves into the emotions of the German commander and the Norwegian traitor, and depicts the spirited patriotism of the Norwegian underground, Steinbeck uncovers profound, often unsettling truths about war—and about human nature.

Except for this comment on Goodreads:

While not directly naming either Norway or Germany, the reader understands that the setting is Norway during the Nazi German occupation, which began in 1940.

I can't find any source/evidence that it is indeed set in Norway?

  • 1
    This website discusses the location. Apparently, it was originally set in a Nazi-occupied U.S., but Steinbeck changed it. He apparently never actually explicitly specified the country, although he said it was “cold and stern like Norway, cunning and implacable like Denmark, reasonable like France”. Clues as to the location: In January, it's dark by 3pm; there are avalanches in nearby mountains; and it's a Nazi-occupied country with a resistance.
    – Peter Shor
    Mar 21, 2019 at 14:31
  • Of course, if you drop the requirement that the conquerers be Nazis, there are a number of countries besides Norway that are near the Arctic Circle and have mountains.
    – Peter Shor
    Mar 21, 2019 at 14:39
  • @¨Peter Shor: interesting, I didn't find that link! Do you know what (3) refers to in your italic quote?
    – Noosrep
    Mar 21, 2019 at 15:09
  • (3) is presumably the page number of the quote in the introduction to an edition of the novel. Mar 21, 2019 at 15:39
  • 1
    @PeterShor If you would like to create an answer based on that link, then I'll be gladly to accept it. It would be nice if we could find the source for 'According to Steinbeck' but it seems nobody can find it
    – Noosrep
    Mar 22, 2019 at 7:24

1 Answer 1


This website discusses the setting of the novel. Apparently Steinbeck never actually explicitly identified the country, although he said it was

cold and stern like Norway, cunning and implacable like Denmark, reasonable like France.

There are enough clues in it to narrow the possible countries down to Norway (unless you argue that Steinbeck just took the physical characteristics of the country from Norway, and that it is really an amalgam of several countries).

The website lists the clues: It gets dark around 3pm in the winter, narrowing it to down a country in the far north. It's occupied by the Nazis, with a resistance movement, narrowing it down further to Norway and Denmark. And there are avalanches in the nearby mountains, which probably leaves Norway as the only possibility.

Steinbeck originally intended to set it in a Nazi-occupied American town, but the government agency he was working for disapproved.

The book John Steinbeck Goes to War: The Moon is Down as Propaganda contains the whole Steinbeck quote, and gives the source in a footnote ("[Arne] Skouen, letter to the author").

I placed the story in an unnamed country, cold and stern like Norway, cunning and implacable like Denmark, reasonable like France. The names of the people in the book I made as international as I could. I did not even call the Germans Germans but simply invaders. I named the book ‘The Moon is Down’ from a line in ‘Macbeth’ and sent it to press.

So while Steinbeck avoided identifying the invaded country, he did not hesitate to identify the invaders as Nazis.

  • 1
    Avalanches in mountains definitely rules out Denmark.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Mar 23, 2019 at 8:38
  • 2
    Another point, though perhaps orthogonal to the question of in-book setting: the book was certainly received in the real world, especially by Norwegians, as if it was set in Norway. The Norwegian king-in-exile attended the London premiere of the play, for example.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Mar 23, 2019 at 8:42

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