The Journal of Albion Moonlight by Kenneth Patchen is a famous antiwar novel. At 313 pages the novel is a weighty tome and is quite difficult to go through. In addition the novel is written in a very confusing manner and it is hard to get a sense of plot out of it.
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The novel can be seen as a lament on the horrors of war. Patchen’s narrator Albion Moonlight is supposed to represent an ordinary man. His narration documents a journey in the physical world which is, at the same time, a journey into the farthest reaches of his inner self. The story is often interspersed with ominous prophesies about death and widespread destructions in the style of the biblical Book of Daniel and Revelation by John of Patmos.
The physical journey of the novel is concerned with going to meet a mysterious person named ‘Harry Rovias’ who lives in the village of Galen. The significance of the name ‘Rovias’ lies in its being the word ‘Savior’ spelt backwards. The narrator and his party depart New York and embark on the trip on the 2nd of May. The entry for the 10th of May reveals that the party is headed to meet Rovias. Other entries consist of internal dialogues about the nature of God and the feelings of terror experienced by the wanderers (Patchen, 1961).
The entry for the 19th of June consists of a meeting with Roivas in which Albion Moonlight has a long conversation with him. Later he continues a correspondence with Rovias. Throughout the journey Albion makes reports for Roivas’s perusal. On the 20th of June, Albion records that a small, invisible animal called the ‘entichahoosh’ brought him a communication from Roivas (Patchen, 1961).
Up to page 47, the novel consists of journal entries only. After the entry for the 23rd of June, Albion decides to tell his story in the manner of a novel. The rest of the book consists of chapters of the novel along with journal notes that record the events of the journey and make comments on the novel (Patchen, 1961).
The book ends with the entry for the 27th of August wherein Albion says that he has come within sight of the house of the Savior and has seen the face of Christ look out of every window. He then repudiates himself and declares that he is lying. Albion ends the entry and the book with a declaration that there is no way to end or begin the book and the book ends at that (Patchen, 1961).
While the plot of the book is difficult to fathom, the message it gives is quite clear. The writer is a pacifist and completely opposed to war of all kinds. He does not consider the Second World War that was going on at that time as a just war. Albion laments the death and destruction wrought by the war. He does not consider one side to be morally superior to the other. In his view, the Allies and the Axis are both two faces of the same coin, both are destructive forces united against humanity (Patchen, 1961).
Albion believes that capitalism inevitably leads toward war. In his view, the destruction of the capitalist order is necessary in order to prevent destructive wars. Albion also excoriates those who become agents of war, those who glorify war and those who are willingly led towards slaughter by capitalist leaders by the use of such sentiments as patriotism and nationalism (Patchen, 1961).
At times the novel is high in rhetoric and moralization, an example of this can be seen in Albion’s dialogue with a recruiting officer:
“Number Seven: Oh that’s it! so you’re just pain afraid, eh?
Moonlight: Yes I’m plain afraid and fancy afraid, but that’s not my reason for refusing to fight in an Imperialist war.
Number Seven: Ahha, so that’s it – a Red.
Moonlight: Yes I’m a Red and a Black and a Brown, and a Yellow, and a White: I’m a Negro, a Chinaman, a German, a Spanish and a Swiss.
Number Seven: Don’t get cute…
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Moonlight: I’m the grandson of a man who was killed in a coal mine because the owners saved a few dollars on timbers, I’m the son of a man who worked thirty years on a farm and was buried in a pauper’s grave; I’m the friend of a man who was lynched because he had a black skin…and you sit there on your flabby ass and ask me to sign a paper saying that I’ll take a rifle and shoot down my own people…I said my own people… I refuse to kill in your defense – so long as there is war between the nations, the working classes of the world will be blinded to one simple fact: that they have only one enemy – the German people, the English, the Dutch, the Japanese, the Mexican – one common enemy; and that is Capitalism (Patchen, 1961).”
Albion considers all the poor and oppressed of the world to be his own people. He refuses to fight against the Germans because he considers the German majority, consisting of poor people to be his own people. Instead he proposes a socialistic war in which the poor of the United States, Europe and Russia unite to fight against the capitalistic upper class that benefits from their labor and induces the poor of the world to give up their lives fighting against those who are poor like them (Patchen, 1961).
Throughout the journey Albion Moonlight and his company are followed by various terrors such as killer dogs and the undead. The journey takes the company through large American cities; however these are often described in a fabulous or an extremely sarcastic manner. Patchen himself is a character in the novel. Albion makes references to him in his journal:
“I am glad to be writing in this book. Patchen calls it a journal but it is not a journal. This is probably the most evil book ever written by an American. It does not suggest that there is anything to do; it does not proclaim that there is anything to believe; it simply is the unwinding of a man’s head in a world where thought is useless” (Patchen, 1961).
These words reflect Patchen’s belief in the essential futility of his advocacy of pacifism and socialism. He knows that despite his laments people will continue to get fooled by the false religion of nationalism and patriotism and will continue to war with one another, lead by the capitalistic upper class who are guided by nothing other than greed.
The Journal of Albion Moonlight is, on the whole, not a very accessible book. However despite this it manages to be preachy at times and imparts its message to the reader in a very overt and high handed manner. This is why, despite having hauntingly beautiful passages and advocating a point of view that may be offensive to many, but contains an essential truth that no one can deny, the book manages to confuse and exasperate the reader. Possibly if the plot of the book was clearer and the preachiness of the message was reduced, the effect of the book would have been enhanced.
Why did Patchen choose to use a convoluted and indecipherable plot in his novel, wouldn’t a clearer plotline be more useful in portraying his message?
What do the dogs and the zombies following Albion Moonlight’s party represent?
Does Moonlight wish to bring about the end of the world or does he wish to prevent it?
Patchen, K. (1961). The journal of Albion Moonlight. New York, NY: New Directions Publishing.