The story of a strike among the migratory workers in the apple orchards of California rising up "in dubious battle" against injustice.
Set in California in the 1930s, _In Dubious Battle_ accurately depicts individuals who strike when the owners of the orchard in which they pick apples decide to reduce their pay. The book documents these workers' extreme poverty and hunger, as well as their fears of bodily harm or even death at the hands vigilantes and police with whom they must contend during the strike. Their leaders, some of whom are on the extreme left political fringes, are men of fervor and dedication who are willing to sacrifice their own lives in the struggle. Steinbeck who often wrote of the sufferings of the common people, to his credit, presents a balanced portrait of these men. Bullying unarmed strikers into a fighting frenzy against men who possess deadly weapons, exploiting the martyrs in their ranks, and stealthily committing arson as methods of gaining them sympathy, were considered ethical acts that justified their worthy ends. One of the book's great strengths was its non-fictional, documentary feel. Admittedly, Steinbeck's matter of fact approach and dialogue sometimes dulled the book's dramatic impact. On the whole, though, I felt as if I were living amongst very realistic people, experiencing their disappointments fighting a dubious battle in an ultimately successful war for economic freedom of all working people.
Contrary to French's convoluted claims, the novel is first and foremost a careful study of various aspects of worker/capital confrontation, played out in the form a depression era fruit pickers' strike. Steinbeck uses his two main characters, Mac and Jim - two 'communist agitators' who are instrumental in whipping up sentiments of resistance among the workers - to offer a 'big picture' perspective of the organizational aspects of the confrontation. The bulk of the novel explores tactics, with many of the typical property owner ploys and worker counterploys represented, and it attempts to dissect and explain the vicissitudes of worker morale (and, to a lesser extent, to explore the psychology of those acting on the side of the forces of repression). The specifics may be dated, but anyone involved in social struggles today will immediately recognize most of the tactics and the psychology. I am thinking less of contemporary strikes in North America, which have generally evolved into less violent confrontations, and more of struggles where people are still fighting to gain the power of solidarity. Worker struggles in the third world come to mind, but also the larger struggle to establish unity against the neoliberal agenda.Read more ›