"In Dubious Battle" is not Steinbeck's best novel. It's heavy on the preaching of workingman values, uses characters to convey belief in that awkward way you see in blatantly political novels, and it ends abruptly and unsatisfactorily, as if Steinbeck were racing against a deadline.
But it's refreshing to read the novel in light of today's capital-dominated society. While the poor get steadily poorer, and the rich richer, Steinbeck's message still resonates today. Steinbeck's characters fight barehanded against orchard monopolies and their collected police and vigilante forces armed with guns, tear gas, and money. The Red agitators at the center of the story spark the day laborers' fear and anger and incite a strike, which brings the men together brandishing hope instead of guns. We could take a lesson from the Depression-era strikers and demand a fairer, more just society, one they so obviously failed to win for us.
Though stiff and ragged as it is, the novel also haunted me as I read it. While the conditions of oppressive capital exists now more strongly than ever, the workingman's struggle is long dead. In fact, today's average working stiff is the guy in the novel who loves his truck so much that he won't risk it in the battle for his own humanity. It's not until the truck is destroyed that he becomes truly vengeful.
So when you're blue about suburban sprawl, when you spend day after day in a cubicle working on meaningless projects, or when you watch our nation's highest offices sell to the highest bidders, pick up this book and howl.