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In Dubious Battle (1936)

por John Steinbeck

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2,044405,798 (3.82)1 / 135
Set in the California apple country this novel portrays a strike by migrant workers that metamorphoses from principled defiance into blind fanaticism.
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    Babou_wk: La lutte des classes, l'organisation d'une grève. Les pratiques anti-communistes aux États-Unis dans la première moitié du XXè siècle.
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John Steinbeck's In Dubious Battle has moved into my top tier of books. I rate it higher than the Grapes of Wrath, a book that strongly impacted my political and life philosophies. Steinbeck's novel of an apple pickers' strike in Depression-era California is a deftly written piece on labor relations, capital and how men can work together and against each other. Like the Grapes of Wrath, this book is timeless. If you changed the peoples' names and updated the vernacular, you could easily believe this story was from right here, right now. That is one of Steinbeck's greatest assets.

One of the main characters, Mac, says "Anybody that wants a living wage is a radical." He's talking about doing a strike and how the business owners will say its radicals (i.e. "reds" and "commies") that want to stir things up and cause problems. These leaders use the fears those words incite instead of addressing the real economic and social problems of the day. They seek to divide those who, if they stood together, could easily overcome the business owners. It's sad that this sentence from a novel written in 1936 is still an accurate description of right wing politicians and capitalists today.

Once the strike gets started, though, the business leaders turn to another tactic. The first elected leader of the strikers tells the men, "They say we got a right to strike in this country, and then they make laws against picketing'. All it amounts to is that we got a right to quit." True then, still true today. Perhaps even worse today with the politics we've seen in Wisconsin and Ohio.

Another great quote is regarding the vigilante gangs that go after the strikers in the novel. It was a comment on American history then and you can see and hear it today as well. "They like to hurt people, and they always give it a nice name, patriotism or protecting the constitution." I recently read Manufacturing Hysteria: A History of Scapegoating, Surveillance, and Secrecy in Modern America, by Jay Feldman. If you're interested in some of the background that influenced Steinbeck and is played out throughout the novel, give his book a read.

There's another important asset that Steinbeck brings to bear in this novel. To quote from the introduction by Warren French, "a secret of Steinbeck's technique in his greatest work is his ability to avoid telling readers what they should feel and to make them participate in discovering the characters' feelings by collaborating with the author in creating them." As you read this novel, you come to understand Jim, Mac, London, Al, the doctor and others. You start to see the world through their eyes.

My advice is: Now, take what you have seen and put it into action. ( )
  drew_asson | Dec 3, 2020 |
“I’ve heard he could lick five cops with his bare hands.”
Jim grinned. “I guess he could, but every time he went out he met six.”

Jim Nolan talking about his father Roy. Pretty much sums up this book - the working man being out muscled by the system. Jim joins up with the "reds" and a guy named Mac and they try to organize a group of apple pickers to strike for higher wages. The story unfolds slowly, but picks up steam at the end. And I felt anger and sorrow throughout, mostly because the plight of the working "stiff" seemed, and seems, unalterable. Even the "reds" seem to take advantage of them even as they fight for them. And the ending really ties the whole thing together - for both sides!

The book really resonates with the time, and with our time. Rich vs. poor. No one really helping the "little" guy. The cyclical sadness of poverty. Whether it be the orchard owner, the police, or Trump, the folks on the lower rung seem to be damned to that lower rung. Err....

On a softer note, it sure was cool to read this as a precursor to "Grapes of Wrath". I didn't even know that this was what it is, sort of the set up story that creates the situation that the Joads will find themselves in. I wish I had read them in order, but reading it now takes nothing away from it. Steinbeck is just that good! ( )
  Stahl-Ricco | Nov 21, 2017 |
Didactic writing that takes away from storyline and characterization. Didn't like the abrupt ending either. ( )
  flippinpages | Mar 11, 2017 |
One more for the American Author challenge for July. A Steinbeck I had never read before.

The opening was intriguing, like stepping into a noirish 1930's film. I half expected Jimmy Cagney to step through a door. I had to take a look again at the publication history and note this was first published in 1936. No wonder! The blurb on the back cover of my 1961 edition describes this as "Steinbeck's brilliant forerunner of the Pulitzer Prize-winning THE GRAPES OF WRATH."

I was surprised to find that there were many elements of the book that I disliked quite a bit. This is not a happy story. The "good guys", well, the red leader, 'Mac', goes about the union business as if it is war, because casualties, "collateral damage" lets call it at best, acceptable losses more realistically, are not only acceptable to him, they are fuel for the cause. I came to hate him. It is hard not to root for people who only want a living wage and don't want their existing wages cut by the landowners to pick the apple crop. I think Steinbeck has managed to write something that is still relevant 80 years after publication and that shows the good and the bad of man. I use the word man rather than mankind because if there is one element that reflects this as a product of several generations ago it is the lack of strong women characters. I also recognize that women's rights is not what Steinbeck's social cause is here. This is about worker's rights. Steinbeck certainly shows us the bad and ugly of the depression and how unions had to fight to be, and fight for workers. However, the big however, the communist agitators can be almost as ugly as the big bad employers who buy off the cops and let vigilantes have free reign.

Steinbeck was shining a light on a horrible social cost of crop pickers and the great depression of the '30's. This is interesting history even though fiction. Steinbeck makes comments on quite a variety of things and peoples throughout the novel and it kept striking me how true these observations were ... even though Steinbeck wrote this 80 years ago. This is a rather disturbing and scary book.

and the end will kill you. ( )
  RBeffa | Jul 23, 2016 |
Published in 1936, John Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle reads like a snapshot from the period in American history during which workers were perhaps at their lowest point ever. They were suffering greatly because of low wages, an overabundance of unemployed workers willing to work for next-to-nothing wages, and employers who were only too happy to take advantage of the tragic economic situation of the day. But by actively recruiting workers, union organizers were placing their own lives and those of the workers in jeopardy. The battle was on, dubious though it may have been.

And along came John Steinbeck to tell the world about it because as he said in his 1962 Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech:

“The ancient commission of the writer has not changed. He is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement.”

And, perhaps more in this novel than in anything Steinbeck had written previously, In Dubious Battle does precisely that.

To his credit, Steinbeck exposes both sides for what they are. On the one hand, employers (fruit growers in this case) are shown as exploiters of the working poor, commonly hiring desperate workers and then callously tossing them away in favor of cheaper labor as soon as the opportunity presents itself to do so. On the other, union organizers are exposed as the Communist tools they are, men even willing to get workers killed or maimed if that will somehow advance “the Cause.” In fact, the organizers hope to provoke deadly violence directed at workers in order to fire up the men enough to keep them walking the picket lines.

The book’s two main characters are Mac and Jim. When Mac, a veteran union organizer, senses something special in new recruit Jim, he decides to bring him to the apple orchards where fruit pickers are facing an devastating cut in their daily wages. Jim is a true apostle of the cause and, as Mac teaches him the organizing techniques that work best, Jim aches to be more directly in the cause - and constantly implores Mac to “use him.” At one point, after suffering an injury that leaves him somewhat out of his head, Jim somehow manages to take over the strike, a change that makes Mac very nervous:

Jim said softly, “I wanted you to use me. You wouldn’t because you got to like me to well.” He stood up and walked to a box and sat down on it. “That was wrong. Then I got hurt. And sitting here waiting, I got to know my power. I’m stronger than you, Mac. I’m stronger than anything in the world, because I’m going in a straight line. You and all the rest have to think of women and tobacco and liquor and keeping warm and fed.” His eyes were as cold as wet river stones. “I wanted to be used. Now I’ll use you, Mac. I’ll use myself and you. I tell you, I feel there’s strength in me.”

In Dubious Battle may not be one of John Steinbeck’s most popular or highly acclaimed novels, but it is a powerful one, one that deserves to be read today because it offers such a clear look into America’s not too distant past. ( )
1 vote SamSattler | Nov 16, 2015 |
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Nome do autorPapelTipo de autorObra?Estado
Steinbeck, Johnautor principaltodas as ediçõesconfirmado
French, WarrenIntroduçãoautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Kossin, SanfordArtista da capaautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Stechschulte, TomNarradorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Velde, Frédérique van derTradutorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
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Innumerable force of Spirits armed,

That durst dislike his reign, and, me preferring,

His utmost power with adverse power opposed

In dubious battle on the plains of Heaven

And shook his throne. What though the field be lost?

All is not lost--the unconquerable will,

And study of revenge, immortal hate,

And courage never to submit or yield:

And what is else not to be overcome?

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At last it was evening.
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Set in the California apple country this novel portrays a strike by migrant workers that metamorphoses from principled defiance into blind fanaticism.

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