In Dubious Battle

In Dubious Battle

Book - 1992
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This 1936 novel-set in the California apple country-portrays a strike by migrant workers that metamorphoses from principled defiance into blind fanaticism.
Publisher: New York : Penguin Books, 1992
ISBN: 9780140186413
Branch Call Number: STEINBECK J
Characteristics: xxxiii, 355 p. ; 20 cm


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Apr 28, 2019

This novel was recommended to our Labour Relations class decades ago by the professor. Our professor was not on the left. In fact, he was a corporate lawyer and former downsizing hatchetman. (He got tired of firing productive workers, and became a professor.) He recommended the book because he felt it was important in any negotiation to understand the perspective of his opponents, and this novel provided that perspective for him.

In response to a comment below, "In Dubious Battle" is definitely NOT one of Steinbeck's well-known novels. It is traditionally rather obscure and hard to find, probably because of its politics. James Franco's recent film production has brought it some overdue attention.

jackseney Oct 11, 2015

Based on his observations of a real strike, this pre-"Grapes of Wrath" novel by Steinbeck has elements that will be seen again later in the much more literary saga of the Joad family. On its own, it is readable and compelling enough, though it sometimes reads more like a movie script than a novel. Characters seem to talk in exactly the same clipped, slangy speech of the "gritty" movies of the same 1930s period, veering dangerously close to corn at times until Steinbeck pulls them back from the brink with the suspenseful thread of his narrative. In this tale of a labor strike against money-grubbing orchard owners in California's apple region, Steinbeck's sympathies are clearly with the impoverished workers as they should be. But he spares readers any attempt to make heroes out of them. For example, the union man to die first in the inevitable violence is not so much a martyr as a masochist with several screws loose. Nor does Steinbeck shy from exposing the ruthlessness of the Communists among the labor organizers, and their cold willingness to use dead or injured workers for propaganda purposes. Violence and the dark spirit of the mob mentality are also explored, and one wonders what might have been accomplished in the situation at hand if the striking workers had utilized some form of passive resistance, instead of brutally attacking "scabs" at the first opportunity. As it is, there seems no clear distinction between their violence and dictatorship and those of the capitalists and strikebreakers. Also of note is that all of the poor apple pickers-turned-strikers are white, which should give second thoughts to those who think everything about the history of American poverty is cast in racial terms, as well as to those who believe that "Americans don't like to do certain jobs." In the end, the title says it all in this rather bleak story which ends not only suddenly and inconclusively, but in the middle of a sentence. Readers are left to decide entirely for themselves about the main characters, their motives and the strange forces which play on them.

Dec 15, 2014

A story following a pair "red" organizers of a apple picking strike in California seeking higher per basket wages. Land owners respond with violence and wield legal power to break the strike. The violence continues to escalate in a struggle over wages or profit.

Mar 14, 2013

The Library Journal Reviews (under Reviews tab) says that In Dubious Battle is not among the author's best-known works but Wikipedia says it is: .


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