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In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck

In Dubious Battle (1936)

by John Steinbeck

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,628364,450 (3.82)1 / 123
  1. 10
    Les "Raisins de la colere" de John Steinbeck (Foliotheque) (French Edition) by Marie-Christine Lemardeley-Cunci (Babou_wk)
    Babou_wk: L'exploitation des travailleurs agricoles aux Etats-Unis. La lutte des classes, l'organisation d'une grève. Les pratiques anti-communistes aux Etats-Unis dans la premiere moitié du XXè siècle.
  2. 00
    Germinal by Émile Zola (Babou_wk)
    Babou_wk: La lutte des classes, l'organisation d'une grève. La répression des grévistes par la troupe.
  3. 00
    The Given Day by Dennis Lehane (Babou_wk)
    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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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. ( )
  SamSattler | Nov 16, 2015 |
I've never read anything by Steinbeck, and this was a real treat! ( )
  BridgettKathryn | Sep 6, 2015 |
Indubious Battle by John Steinbeck
1936 original about labor strikes and how the workers during the Depression years in CA. Jim Nolan, the leader as he strives to find his identity.
Includes the authors writing throughout his life. Starts out when they gather to pick the apples and there is talk of them striking. They band together and come up with white clothes to help with the birthing of a baby.
As long as they all feel like they contributed they are as one. They strive for hope, better life, etc. The men talk to others who work in another farm and they talk of the barricades the authorities will put up as their wages go down.
Details of what is to come as they vacant a farm and things heat up. Love references to the Grapes of Wrath during this book. Love the story of how those who've gone before us have fought for their rights to make our lives easier today.
I received this book from National Library Service for my BARD (Braille Audio Reading Device). ( )
  jbarr5 | Jul 16, 2015 |
In my experience there are two kinds of Steinbeck novels. There are the character-driven stories that are often entertaining (think Cannery Row) and there are the moral tragedies where big lessons are learned (think Grapes of Wrath and The Pearl.) This definitely falls into the latter category. Two men join a group of apple pickers in the 1930s with the goal of getting them to strike for better wages.

Mac and Jim are the men behind the cause, recruiting the local leader, London, to gain the trust of the workers. Jim is new to the world of unions, but not to injustice. He is naive at first, but grows stronger as he focuses on his purpose. The battle escalates and the belief that the men perpetuate is that the ends justifies the means, no matter who is hurt along the way. The men, who are actually fighting for the cause, are often the manipulated pawns of bigger men with bigger goals. The character of the Doctor gave some interesting perspective to the motivation behind Mac’s work.

It's good; the writing is crisp and vivid. But I feel like it's a precursor to greater work. The partnership and friendship that grows between Jim and Mac is better personified between George and Lennie in "Of Mice and Men." The strike for higher wages and the struggle for a better life for the workers are better demonstrated in "The Grapes of Wrath." In Dubious Battle is a good story and a tragic one, but it didn't dig quite as deep for me.

BOTTOM LINE: It’s not my favorite Steinbeck, but he’s written so many that I love. As with his other work this story gives a voice to an often overlooked group of people and I think it would have been particularly powerful during the time in which it was originally released.

“There’s no better way to make men part of a movement than to have them give something to it.”

“It seems to me that a man has engaged in a blind and fearful struggle out of a past he can’t remember, into a future he can’t foresee nor understand. And man has met and defeated every obstacle, every enemy except one. He cannot win over himself.” ( )
  bookworm12 | Oct 10, 2014 |
"In the California Apple country, nine hundred migratory workers rise up "in dubious battle" against the landowners. The group takes on a life of its own - stronger than its individual members and more frightening. Led by the doomed Jim Nolan, the strike is founded on his tragic idealism on the "courage never to submit or yield.
"In Dubious Battle" cannot be dismissed as a "propaganda" novel - it is another version of the eternal human fight against injustice. It is an especially good version, dramatically intense, beautifully written. It is the real thing; it has a vigor of sheer storytelling that may sweep away many prejudices."



This is the third Steinbeck book I've read, and while it was an excellent, moving book, I think it was missing a little something when compared to "The Grapes of Wrath" and "Of Mice and Men." It was an interesting story, and very moving, but I don't think enough time was really spent on the characters on this one, which I think was one of the greatest strengths of the other two.

Despite this, however, this was an excellent book. I really liked how it showed the strikers not as godlike heroes without fault, but as fallible men who could be just as brutal as the people they were fighting against. While the book was certainly biased towards the strikers (as fits with Steinbeck's politics in his other books), the fact that he made them fallible makes this book all the more realistic. I also really liked the way Steinbeck makes the scope of the battle the strikers were fighting for very clear. It was not something to be won in a day, or a year, or even a lifetime, but an idealistic war that even those fighting it didn't understand exactly. My mom, who works for a union, should definitely read this book. Both as an inspiration and as a cautionary tale. ( )
  sammii507 | Aug 19, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Steinbeckprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
French, WarrenIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kossin, SanfordCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stechschulte, TomNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Velde, Frédérique van derTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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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Book description
An exploration of the power of the mob - for good and for evil. In the California apple country, nine hundred migratory workers rise up 'in dubious battle' against the landowners. The group takes on a life of its own - stronger than its individual members and more frightening. Led by the doomed Jim Nolan, the strike is founded on his tragic idealism - on the 'courage never to submit or yield.'
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0143039636, Paperback)

This 1936 novel—set in the California apple country—portrays a strike by migrant workers that metamorphoses from principled defiance into blind fanaticism.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:02 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

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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