Friday, February 07, 2014


In Dubious Battle, John Steinbeck, The Viking Press, 1936, 313 pp

I did not read Steinbeck's novel about an attempt to organize migrant workers as part of My Big Fat Reading Project because it was published before 1940, the year I chose for the beginning of my project. I read it now for a reading group and must say, it is a much better book than The Grapes of Wrath.

All of the qualities I love best about Steinbeck are here. Great complex characters, description that brings the locations and the weather and the events to life, and a thoughtful look at a big human problem.

The trouble with trying to help a person or specific group with a problem is that the helper is not the person or a member of the group. The main characters from "the party" (Steinbeck does not call them communists but the growers do) come in from the outside. They are desperate characters for their own reasons but they are not migrant workers and their agenda stems from a political consciousness.

Steinbeck gives a brilliant exposition of the methods used to organize downtrodden workers into people who will fight the system: finding or even creating an incident that will ignite them out of apathy, the "end justifies the means" mentality, and the justifications for violence and criminal activity. It has been ever thus when the dregs or unfortunates rise up.

He shows all of it, making his book still vital today. The novel moved me as much as East of Eden.

(In Dubious Battle is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

No comments:

Post a Comment