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.
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.
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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