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A Ridiculously Intriguing Summary of 'In Dubious Battle'

A Short Summary of 'In Dubious Battle'
Many farmers from the Great Plains were forced to moved towards the West Coast due to drought conditions and the Great depression in search of work. These migrated workers ended up in seasonal farms of California in distressful encampments and miserable lifestyle which is depicted in this classic work of fiction. Penlighten provides a short summary of 'In Dubious Battle'.
Mary Anthony
Last Updated: Feb 8, 2018
On Screen...
James franco
On 30th January 2015, Hollywood announced that the book has inspired a screen adaptation which will be starred and directed by James Franco.
John steinbeck
John Steinbeck was born on 27th February, 1902 in Salinas, California, into an affluent farming community of that period. Most of his stories are centered around these geographic surroundings, and incidences from his childhood greatly influenced his authorship vocation. He was avidly drawn into the horrifying plight endured by the migrant workers across California during the Depression period.
Traveling across their camps, he gathered rich tales of woe that created two masterpieces in the fictional literary world. One was In Dubious Battle and the other The Grapes of Wrath - the best-selling book of 1939 which sold over 430,000 copies and won The National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1940).

In 1962, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. His Western classics continue to enamor many across the world even today.
The noir novel laced with grim realities from the migrant farmer communities presented the daily struggles of the labor class during the 1930s. It depicts the eternal war between the laborers and the capitalists while closely presenting the tough-minded ideologies of the labor organizers influenced by communism (American Communist Party or the Industrial Workers of the World).
Although in the novel the author does not directly specify communism but refers to it as 'the Party' but he sure does try to depict the unprincipled methods of this particular 'Party'. The capitalists are portrayed as downright goons who can go to extreme extents in order to exploit the laborers for fair gains.

It was first published in the year 1936 and is considered as the precursor to the world-wide hit 'The Grapes of Wrath', inspired by real incidences like the peach strike in Tulare county and the cotton strike of 1933. The author sympathizes with the workers in their battle for better wages against an organization that is supported by the gun. He exposes the cruel methods devised by the Party often clinging towards violence and propaganda as primary tools for fighting.

The novel provides no solutions or depicts no heroic victors but rather mirrors the life of the desperate labor class who struggle eternally against poverty, inequity, and forced dominance.
It revolves around a young man Jim Nolan, who is at crossroads of his life and discovers his true calling when he joins 'The Party.' He aids in pioneering a strike by migrant workers against landowners during apple growing season in Central California.

The novel begins with Jim packing up his few intangible possessions in a paper bag and telling his landlady, Ms. Meer, that he is moving out. Jim then heads over to the local Party office (implied to be the Communist Party) where his functionary, Harry Nilson, conducts an interview and briefs Jim about the dedication to be displayed as a Party member. Jim then gets acquainted with the other local members: Dick, Joy, and Mac. Dick is a young, attractive lady's man with a special knack for fetching in supplies and donations. Joy is an older veteran who is mentally unstable and known for his many clashes with the authorities and short periods in jail. And Mac is the experienced field organizer who spends his time traveling around migrant camps boosting workers to organize and hold a strike.

Though Jim yearns for some political adventure, he is initially bound doing clerical tasks. Mac soon finds a field assignment and takes Jim along as a standby. Mac and Jim travel to Torgas Valley, California where the Growers' Association has just declared a pay cut at the beginning of apple picking season. Mac explains to Jim that if the workers get roused enough to organize and strike, the rebellion could spill over into the cotton season, profiting the workers in the long run. Mac is determined to start up a strike and contrives every means to do so. Mac soon gets his chance after learning that Lisa, the daughter-in-law of one of the men, London, is giving birth without any medical assistance. Mac slyly convinces everyone, including Jim, that he is used aid in deliveries before. Mac instructs and organizes many people in the camp to boil water and gather cloth and successfully delivers the baby. But he later admits to Jim that his actions were a makeshift arrangement and he never actually worked in a hospital nor had any medical training.

The next day, Mac and Jim pretend to pick apples in order to gather the worker's opinions about the wage cut and their feelings about a possible strike. London is visibly upset about the wage cut and after a long day of work, Mac, Jim, and London visit Dakin, a friend of London's, who is working at a nearby orchard. London talks to Dakin about getting the men in his camp to organize a strike along with the men in London's camp. Dakin is fascinated but reluctant.

Rumors about a strike are rife among the men, but Mac laments that the men need something more to heat up a strike. Jim soon finds himself working in a tree alongside Dan, a seventy-one year old man who boasts that he has more energy than any of the 'young lads' in camp. A major accident happens when Dan descends the ladder and it cracks up making Dan fall heavily on his back. The workers get outraged and Mac takes this opportunity to agitate them further.

Mac then heads to a private orchard owned by Mr. Anderson to arrange a deal. He negotiates with Anderson offering him free labor to pick his apple orchard if he allows the men to live on his land during the strike. At first, Anderson is quite reluctant. However, Mac convinces Anderson that with this deal he can pay off the mortgage of Hunter, Gillray and Martin, owners of the Torgas Finance Company. On the way back to camp, Mac and Jim are stopped by two men who tell them they know they are "reds" and that they should leave Torgas Valley by morning. Mac and Jim run away from the men and make it back to camp where London has organized a meeting with Dakin and a man named Burke, the strike chairman at a different orchard.

As the men organize and begin the strike, Dick brings in medical doctor, Doc Burton, who's job is to maintain the sanitary conditions to prevent county health officials from shutting down the camp. The Growers' Association in the Torgas Valley send five policemen to observe the agitation. The next morning, the men gather together and march to town to have a face off with scab workers arriving off the morning train. Joy who happens to be a part of the crowd is killed by bullet shots.

Mac tells the men that authorities shot Joy. In his desperate bid to engulf the workers in a strike he orders Joy's body to be taken to the orchards. There a funeral is organized and Mac delivers a stirring speech. Later the newly elected President of the Growers' Association, Mr. Bolter, offers only a 5 cent wage increase and insists that the strike must come to an end. Mac and Jim reveal to London that they are party members while they get the news that Anderson's barn is on fire and his entire freshly picked apple harvest is destroyed.

The missing puzzle of the burning barn is solved when London's men find high school kids who allegedly set fire to the barn when Anderson's men abandoned their guard posts. Meanwhile protesters set William Hunter's house on fire as well.

The next morning, Mac sends out an early letter bespeaking much-needed assistance to Harry Nilson and comes back with a newspaper that carries the news of the fire at William Hunter's house on the front page. The news mentions that a special deputy caught the assailant but was assaulted and not expected to live. The paper blames the strikers for the fire at Hunter's house as well as the burning of Anderson's barn. The paper incites the citizens to take unlawful actions in order to drive out the "reds" who are causing the labor problems.

Mac tells Jim that the strike is probably going to crumble and gives Jim instructions to a safe hiding place in case they split up. Later, the sheriff shows up at Anderson's place and orders the laborer's to end the strike or they will be forced out in the morning. Mac tells London they should all stay and fight. He then instructs Jim to sneak away back to town at dark. He does not want Jim to risk being caught because he is too valuable to 'the Party'. But instead Mac and Jim are later accosted by a boy who tells them he found a doctor who has been hurt. Mac and Jim hurry to see the doctor, thinking they have found Doc Burton. But they soon realize that they have been fooled, Mac halts in his steps as he senses danger and orders Jim to duck. Shots are fired. When Mac stands up and calls for Jim, he sees Jim inert on the ground. As he walks closer, Mac sees that Jim's face has been blown off by bullets. London and some of the other men soon catch up to Mac. Mac solemnly props up Jim's body for all the men to see. He begins to deliver a speech, similar to the one he gave at Joy's funeral, to rally the men for the cause as the novel comes to an abrupt end.
In his 1962 Nobel acceptance speech, John Steinbeck states that a writer must trust in ''The perfectibility of man."
Thus his fictional yet realistic novel subtly evokes a humble request to the authorities to ease the plight of the migrant workers, provide better housing facilities, ensure equal democratic rights, and provide a stabilized future in the Californian agricultural scene.