Published some 75 years ago, In Dubious Battle
must surely be ranked amongst Steinbeck's greatest and most accomplished works. Set amidst the apple orchards of the fictional Torgas Valley in California, the novel focuses on the labor dispute between the apple pickers ("fruit tramps") and the orchards' owners. Steinbeck casts as his protagonists two party members (though unstated, it's presumed to be the Communist Party) who travel to the valley to agitate and organize the workers into leading a strike following a reduction of their usual wages. As the strike escalates and scab workers are brought in, tempers flare and violence ensues.
Despite criticism to the contrary, Steinbeck seldom proselytizes in his work, instead offering the story up to his readers to form their own opinions or judgments. As In Dubious Battle
considers the ever-contentious issues of labor and profit, Steinbeck must have known that existing allegiances would shape the novel's reception (especially given the proliferation of labor feuds and striking workers in the era of the book's publication). Steinbeck does not argue for or against any particular interest and, in fact, illustrates the senselessness and hypocrisy that mark the actions both sides take to further their agenda. His deft exploration of subjects including capital, the profit system, purposefulness and meaning, fidelity to a cause, and mob behavior/group dynamics imbue the story with great significance and enduring relevance. In Dubious Battle
, with its rich, well-developed characters and riveting plot, further demonstrates the exceptional talents Steinbeck possessed in abundance.
"There aren't any beginnings," Burton said. "Nor any ends. It seems to me that 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. How mankind hates itself." Recommended By Jeremy G., Powells.com