Fake Book Review: John Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle

My Los Angeles history reading binge continues, with one of the latest additions being the neglected Steinbeck novel In Dubious Battle.

Written years before The Grapes of Wrath, In Dubious Battle follows the progress of an agricultural workers' strike in California through the eyes of a young(ish) communist organizer.

I was surpised how well-rendered most of the interior monolgoues were. Group dynamics and psychological undercurrents were well-served too. Steinbeck gets a bum rap as a bad writer!

As the title might indicate, Steinbeck was no romantic about the ability of Communism to cure American societal ills. Yet, those ills are painfully catalogued in this book: from wrenching police and vigilante violence against workers and sympathizers to completely false newspaper accounts of the plot-driving strike, to the pathetic wages and ill-treatment causing the strike in the first place.

That's about all I have to say on this one. In closing I'll offer this quote from Wikipedia:

"In 1943, with Steinbeck now famous, Carlos Baker "revalued" the novel. He opened by saying "Among Steinbeck's best novels, the least known is probably In Dubious Battle." Steinbeck, he said, "is supremely interested in what happens to men's minds and hearts when they function, not as responsible, self-governing individuals, but as members of a group….

Biologists have a word for this very important problem; the call it bionomics, or ecology." He said that "Steinbeck's bionomic interest is visible in all that he has done, from Tortilla Flat, in the middle Thirties, though his semi-biological Sea of Cortez, to his latest communiques as a war correspondent in England." He characterized In Dubious Battle as "an attempt to study a typical mid-depression strike in bionomic terms."