In Dubious Battle
In Dubious Battle is such an intense read, that I feel I don’t know where to start. I made copious notes as I read the book. Now, my thoughts are awhirl!
Perhaps I will start by looking at Steinbeck’s comments (quoted in the Introduction) where he said that the book has three layers:
The surface story (the strike and its ramifications).
Group-psychological structure. (the "phalanx" theory, or as I interpret it, the theory that the group or mob will do things that the individual would never do).
Philosophical conclusion arrived at. (this is open to the interpretation of the reader).
In typical modesty, Steinbeck felt that only the first item would be perceived, but I believe he succeeded on all three counts.
Firstly, I felt that the book "as story" was brilliant… that Steinbeck really brought across to the reader the frustration felt on both sides of the strike. Those of the orchard owners, townsfolk, law-enforcers, and of course the workers, strikers themselves. It was a book that never lagged in its pace and the dialogue was very… "Hearable." As though Steinbeck only recorded what he actually overheard! I believed in the story. I sympathized with the struggle for the most part
Secondly, the group-psychological (phalanx) stuff.
Nobody said it better than Mac (p.323) when he said that the mob "is a big animal. It’s different from the men in it."
And Jim claimed that when he was in the crowd, and pursuing the "Ideal"… he felt that he was "more than myself" (p.260).
Doc Burton says "Group men are always getting some kind of infection" (p.150). And "a man in a group isn’t himself at all; he’s a cell in an organism that isn’t like him any more than the cells in your body are like you" (to Mac).
Now, I must say a word here about this phalanx thing. The potential for great good and also for great evil (or bad) is an attribute of any MOB, or group. Things can be achieved by the group that...