"He always got the hell beat out of him. He used to come home all covered with blood. He'd sit beside the cook stove. We had to let him alone then. Couldn't even speak to him or he'd cry. When my mother washed him later, he'd whine like a dog." (7)
Jim tells Harry Nilson about the violent life of his father. Nilson wants to know if Jim will be as wild—or perhaps as willing to scrap—as his dad. But Jim doesn't just reveal his father's need for violent confrontation. He also shows the real toll that anger and hatred take on a person after the venting ends. Jim also points out that his dad's violent streak had no purpose or direction: it all pointed inward and destroyed him.
"They had to break his jaw with a night stick to stop him; then they threw him in the can. Well, I don't know how Joy did much talking with a busted jaw, but he must have worked on the doctor in the jail some, 'cause the doctor said he wouldn't treat a God-damn red, and Joy lay there three full days with a broken jaw. He's been screwy ever since." (18)
Mac gives Jim a quick overview of old Joy's career with the Party. Joy doesn't have talent for rhetoric or for reasoning, for that matter. Joy's main goal in life (as we see in the character Sam later in the book) is to use his fists to show the world the corruption and injustice of the socio-economic system in America. He wouldn't say it like that, of course. He'd just punch your lights out.
This passage points out another, silent type of violence: hatred for fellow men. Doctors take an oath to remember the humanity of their patients. Joy's encounter with the jail doc proves that some are willing to allow suffering in support of a political agenda.
The old man shook his head. "I hope I'm dead before it happens. They'll be bitin' out throats with their teeth. They'll kill each other off an' after they're all wore out or dead, it'll be the same thing over again. I want to die and get shut of it." (53)
Old Dan tells Jim that he wants nothing to do with agitation and striking. He knows that it brings out the worst in both sides, and he's pretty sure he's lived too long to see more of this. So far in the book, nothing like this has really happened. But Dan's own accident will prove that it doesn't take much to set discontented men on a path to destruction.
"Now I'm tellin' you this, if any of your boys touch that property or hurt Anderson, if you hurt one single fruit tree, a thousand guys'll start out an' every one of 'em 'll have a box of matches. Get it, mister? Take it as a threat if you want to, you touch Anderson's ranch and by Christ we'll burn every fucking house and barn on every ranch in the Valley!" (103)
Pardon the language on this one (take it up with the ghost of Steinbeck), but as you can see, Mac gets pretty riled up by the visit of the "super" at the orchard. The "super" has just laid down the law with the workers: there will be trumped-up charges, biased judicial figures, hundreds of armed men, and a blacklist for the workers who persist in striking. These threats highlight the extreme imbalance of power between the workers and the owners. It's no surprise that Mac responds with an equal promise of epic destruction for the Valley—though it is chilling.
"When you cut your finger, and streptococci get in the wound, there's a swelling and a soreness. That swelling is the fight your body puts up, the pain is the battle. You can't tell which one is going to win, but the wound is the first battleground...Mac, these little strikes are like the infection. Something has got into the men; a little fever had started and the lymphatic glands are shooting in the reinforcements. I want to see, so I go to the seat of the wound." (113)
Doc Burton tells Mac that he's interested in observing "group-man" during the strikes: he wants to know how the individual person changes when he becomes part of a mob. He likens the striking workers to cells that respond to infections in the body and uses his medical know-how to understand how mob mentality takes hold and works. The problem for Doc? This journey to the "seat of wound" leads him to despair and leaves him vulnerable to the plotting of the opposing mob.
Jim looked without emotion at the ten moaning men on the ground, their faces kicked shapeless. Here a lip was torn away, exposing bloody teeth and gums; one man cried like a child because his arm was bent sharply backward, broken at the elbow. Now that the fury was past, the strikers were sick, poisoned by the flow from their own anger glands. (142)
Though the other strikers have come down from their fury and begin to comprehend the havoc they have wreaked on the faces of the "scabs," Jim stays stone cold. He doesn't seem to participate readily in the normal emotional waves of the picketing mob, which makes him both valuable to the cause and completely creepy. The gore surrounding Jim has no effect on him—it doesn't inspire him to re-consider the tactics of the group or feel concern for fellow workers on the other side of the fence.
"[...] in my little experience the end is never very different in its nature from the means. Damn it, Jim, you can only build a violent thing with violence." (198-199)
We so love that Doc Burton seems to be the forerunner of Bones in the original Star Trek series ("Damn it, Jim..."). Doc's philosophy on mob behavior differs a whole lot from Mac and Jim's. While the two comrades see violence as a necessary vehicle to achieve their goals, Doc Burton senses that it is a vicious cycle—you can only reap what you sow. Doc seems to advocate for something closer to passive resistance to effect change, something that Thoreau discusses in his famous essay "Civil Disobedience." But the boys aren't biting: they think that a mob needs blood for inspiration, and the public needs it to wake them from their ignorance.
"I want a billboard," said Mac, "Not a corpse. All right, kid. I guess you're for it." The boy tried to retreat. He bent down, trying to cower. Mac took him firmly by the shoulder. His right fist worked in quick, short hammer blows, one after another. The nose cracked flat, the other eye closed, and the dark bruises formed on the cheeks. The boy jerked about wildly to escape the short, precise strokes. Suddenly, the torture stopped." (213)
Mac and Jim have noooo problem using measured violence to benefit the cause. As Mac says, they have to use whatever materials come their way. In this case, a high-school-aged boy with a rifle comes their way, hoping to shoot some fear into the strikers. Mac wants to use the boy as an advertisement back in town so that other whippersnappers don't get it into their heads to use the camp for target practice. In the end, violence against this young boy takes the life out of Mac, but Jim is always there to justify any action that will profit their struggle. At this point, Mac and Jim have sort of traded places.
Women swam through the crowd and looked woodenly at the hanging head. A heavy, sobbing gasp went up from the mob. The eyes flared. All the shoulders were dropped, and the arms bowed dangerously. London still stood panting, but his face was perplexed. He looked down at his fist, at the split and bleeding knuckles. (247)
Not a page before this, Mac tells Jim that the dispirited men really need to see blood to rile them back up so they can fight for themselves. The opportunity arises when Burke, one of the strike leaders, appears and wrongly accuses London of accepting bribes from the Growers. London doesn't take the accusation sitting down, and he manages to break Burke's jaw in full view of the men and women in the camp. Horror at such internal violence quickly gives way to full frenzy, which London (with some help from Jim) is able to transform into something really valuable (if not bloody) for the workers.
"The clearing was full of curious men. They clustered around, until they saw the burden. And then they recoiled. Mac marched through them as though he did not see them. Across the clearing, past the stoves he marched, and the crowd followed silently behind him. He came to the platform. He deposited the figure under the hand-rail and leaped to the stand. He dragged Jim across the boards and leaned him against the corner post, and steadied him when he slipped sideways. (269)
Jim's fate in this work could not be much worse—and Mac wants to make sure that every one of the workers sees it with his or her own eyes. Mac has the ability to set his own grief aside and "use" Jim to the last to stoke the anger and violence of the crowd. While Jim might have approved (he probably would have), the quick exchange of horror for violence makes us question the motives of the strike leaders—and reminds us of Doc's prediction that violent means can only achieve violent ends.
"Now when the apples are ripe the crop tramps come in and pick them. And from there they go on over the ridge and south, and pick the cotton. If we can start the fun in the apples, maybe it will just naturally spread over into the cotton." (25)
Mac explains to Jim the goals of their agitation in the apple orchards. Mac has to remind Jim several times that "the cause" is really the thing—not the specific workers in the Torgas Valley themselves or their particular problems. The workers are really merely vehicles to spread an ideology about labor. It's for the benefit, but at this point only in theory; the benefits can't actually come until way in the future.
"Now these few guys that own most of the Torgas Valley waited before most of the crop tramps were already there. They spent most of their money getting there, of course. They always do. And then the owners announced their price cut. Suppose the tramps are mad? What can they do? They've got to work picking apples to get out even." (25-26)
Manipulation is not just a tool in the pouch of the "red" agitators. The Growers' Association knows just how to back their laborers into a corner and to make them do things they don't want to do. By making the workers desperate, the Growers know that they can get their crops picked for less. It's a "like it or leave it" mentality, one that's reinforced by poor economic conditions all over the country and a surplus of desperate workers willing to break the strike.
"We got to take the long view. A strike that's settled too quickly won't teach the men how to organize, how to work together. A tough strike is good. We want the men to find out how strong they are when they work together." (26)
In so many ways, Mac and Jim are not in this fight for the workers in Torgas Valley. Sure, they want the men to win—but not in such a way that the larger cause is compromised. They want things to go their way so that Party ideology takes hold and spreads across the country, no matter what the cost. While Mac's long-range thinking might be admirable on one level, it's pretty chilling on another.
"Jesus, man! The troops win, all right! But every time a guardsman jabs a fruit tramp with a bayonet a thousand men all over the country come on our side. Christ Almighty! If we can only get the troops called out." (26-27)
We're a little worried about Mac just here, when he's actively hoping that some of the workers will get killed or face violent skirmishes with well-armed National Guardsmen. If it seems perverse to you, you're not wrong. Mac and Jim set their sights on a larger ideal and will use any profitable means to achieve it. We don't really see this way of thinking challenged until Doc Burton comes on the scene and tells Mac that violence can only beget violence—but it doesn't make a dent in Mac's single-minded brain.
"We've got to use whatever material comes to us. That was a lucky break. We simply had to take it. 'Course it was nice to help the girl, but hell, even if it killed her—we got to use anything." (48)
Mac calls his intervention in the birth of Lisa's baby "material" that they can use to further the cause. It's not important to him whether the child (or the mother) suffers harm. In this moment, it's clear that people—not just language or goods—are the real commodity in the battle to come.
Mac said, "Well, it's happened. I kind of expected it. It doesn't take much when the guys feel this way. They'll grab on anything. The old buzzard was worth something after all."
"Worth something?" Jim asked.
"Sure. He tipped the thing off. We can use him now." (79)
Mac speaks here of old Dan's accident and his resulting broken hip. While we don't expect Mac to cry salt tears over the injuries of a stranger, it's stunning how quickly his mind finds a silver lining to a personal tragedy-in-progress (it's pretty clear that Dan won't make it). But it's even more than that: Mac is actually happy that Dan has been mortally wounded, because he needed something to motivate the men in the camp. His eagerness for the success of the cause has erased some essential bits of Mac's humanity.
"And who are your neighbors?" Mac asked quickly. "I'll tell you who they are: Hunter, Gillray, Martin. Who holds your paper? Torgas Finance Company. Who owns Torgas Finance Company? Hunter, Gillray, Martin. Have they been squeezing you? You know God damn well they have. How long you going to last? Maybe one year; and then Torgas Finance takes your place." (89)
Mac points out to Anderson a stark reality: even if the old farmer doesn't side with the workers, the Growers are going to put him out on the street pretty soon. Mac marvels constantly at how "well-organized" the Torgas Valley powers-that-be are, with power distributed into three tight-fisted hands. But aside from this, Mac shows his skills at manipulating the public in order to get what he needs. He's not really concerned about getting justice for Anderson; he just needs a place for his men to stay.
"This here's an old one, but it works. Here's Dick got the sympathizers lined up. We got food and blankets and money comin'. Well, then this comes out. Dick goes the round. The sympathizers say, 'What the hell? The county's feeding 'em.' 'Th' hell it is,' says Dick. And the guy says, 'I seen it in the paper. It says they're sendin' food to you. What you getting' out of this.'" (150)
Mac shows his frustration at the tactics of the Growers' Association. Although he's pretty good at manipulating public opinion himself, we certainly feel the injustice of the Growers' strategy to starve out the workers while making themselves look good. It's a clever tactic, but it's pretty diabolical.
"That's the way it is. If Joy can do some work after he's dead, then he's got to do it. There's no such things as personal feelings in this crowd. Can't be. And there's no such things as good taste, don't you forget it." (160)
Doc cannot believe that Mac would use his friend Joy's dead body to sway the emotions of the men in the camp. But Mac explains that this is just the way things are. He has also told Doc that Joy would have loved being used to manipulate the emotions of the strikers and the public—it's work he believed in. While this is all very utilitarian, it's hard to escape the icky feeling that Mac's humanity tank is not quite full.
"That's what I'm here for, to lay our cards on the table. I told you I own an orchard, but don't think because of that I haven't your interests at heart. All of us know we can't make money unless the working man is happy." (192)
It's important to note that Mac and Jim are not the only characters who exploit people for their own purposes. Bolter, the new president of the Growers' Association, attempts to convince the two men that business has a heart, too. He tries to get on their good side so that he appears truly generous when he offers the workers their jobs back—without a raise. But Mac isn't playing. He has his own agenda to work.
Mac shivered. He moved his jaws to speak, and seemed to break the frozen jaws loose. His voice was high and monotonous. "This guy didn't want nothing for himself—" he began. His knuckles were white, where he grasped the rail. "Comrades! He didn't want nothing for himself—" (269)
If you weren't somewhat afraid of (or put off by) Mac's ability to "use" the people around him, you'll probably get there by the last page of the book. Despite Jim's complaint that Mac had too many friendly feelings toward him to make proper use of him, we see that Mac has only a hiccup of grief before pulling out the stock eulogy to turn the young man's death into something profitable for the cause.
"[...] My whole family has been ruined by this system. My old man, my father, was slugged so much in labor trouble that he went punch-drunk. He got an idea that he'd like to dynamite a slaughter-house where he used to work. Well, he caught a charge of buckshot in the chest from a riot gun." (6)
Though Jim speaks without drama about his family struggles, his directness helps us to see the magnitude of his life's misery. The physical violence suffered by Jim's father shows the littleness of any human; individual lives don't really matter in the harsh world Steinbeck describes. The fact that Jim feels deadened and resigned about his father's gruesome death speaks volumes about the lack of value placed on human suffering.
"She moved kind of like a machine, and she hardly ever said anything. Her eyes got kind of a dead look, too. But it made my old man mad. He had to fight everything with his fists. He went to work and beat the hell out of the foreman at the Monel packing house. Then he did ninety days for assault." (13-14)
Jim explains the change that came over his mother when his older sister disappeared. The loss of the young girl also marked the beginning of his father's decline into violent behavior. Jim knows that his mother's will to live left her at that moment, and this change in his mother explains the type of death she suffers later. There's no reasonable cause—just a kind of deadness that eventually takes over her whole life.
Mac explained, "Joy won't shake hands with anybody. Bones are all broken. It hurts Joy to shake hands."
The light flared in Joy's eyes again. "Why is it?" he cried shrilly. "'Cause I've been beat, that's why! I been handcuffed to a bar and beat over the head. I been stepped on by horses." (15)
Joy's physical suffering seems to have little impact on his spirit—or on his common sense, either. While his hurts have disfigured his small body, he hasn't changed his approach to helping the cause (never mind that he hasn't been so successful up to this point). Mac would like Joy to chill out so that he won't constantly have to be bailed out, but in the end, Joy's penchant for violence means that he's willing to make the ultimate sacrifice without much fuss.
"I been thinkin'," he said. "Ever since they beat me up I been thinkin'. I can't get those guys outa my head—my little wagon all burned up, an' them jumpin' on me with their feet; and two cops down on the corner watchin', and not doin' a thing! I can't get that outa my head." (155)
Al mentions an important consequence of violence: rebellion. While the Growers hope to beat the strikers and their sympathizers into submission—and it often works—the opposite effect happens pretty often. As Mac later says, the worse the institutionalized violence, the higher the volume of applications for the Party. People don't like to suffer physical violence, but they'll certainly face it if it means freedom from the promise of continued oppression.
"Guy after guy gets knocked into our side by a cop's night stick. Every time they maul hell out of a bunch of men, we get a flock of applications. Why, there's a Red Squad cop in Los Angeles that sends us more members than a dozen of our organizers. An' the damn fools haven't got the sense enough to realize it." (156)
Mac reinforces the lesson learned by Al's response to the attack on himself and his lunch wagon: you can't really beat everyone into submission. While inflicting physical damage works pretty well as an intimidation tactic on some, it riles up the rest. Mac relies on people like Joy and Jim—those willing to sacrifice everything in the face of their own suffering—to stick it to the man.
"Don't worry about it, Mac. Sometimes, when a guy gets miserable enough, he'll fight all the harder. That's the way it was with me, Mac, when my mother was dying, and she wouldn't even speak to me. I just got so miserable I'd've taken any chance. Don't you worry about it." (162)
Mac grows dispirited about the strike because the men seem low. Jim speaks from experience: sometimes misery makes you more determined. Part of that determination comes from the feeling that you have nothing to lose. Part of it comes from the hope that personal suffering will translate into lasting change, something that will affect more than just one person.
The face was never still. The lips crept back until the teeth were exposed, until the teeth were dry; and then the lips drew down and covered them. The cheeks around the eyes twitched nervously. Once, as though striving against weight, Jim's lips opened to speak and worked on a word, but only a growling mumble was said. (219)
We know from the beginning that Jim is a deeply troubled young man. But in case you missed it, here is a memo from his subconscious. Jim falls into a deep but troubled sleep after he bullies London into taking action. London observes that even in sleep, Jim is working through some very deep-seated aggressions. We know that Jim's desire for violent action comes from a dark place inside of him, a place where he stores the painful memories of his hopeless and frightening early life.
He heard an irritable, sleepy voice of a woman detailing how she felt. "I want to get out o' this dump. What good we doin' here? An' I got a lump in my stomach big's your fist. It's a cancer, that's what it is. Card-reader tol' me two years ago I'd get a cancer if I din' watch out. Said I was the cancer type. Sleepin' on the ground, eatin' garbage." (234)
We hear very little about the plight of individual workers in this work—we're focused so strongly on "the cause"—but here, we get a strong dose of misery from one of the women dealing with the conditions in the camp. While Mac and Jim put a pretty good face on their own discomfort, there's no denying the level of misery that the workers must be suffering in these primitive conditions. The heartbreaking thing? Their regularly scheduled lives were not much better. The conditions at the camps in the orchards were hardly wonderful, and the normal routine included a never-ending system of exploitation, from low wages in the fields to exorbitant prices at the company store.
Mac asked, "How about the pointers?"
Anderson's hands settled slowly to his sides. A look of cold, merciless hatred came into his eyes. He said slowly, softly, "The kennel was—against—the barn." (259)
Al tells Mac earlier—and only somewhat jokingly—that his father loved his dogs more than he loved him. We now learn that the beautiful pups have been killed in the fire that also claimed Anderson's crop of apples. Though Anderson had resigned himself to poverty, it's clear that the death of his four-legged friends has struck him to the core. Jim doesn't get it. He feels that Anderson should be willing to give up his life—as Jim himself is willing to do—to work for real change in U.S. labor conditions, and he scorns him for caring about property. But as we can see here, Anderson's grief is less for his property and more for the good companions who have so senselessly lost their lives.
"You see a guy hurt, or somebody like Anderson smashed, or you see a cop ride down a Jew girl, an' you think, what the hell's the use of it. An' then you think of the millions starving, and it's all right again. It's worth it. But it keeps you jumping between pictures." (261)
Anderson's misfortunes tear at Mac's resolve to promote the cause, but it does show us that he still has a heart. Not only does Anderson's suffering get him to question his work, his ultimate response (remembering the suffering of millions) shows that he is somehow concerned with the greater good of humanity. But as London and others observe, Mac's ability to see the big picture is almost unbelievable.
"I got nothing against radicals," he said. "But get this straight. I ain't doin' no time for no kind of outfit. If you belong to anythin', I don't want to know about it. I got a wife and kids and a truck. I ain't doin' no stretch because my name's on somebody's books." (63)
Some people are just not willing to be a Mac or Jim for the cause. Dakin's situation, though hardly luxurious, seems pretty comfortable to those on the outside: he has a shiny new truck, a fancy tent, and lots of swell camping equipment, plus a sweet wife and kids. In short, Dakin has a lot to lose, and he knows it. While he's willing to lend a hand, he's not willing to get dirty. Newsflash for Dakin: in this game, he has to go big or go home. His emotional involvement in his own life makes it impossible for him to tough out the rough stuff and be a true leader.
"What do you want me to do?" Jim asked. "All I do is just listen. I want to do something."
Mac looked around at him and grinned. "I'll use you more and more," he said. "I'll use you right down to the bone. This is going to be a nice mess, from the looks of it." (74)
Mac's banter with Jim is meant to ease his new friend's mind about getting his chance to make a difference in the world. But in hindsight, it's more than a bit chilling. Mac knows that every Party member has to be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, but sometimes that isn't just death. In some ways, the bigger sacrifice is giving up ordinary humanity—which Jim is already in the process of doing.
"Well, I'd be out with you guys if I didn't have a business to keep up. A man sees the way conditions is, and injustice, and things—and if he's got any brains he comes to it." (82)
At this point, Al sympathizes with Mac and Jim but feels that he's caught between a rock and a hard place: he can't really support a cause that destroys his bread and butter. As a business owner, Al has to stay on the right side of the law, and in Torgas Valley, that happens to be the Growers' Association. Al represents the situation of the greater part of society in this work: he's not suffering directly, but he wants to help. And yet, his desire to protect his own comfort makes it impossible for him to truly throw his weight behind a cause.
Joy had stopped, his eyes wide. His mouth flew open and a jet of blood rolled down his chin, and down his shirt. His eyes ranged wildly over the crowd of men. He fell on his face and clawed outward with his fingers. The guards stared unbelievingly at the squirming figure on the ground. (128)
Joy's gruesome assassination at the train depot highlights the expendability of human life in this work. Joy himself had great zeal for the cause and set the value of his life at almost nothing in the face of his work. Even his comrades in arms didn't think much of Joy's suffering—it was just the byproduct of his irrational tendencies and his love of scrapping with the law. But his unexpected and unlooked-for martyrdom counts tremendously because it is shocking and perfectly timed. The drama of the death of the little man stirs public sympathy and riles the workers—at least for a minute.
Mac turned angrily on him. "Listen, mister, we know you got a sock in the teeth; little guys like you and me get it all the time. We're tryin' to make it so guys like you won't get it." (134)
Anderson rightly complains about his son's losses, but Mac has no problem pushing back. The cause is too righteous and valuable. Throughout the book, both Mac and Jim lament the difficulty of getting the average man to understand the value of working for something bigger, something that will benefit an entire country rather than just one individual. At the moment, Mac's anger seems justified: what's the sacrifice of a crummy lunch wagon and a few broken ribs compared to fair wages and improved working conditions for everyone? It seems like a no-brainer—until worse things begin to happen.
"How's it feel to be a Party man now, Jim? It's swell when you read about it—romantic. Ladies like to get up and squawk about the 'boss class' and the 'downtrodden working man.' It's a heavy weight, Jim. That poor guy. The lunch wagon looks bigger than the world to him." (135)
Mac pontificates on the reality of sacrifice in the service of an ideology. It's all grins and giggles, he says, until a business gets burned to the ground and people get beaten. While things are about to get even worse for the Andersons, Mac reminds himself (and Jim and the reader) that sometimes we have to look past our own comfort for the greater good, no matter how hard it can be. Problem is, Mac and Jim are guys with nothing to lose. They might feel sympathy for the Andersons, but they don't feel the loss with them.
Mac said harshly, "We can't help it, Doc. He happens to be the one that's sacrificed for the men. Somebody has to break if the whole bunch is going to get out of the slaughter-house. We can't think about the hurts of one man. It's necessary, Doc." (158)
The concept of sacrificing one's goods or comfort for the cause just took a creepy turn. Mac tells Doc Burton that every cause has to offer a sacrificial lamb if it is going to succeed. The creepy thing? Mac doesn't really have a problem with this. Even though he has many revolutionary ideas about how to change labor in the U.S., Mac is perfectly willing to conform to this age-old saw about personal sacrifice.
"If I go out now it won't matter. The thing won't stop. I'm just a little part of it. It will grow and grow. This pain in the shoulder is kind of pleasant to me; and I bet before he died Joy was glad for a moment. Just in that moment I bet he was glad." (199)
Jim tries to explain what it feels like to be part of something bigger than he is. Because he's pretty much left his humanity behind, Jim feels fairly comfortable giving the cause every ounce of his blood. His belief is that his blood will fuel the cause until it catches on and takes hold. It doesn't matter if he lives to see it happen, as long as he has a small part in it. Jim's declaration is equal parts chilling and selfless.
"It isn't long ago I saw my mother die; seems years, but it wasn't long ago. She wouldn't speak to me, she just looked at me. She was hurt so bad she didn't even want a priest. I guess I got something burned out of me that night. I'm sorry for Anderson, but what the hell. If I can give up my whole life, he ought to be able to give up a barn." (260)
Jim explains why he lacks Mac's sympathy for Anderson, who has just lost his barn, crop, and dogs in a fire. Jim's hopeless and violent home life quashed any spark of human emotion there might have been in him. He often recalls the miserable death of his mother when asked about his motivations. Her life and her death were a capitulation to the misery that surrounded them. Jim plans to make a different kind of sacrifice to change the world.
Mac put out his hand to lift the head. He cried out, and jerked his hand away, and wiped it on his trousers, for there was no face. He looked slowly around, over his shoulder. (268)
In the end, Jim gives up more than his life for the Party: he gives up his identity. His gruesome murder symbolically wipes out his identifying characteristics, so much so that we soon see Mac treating his corpse like the body of any other worker who dies while resisting oppression, rather than as his fallen comrade and BFF. It's about as depressing an ending as Steinbeck could have written—and he's pretty darn good at depressing endings.
"I was watching the riot squad come in from the other side. Well, a squad came up from behind, too. Cop slugged me from behind, right in the back of the neck. When I came to I was already booked for vagrancy. I was rum-dum for a long time. Got hit right here." Jim put his fingers on the back of his neck at the base of his skull. (7-8)
Jim describes his first stint in jail, and how it was a bad rap. At the time, he was a good working stiff himself, but his curiosity put him in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, the strong arm of the law and the subsequent lack of loyalty from his employer is something that Jim doesn't forget so easily. As Mac says later, these kinds of unjust encounters are the very things that drive men to the Party and make them ready to sacrifice their lives for the cause—mostly because they now have nothing left to defend except a larger ideal.
"You don't know what night a bunch of American Legioners all full of whiskey and drum corps music may come down and beat hell out of you. I've been through it, I tell you. There's no veteran like the man who got drafted into the army and served six months in a training camp punching a bayonet into a sack of sawdust." (21)
Mac tries to educate Jim on the perils of working in the field for the Party. He points out the irony of the violence they usually suffer: it's done by the same upright citizens who claim to defend American principles and ideas. In this case, freedom of expression doesn't carry much weight with these "heroes." Steinbeck is very careful to differentiate between two types of soldiers here: the ones who actually saw combat and the ones who spent their service in the safety of training camps, learning to be vicious.
"I was subverting the government. I'd made a speech saying there were people starving." (22)
Mac describes his own first encounter with an angry mob of American "patriots." His protests over the conditions of the poor are considered nothing more than the agitations of a communist troublemaker. While Mac is certainly working for the Party, there is no ignoring the despicable conditions of so many people during this time. Steinbeck has to walk a very fine line here, as he tries to create sympathy in his readers for a person who causes great panic in America: the Communist Party member.
"Well, what time have the others got? Women work all day, men work all day; and the owner charges three cents extra for a can of beans because the men are too damn tired to go into town for groceries." (56)
Jim tries to rile up old Dan to see if he can be counted on in the event of a strike. He's all Party rhetoric, and yet his speech touches on a sore spot for Dan: the workers are at the mercy of the company for everything. They have to rely on the exploitative process in the orchard, including purchasing food at exorbitant prices from the company store because they are too tired at the end of the day or don't have time to prepare their own food. In addition to the pay cuts, the workers often find themselves in debt to the store, drawing against their meager wages just to feed themselves—so they can work more in the morning. All for nothing.
"Don't be a fool, London. You know as well as I do what the vagrancy laws are. You know vagrancy's anything the judge doesn't want you to do. And if you don't know it, the judge here's named Hunter." (102)
The "super" in the orchard wants to play hard with London and Mac from the get-go, and he's not ashamed to reveal the level of corruption at play in Torgas Valley. The owner of one of the three biggest orchards in the area also happens to be the judge (or at least, it's one of his kin). In essence, the Growers' Association members set the laws, control the police, the wages, the food and the roads in the town. As Mac later says, these guys are pretty "organized." The "super" seems to have no problem with this, which shows the magnitude of the problem the workers face in this area.
"My senses aren't above reproach, but they're all I have. I want to see the whole picture—as nearly as I can. I don't want to put on the blinders of 'good' and 'bad,' and limit my vision. If I used the term 'good' on a thing I'd lose my license to inspect it, because there might be bad in it." (113)
Although Mac and Jim don't really appreciate Doc's approach to things, he's the one character in the book who comes closest to true impartiality. Here, he explains why he's there among the strikers every time the Party calls on him, even though he's not a member of the Party. The only thing he hopes to get out of the whole thing is an understanding of it, which is why he doesn't want to take sides. Doc knows that partisan politics clouds a person's vision, and he's just not into it. He refrains from judging as much as possible so that he can keep an open mind. However, we learn that for Doc, sitting on the fence just makes you more visible to the hostile forces on both sides.
"Why, they're the dirtiest guys in any town. They're the same ones that burned the houses of old German people during the war. They're the same ones that lynch Negroes. They like to be cruel. They like to hurt people, and they always give it a nice name, patriotism or protecting the constitution. But they're just the old nigger torturers working. The owners use 'em, tell 'em we have to protect the people against the reds. Y'see that lets 'em burn houses and torture and beat people with no danger. And that's all they want to do, anyway." (131)
Mac explains to Jim exactly who the vigilantes are—and he doesn't hold back. If you're thinking that you hear authorial intrusion in this piece, you'd be justified. Mac offers us a snappy historic overview of the type of people who join these kinds of mobs to terrorize innocent people who happen to be associated with the demonized group of the day. Steinbeck would have had two major groups in mind back then: those of German descent (Germany was our enemy in World War I, and German Americans were definitely ostracized) and people of color. Mac tells Jim that vigilantes are particularly dangerous because they don't need to find culpability beyond descent, skin color, or political affiliation to justify violent behavior.
"Guy after guy gets knocked into our side by a cop's night stick. Every time they maul hell out of a bunch of men, we get a flock of applications. Why, there's a Red Squad cop in Los Angeles that sends us more members than a dozen of our organizers. An' the damn fools haven't got the sense enough to realize it." (156)
Mac comments on the irony of institutionalized violence: it's meant to beat conformity into the heads of people, but it often actually encourages rebellion. This is, again, perhaps Steinbeck on a soapbox, but we'll forgive him because of the accuracy of his statement. There's not much in this world that will inspire revolution better than oppression.
"Y'see, he wasn't very bright. But some way he got it into his head something was wrong. He didn't see why food had to be dumped and left to rot when people were starving. Poor little fool, he could never understand that. And he got the notion he might help to stop it." (161)
Mac "eulogizes" Joy in London's tent. Though Joy was never able to articulate the aims of the Party with his tongue (he was much better with his fists), he did comprehend what it meant for people to starve and to have basic human needs go unmet. It is this very basic comprehension of injustice that kept Joy going to the end—which kind of makes him one of the most stand-up guys in the whole work.
"It's a revolution against hunger and cold. The three guys that own this valley are going to raise hell to keep that land, and to keep dumping apples to raise the price. A guy that thinks food ought to be eaten is a God damned red. D'you see that?" (222)
Mac responds to London's question about whether he and Jim are "reds." Mac knows he's walking a fine line with London because communists do not exactly enjoy great popularity in America at this time (or any other time). But he does know how to answer his questions with great rhetorical force. It's also an opportunity for Steinbeck to garner some more sympathy for these characters by showing that their main concerns are with the necessities of life—and with those who have no access to them.
"You'll get a vote on every decision, but once the vote's in, you'll have to obey. When we have money we try to give field workers twenty dollars a month to eat on. I don't remember a time when we ever had the money. Now listen to the work: In the field, you'll have to work alongside the men, and you'll have to do the Party work after that, sometimes sixteen, eighteen hours a day." (8)
Harry Nilson explains the rules of the game to Jim as he examines Jim's application to join the Communist Party. Jim is attracted to the Party because it will give him immediate access to a community of like-minded people; he'll no longer have to feel alone and hopeless in his struggles against an oppressive system.
But from the way Nilson describes it here, it's clear that the Party is no utopia. While the men technically get a say in everything, it's pretty clear that's all that will be in it for Jim. Despite the grueling work and lack of personal gain, Jim feels ready to leave everything behind to work together with the Party men.
A change was in the air. The apathy was gone from the men. Sleepers were awakened and told, and added themselves to the group. A current of excitement filled the jungle, but a kind of joyful excitement. Fires were built up. Four big cans of water were put on to boil; and then cloth began to appear. [...] The men seemed suddenly happy. They laughed together as they broke dead cottonwood branches for the fire. (46)
Mac creates a feeling of fraternity in the orchard when he orders the men to find supplies to help with the birth of Lisa's baby. He's teaching the men the value of working together and the necessity for action. Steinbeck seems taken with the idea that apathy—that sleepwalking feeling that Jim has at the opening of the book—can be destroyed by communal effort and participation in something bigger than the individual self.
Men always like to work together. There's a hunger in men to work together. Do you know that ten men can lift nearly twelve times as big a load as one man can? It only takes a little spark to get them going." (49)
Mac delivers his message fifty different times throughout the narrative: men have to work together to get things done. Okay, we haven't actually counted, but he definitely says it over and over to Jim while they're working the strike. It's something we can see in action as the mood of the "mob" at the camp ebbs and flows, and as Mac tries to influence the men's energy by creating a communal activity or crisis. The unfortunate part? Sometimes that spark starts a raging fire—as both Jim and Mac know firsthand (remember when the mob tries to lynch them for a slight insult?).
Jim said, "You didn't need all that cloth. Why did you tell London to burn it?"
"Look, Jim. Don't you see? Every man who gave part of his clothes felt that the work was his own. They all feel responsible for that baby. It's theirs, because something from them went to it. To give back the cloth would cut them out. There's no better way to make men part of a movement than to have them give something to it." (49)
We have to give it to Mac here: this is some very clever use of group psychology. He knows from experience that people who work together have to forge bonds of loyalty and fraternity in order to be productive. It's a lucky thing for them that Lisa is kind enough to produce that baby right when they appear on the scene—and that she gives birth successfully, given that Mac actually has no idea how to deliver a baby. Mac is able to use this circumstance to teach the men to work together and to have a vested interest in what they produce from their collaboration.
"And who are your neighbors?" Mac asked quickly. "I'll tell you who they are: Hunter, Gillray, Martin. Who holds your paper? Torgas Finance Company. Who owns Torgas Finance Company? Hunter, Gillray, Martin. Have they been squeezing you? You know God damn well they have." (89)
We all like to think of our home communities as safe places filled with neighbors who look out for each other. Yeah, well, Torgas Valley is not that kind of place. The main men (Hunter, Gillray, Martin) are really looking out for themselves and their bottom lines, much to the detriment of the workers and the small farmers in the area. Mac uses this knowledge to convince Anderson to support the strikers by allowing them to use his spare land for a camp. He has success with Anderson precisely because the old man knows that his prosperous neighbors are really out to destroy his way of life.
The moment he stopped talking a turbulence broke out. Shouting and laughing, the men eddied. They seemed filled with a terrible joy, a bloody, lustful joy. Their laughter was heavy. Into the rooms they swarmed, and carried out their things and piled them on the ground—pots and kettles, blankets, bundles of clothing. (104)
Mac has announced to the workers at the orchard that the "super" has tried unsuccessfully to bribe London to betray them—and that they now have to move off the land because they have been evicted. He uses this opportunity to tell the men and women that they have to keep order and work together to gather all their things for the move to Anderson's farm. The workers are pretty stoked by all this, but it's a dangerous thing. Steinbeck's use of oxymoron here ("terrible joy" and "bloody, lustful joy") tells us that we're going to be in for a wild ride.
"If we could make 'em dig a hole, it'd be as good as anything else. If we can just get 'em all pushing on something, or lifting something, or all walking in one direction—doesn't matter a hell of a lot. They'll start fighting each other if we don't move 'em. They'll begin to get mean, pretty soon." (137)
After the emotional high of marching to the train depot to greet the scabs and experiencing Joy's murder that morning, the workers have hit a low patch. Mac wants to have them do some sort of team-building exercise to keep them motivated(!), but nothing immediately presents itself. Mac wants to teach Jim that mobs are notoriously fickle things, and that convincing the workers that they are a community of support for each other will not be an easy thing.
"We got to stick," Jim cried. "We simply got to stick. If we lose this, we're sunk; and not only us, either. Every other working stiff in the country gets a little of it." (175)
Jim has been moving through the camp, trying to get a sense of how the men feel about the strike and the leadership. He sits down with one group of men and quickly finds a stranger who has been planted in the camp by the Growers to sow discord among the men. Jim's pretty riled up about this and shares with him the major lesson he's learned from Mac: the workers have to come together to work for their own best interests. Jim also adds his own, personal twist to the narrative—it's not just about them. They're all part of a much larger whole that will rise or fall depending on their actions.
"They're mad. Jesus, how a mad crowd can fill the air with madness. You don't understand it, Doc. My old man used to fight alone. When he got licked, he was licked. I remember how lonely it was. But I'm not lonely anymore, and I can't be licked, because I'm more than myself." (199-200)
Jim muses on the nature of mob psychology with Doc Burton. Doc wants to learn more about "group-man" by observing the strikers, and he has some interesting theories that are at odds with what Jim and Mac believe about labor communities. But Jim has some very personal reasons for loving the volatile crowd: they are his safety net, his support. Jim feels very strongly that his individual life has very little value, but as part of a larger movement working to create change, his effort and suffering mean something.
"Now the papers say we're just causing trouble. But we're getting the stiffs used to working together; getting bigger and bigger bunches working together all the time, see? It doesn't make a difference if we lose. Here's nearly a thousand men who've learned how to strike. When we get a whole slough of men working together, maybe—maybe Torgas Valley, most of it, won't be owned by three men." (222)
Mac tells London that he's pretty sure the strike will be lost. But he doesn't want London to despair or to lose a potential new Party member. Even in defeat, the men will have gained the valuable experience of working together toward a shared goal. Yeah, it doesn't seem to us that they've actually learned that lesson in Torgas Valley. But Mac clings to this idea as something that usually happens in a strike situation. And while the three bigwigs of the Valley may not suffer as much as Mac would like, it's possible that the workers are now organized enough to stick up for themselves when they move on to the next venue.
"They didn't hate a boss or a butcher. They hated the whole system of bosses, but that was a different thing. It wasn't the same kind of anger. And there was something else, Mac. The hopelessness wasn't in them. They were quiet, and they were working; but in the back of every mind there was conviction that sooner or later they would win their way out of the system they hated." (20)
Jim tries to explain to Nilson what drew him to the Party in the first place. Like many conversion experiences, it happens in jail. When Jim meets Party members while serving his 30 days on a trumped-up charge, he begins to see how his hopeless and useless life could lead him to effect change—even in a small way. He figures out that his father got it all wrong—it's no use fighting the man on your own. One person doesn't have the strength to do much. Jim's newfound philosophy fits perfectly with the Party line, as Mac will soon find out.
The old man snarled, "We got no pull, that's what. You got to have pull to get an easy job. We just get rode over because we got no pull." (51-52)
Old Dan sums up the problem for the workers in three sentences. We can do it in one phrase: no power. Jim challenges Dan to think of something to do about this unequal distribution of power, but Dan tells him he's barking up the wrong tree (pun totally intended). While Dan understands the problem, he, like many workers, doesn't see the virtue in going out on a limb to fight back. There's a hopelessness about the workers, represented here in tired old Dan, that keeps them from addressing the problem and advocating for themselves.
The intruder's manner changed. "Watch your step, baby," he said. "We've got the glass on you." He moved slowly away. (73)
Mac and Jim encounter a thug sent by the Growers almost immediately after they arrive. From that moment on, Jim and Mac are marked men. This creepy warning highlights both the resources of the owners and their willingness to use violence to enforce their agenda. It also shows the vulnerability of the workers, who have very little to protect themselves, except sheer numbers.
London went on, "I like to see both sides. S'pose me an' my friends here don't take it, what then?"
"Then we kick you off this place in half an hour. Then we blacklist the whole damn bunch of you. You can't go any place; you can't get a job any place. We'll have five hundred deputy sheriffs if we need 'em. That's the other side. We'll see you can't get a job this side of hell. What's more, we'll jug your pals here, and see they get the limit." (101-102)
London's conversation with the "super" at the orchard shows not only the firepower wielded by the companies, but also the level of organization that the Growers have ready to combat discontented workers. Mac continually suggests that this as the reason why the strikers will probably lose their bid in Torgas Valley, no matter how determined they are.
"We only want to settle this thing peacefully," said Bolter. "American citizens demand order, and I assure you men we're going to have order if we have to petition the governor for troops." (194)
The president of the Growers' Association makes no bones about the Growers' position—even if he does cloak the economic agenda of the companies in the language of order and public safety. Bolter's speech here also highlights the unwillingness on the part of the Growers to acknowledge that the workers are also part of the American public. They are people with as many rights as anyone else, and yet it's clear from Bolter's response here that the Growers will use their considerable pull in the Valley to inflict as much mayhem on the workers as possible if they don't conform.
"We don't want to fight you men," he said. "We want you to come back to work. But if we do have to fight, we have weapons. The health authorities are pretty upset about this camp. And the government doesn't like uninspected meat moving in this country. The citizens are pretty tired of all this riot. And of course we may have to call troops, if we need them." (195)
As it becomes clear that Bolter will not be able to get the men back to work without a raise, he begins to get pretty ugly. The litany of things that the powerful Growers' Association can do to the workers is both impressive and frightening, involving not just run-of-the-mill violence, but also the involvement of state and federal authorities, as well as the ability to sway public opinion to their side. It's a daunting threat, but Mac and London really have no interest in hearing what Bolter has to say. Things are so bad that they really don't feel they have much to lose.
"You been talkin' big, but I know you been wettin' your pants the whole time. I admit you can do all the things you say you can, but look what happens after. Your health service burned the tents in Washington. And that was one of the reasons that Hoover lost the labor vote. You called out the guardsmen in 'Frisco, and damn near the whole city went over to the strikers. Y' had to have the cops stop food from comin' in to turn public opinion against the strike." (196)
Now it's Mac's turn to make a show of strength in front of Bolter. While it's true that the Growers' Association has the power to bring in weapons and civil authorities, Mac wants to make it clear that bringing down the big guns on the workers might not be such a clever idea. By showing Bolter that the biggest liability for the Growers might in fact be their firepower, Mac is also implying that he has no problem exploiting the atrocities of the past to win public support for the strike. In this case, Mac is actually bargaining from a position of strength, even though the workers have very little in the way of supplies and clout.
"We understand each other now. We know what to expect from you. And we know how careful you have to be when you use force. Don't forget the thousands of people that are sending us food and money. They'll do other things, if they have to. We been good, Mr. Bolter, but if you start any funny business, we'll show you a riot to remember." (197)
Mac acknowledges another useful tool in the pouch of the strikers: retributive violence. He makes sure that Bolter understands that the workers won't take being trounced lightly, and that when push comes to shove, the Growers will find that the workers are organized and willing to do just about anything to advance their cause.
Jim said softly, "I wanted you to use me. You wouldn't because you got to like me too well." He stood up and walked to a box and sat down on it. "That was wrong. Then I got hurt. And sitting here waiting, I got to know my power. I'm stronger than you, Mac. I'm stronger than anything in the world, because I'm going in a straight line. You and all the rest have to think of women and tobacco and liquor and keeping warm and fed." (215)
This is the part when Jim gets a little bit scary. He's taken over leadership—at least, behind closed doors—and begins to boss London and Mac around. Jim has grown restless while waiting to do his part and hoping that the workers will grow some spine and take matters into their own hands.
He's also had a kind of coming-of-age experience on this journey. When he begins it, he's kind of a mess: sleepwalking his way through life, victimized and hopeless. But now he has purpose—and he's pretty single-minded about it. It's a bit of a mystery how Jim gets to this point, or what motivates him to speak this way. Mac recognizes from this moment on that Jim has actually become something very valuable to the movement, even if it is something that he can't quite understand.
"[...] and I tell you, a mob with something it wants to do is just about as efficient as trained soldiers, but tricky. They'll knock that barricade, but then what? They'll want to do something else before they cool off." And he went on, "That's right, what you said. It is a big animal. It's different from the men in it. And it's stronger than all the men put together." (248-249)
Mac explains to Jim that mobs (or "group-men," as Doc puts it) are skittish things. While they have a power that is greater than the sum of the people in them, they are also motivated by things that can't be predicted or named. And once a mob sets into motion, it's difficult to determine when or how they'll cool off. It's a terrifying situation—and it's the flipside of organizing a group of disgruntled workers to advocate for themselves. While Mac tries to harness the energy and power that accompanies dissatisfaction, he also has to find a way to keep it directed outward, toward the "enemy."
"I forgot, you never caught a freight, did you?"
Jim spread his stride in an attempt to walk on every other tie, and found he couldn't quite make it. "Seems to me I never did much of anything," he admitted. "Everything's new to me." (28)
Jim begins his journey by "waking up" from the stupor of hopelessness that defined his early life. But when he awakens, he finds that there's a lot about his life that isn't great. It's not simply the injustice that he faced back home; it's all the missed opportunities (and the lack of opportunity) in his life, and it all comes back to him as he travels to the countryside with Mac to begin his new life.
"You know when you're about to get fightin', crazy mad, you get a hot, sick, weak feelin' in your guts? Well, that's what it is. Only it ain't just in one man. It's like the whole bunch, millions and millions was one man, and he's been beat and starved, and he's getting' that sick feelin' in his guts." (53)
Old Dan has been around the fruit-pickers for a long time, and he can sense when trouble is brewing. He's really talking about the ability to pick up on the discontent and general misery of the crew, which is so strong it's almost palpable to the old-timer. And although he doesn't have the words for "mob psychology," that's pretty much what Dan is describing when he talks about the bunch becoming one in its discontent. This is a new lesson for Jim, who will have some very dicey encounters with disgruntled mobs in this book.
"I joined unions," he said. "We'd elect a president and first thing we knowed, he'd be kissing the ass of the superintendent, and then he'd sell us out. We'd pay dues and the treasurer'd run out on us. I don't know. Maybe you young squirts can figure something out." (52)
Jim tries to involve Dan in a discussion about the possibility of a strike, but Dan's experience of organized labor advocacy hasn't been so fantastic. His criticism of labor unions points up the difficulties that workers meet when they try to gain power against the incredibly organized and powerful companies. When the workers organize themselves, the same type of hierarchy and corruption takes over the show.
Dakin said, "They say we got a right to strike in this country, and then they make laws against picketin'. All it amounts to is that we got a right to quit." (64)
Dakin expresses the frustrations of the workers over conflicting federal and local laws. It means that the workers have the right to protest but not the means to do so—which leads to a totally hopeless situation. In this case, the workers really have only one option: to break the law. While Steinbeck refers to Thoreau's concept of passive resistance or civil disobedience, the strikers feel that passivity and peaceful protest aren't really options for them. They believe they have to lay it all on the line and risk the use of violence if they want to gain an advantage on the other side.
"You punks got something to learn yet. There's more to work than you ever knew. Like a bunch of horses—you want more hay! Whining around for more hay. Want all the hay there is! You make a good man sick, that's what you do, whining around." (77)
Dan has had enough of Jim and his radical, whippersnapper ways. He's discontented by lots of things, including what he sees as a "handout" mentality among the workers. Dan feels that the workers should be picking themselves up by their bootstraps and working harder to improve their lives under the current conditions—not striking to gain leverage against the companies and raise their wages. But Dan doesn't see the irony of his situation. At over seventy years of age, he's still climbing into trees to stay one step ahead of total financial ruin.
On the outskirts of the mob the men began to shout, "Look at the ladder! That's what they make us work on!" The growl of the men, and the growl of their anger arose. Their eyes were fierce. In a moment their vague unrest and anger centered and focused. (78)
The workers have been bubbling with discontent all day, and Dan's accident is just the catalyst they need to send them headlong into strike mode. The broken ladder gives them perfect fodder to spell out everything that is wrong with the current employment model: the company does not care about its workers' needs or well-being.
Mac later says (more than once) that the mob needs blood to focus its anger and turn it into action. Dan's accident proves the truth of this statement: it exposes a scary level of discontent among the workers.
An apathy had fallen on the men. They sat staring in front of them. They seemed not to have the energy to talk, and among them the bedraggled, discontented women sat. They were listless and stale. They gnawed thoughtfully at their meat, and when it was finished, wiped their hands on their clothes. The air was full of their apathy, and full of their discontent. (137)
No matter what experience Mac has had with mobs of workers, he can't quite seem to figure this particular group out. They're manic in their moods, shooting into violent ecstasy at the slightest provocation and then plunging into despair at the drop of a hat. He's finding it hard to stabilize his own emotions with such a crew, especially when he honestly feels that they could be victorious if they could keep their eyes on the prize rather than focus on their own personal misery.
"I was in the army in the war. Just out of school. They'd bring in one of our men with his chest shot away, and they'd bring in a big-eyed German with his legs splintered off. I worked on 'em just as though they were wood. But sometimes, after it was all over, when I wasn't working, it made me unhappy, like this. It made me lonely." (198)
Doc is having an extra hard time coping with this particular bunch of workers. Though he claims to participate in these shindigs to observe firsthand and try to get the big picture, it also seems that he's looking at the workers to figure out where he belongs. He's not one of them, but he also seems not to belong in his own life. This leaves Doc dispirited, unable to see any purpose to the actions of the workers or to his own continued efforts to keep them together physically.
"London ain't done nothing. Just walks around lookin' big. Know what a guy told me? London's got cases an' cases of can' goods in his tent—ever'thing. Corn-beef, an' sardines, an' can' peaches. He won't eat what us poor stiffs got to eat, not him. He's too God damn good." (235)
When a worker in the camp sounds off to Jim (in the toilets, no less), he's just about ready to take the guy's head off. He knows that London is a good person, even if his leadership skills have been a little bit subdued. So while the worker has the perfect motivation to pin his unhappiness on London, it's also incredibly irritating to Jim to hear such an ignorant opinion of his friend. It's a no-win situation, dividing the camp in its loyalties. It's exactly what the Growers want—to sow discontent so that the workers unleash their angry energy on each other rather than on them.
"Word came in she was dying. They let me go home with a cop. There wasn't anything the matter with her. She wouldn't talk at all. She was a Catholic, only my old man wouldn't let her go to church. He hated churches. She just stared at me. I asked her if she wanted a priest, but she didn't answer me, just stared. 'Bout four o' clock in the morning she died. Didn't seem like dying at all. [...] I guess she just didn't want to live. I guess she didn't care if she went to hell, either." (7)
Jim recalls his mother's incredibly sad death in response to Harry Nilson's questions about his family. It's a little more than the Party worker was looking for, but it does tell us a lot about Jim's home situation and the origin of his desire to have purpose in his life. Jim's mother lost her reason for living and gave in to the despair that pressed in on her from many sides. Jim will repeat the story of his mother's death several times throughout the book, citing it as the motivating factor for his work with the Party.
"You look half drunk, Jim. What's the matter with you?"
"I don't know. I feel dead. Everything in the past is gone. I checked out of my rooming house before I came here. I still had a week paid for. I don't want to go back to any of it again. I want to be finished with it." (8)
Nilson can't put his finger on what's wrong with Jim when he first meets him. That's because he knows so little of Jim's miserable backstory. At this point, Jim is so far down, he doesn't know if he can ever rally again, but it quickly becomes evident that his desire to join the Party is his very last hope for survival. His inclusion in this group gives him a purpose and the sense that his life has some value—even if its primary value lies in his willingness to give it up for the cause.
"Did you ever work at a job where, when you got enough skill to get a raise in pay, you were fired and a new man put in? Did you ever work in a place where they talked about loyalty to the firm, and loyalty meant spying on the people around you? Hell, I've got nothing to lose." (10)
Jim has just described the most common misery of the working person in a nutshell. His experience of life has taught him that he cannot win—there's no beating the system as it stands. If he has any hope of clawing his way out of his deadness, it lies in the opportunity to use his skills to change the big picture for the worker, to even out the imbalance of power.
"All the time at home we were fighting, fighting something—hunger mostly. My old man was fighting the bosses. I was fighting at school. But we always lost. And after a long time I guess it got to be part of our mind-stuff that we always would lose. My old man was fighting just like a cat in a corner with a pack of dogs around. Sooner or later a dog was sure to kill him; but he fought anyway. Can you see the hopelessness in that? I grew up in that hopelessness." (19)
Jim's life has been no picnic: there's been poverty, violence, drunkenness, depression—and the loss of his young sister. It's no wonder that he's lost his will to continue in that loop of misery. Jim can't find a way out within himself, but he does find it in the idea of community. He will later understand that defeat isn't so bad if you're not on your own. If he can share losses with his fellows, it makes it possible to hope for something better on the next go around.
Mac said, "Listen, London, even if we lose we can maybe kick up enough hell so they won't go cuttin' the cotton wages. It'll do that much good even if we lose." (65)
Mac articulates here the value of defeat: much has been learned on both sides of the table. He focuses here on what the employers in the Southern markets will learn: that they won't have such an easy time abusing the workers now that they've had the experience of organizing and striking. This show of strength trumps a local defeat any day, so Mac can feel a little satisfaction even if the strike dissolves.
"If we don't win, we got to start all over again. It's too bad. We could win so easy, if the guys would only stick together. We could just kick Billy Hell out of the owners. No guns, no money. We got to do it with our hands and our teeth." (95)
Even though Mac has said that defeat won't be so bad—since the workers at least have learned to organize—he's fond of the work he's done so far and doesn't want to give it up for lost. It's a personal feeling, something that he doesn't often allow in his line of work. It's also a feeling of frustration, since he knows how powerful the workers can be when they suck up their personal discomforts and keep the larger picture in focus. And even though they're down, Mac has a high level of optimism about what can be done if only the workers had the will to do it. Which, of course, they don't.
"... No, I don't think we have a chance to win it. This valley's organized. They'll start shooting, and they'll get away with it. We haven't a chance. I figure these guys here'll probably start deserting as soon as much trouble starts. But you don't want to worry about that, Jim. The thing will carry on and on. It'll spread, and some day—it'll work. Some day we'll win. We've got to believe that." (121)
While Mac waffles about their chances of success, he's beginning to see the reality of the situation. But he knows that both he and Jim will have to move on to another lost cause pretty soon; they can't get personally attached to a local fight like this. The most important thing is to recognize that local defeat does not mean the end of the larger movement: workers will continue to struggle all over the country, and the balance of probability dictates that something good will come out of it at some point. It's a vague hope, but it's really all they've got.
"It seems to me that mankind 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." (199)
Doc philosophizes to Jim, who really doesn't have much use or patience for Doc's "high falutin'" ideas. But Doc brings up an important point, something that Mac articulates in a slightly different way throughout the work: man is his own worst enemy. He neither knows where he comes from nor what his purpose in the world might be, or even how to get along with others in society. This is the ultimate test for mankind and the biggest obstacle for workers and Growers alike: to admit that the "other" really is just one of us. And, to quote Bono, it's hugely important for us to realize that "there is no them."
"I'm scared they've got us now," Mac said. "They took the heart out of the guys before they could get going." He lay down on the mattress. "What they need is blood," he muttered. "A mob's got to kill something." (244)
Mac's chilling solution to a depressing observation tells us that the movement has hit rock bottom. If we take the body count at this point—Joy (dead); Dan, Jim, Burke, several workers, the Andersons, and possibly Doc (all injured); and some of the Growers (some killed, some injured)—a lot of blood has already been spilled, to no avail. The workers came to the fight without much fight in them, starting from a place far below their opponents. It seems that no amount of blood can rile them enough to make significant headway toward their goal.
"You think we're too important, and this little bang-up is too important. If the thing blew up right now it'd be worth it. A lot of the guys've been believing this crap about the noble American working-man, an' the partnership of capital and labor. A lot of 'em are straight now. They know how much capital thinks of 'em, and how quick capital would poison 'em like a bunch of ants. An' by Christ, we showed 'em two things—what they are and what they've got to do." (252)
Once again, Mac tries to make the best out of a really bad situation. It's clear that the strike probably won't make it another day, and Jim feels out of sorts about it. But Mac tells him that's just ego getting in the way. Sometimes defeat teaches more than victory. But we have to wonder: does Mac really believe this, based on his experiences, or is this just another of his well-rehearsed speeches meant to rouse others to get up and fight another day? We may never know.
"In the jail there were some Party men. They talked to me. Everything's been a mess, all my life. Their lives weren't messes. They were working toward something. I want to work toward something. I feel dead. I thought I might get alive again." (8)
Jim explains to Harry Nilson why he wants to join the Party. For Jim, it's less about politics than it is about finding a purpose for his life. He tells us later that he'd grown up in hopelessness—always knowing that he and his family were going to lose. Belonging to the group gives Jim the opportunity to throw his shoulder to the wheel with a bunch of other guys working toward the same goal. In a sense, it also relieves Jim of the painful task of creating a personal identity for himself. As a group-man (as Doc Burton calls them), he can take on the stance of the Party and stop at that.
"It seemed a good thing to be doing. It seemed to have some meaning. Nothing I ever did before had any meaning. It was all just a mess." (20)
Jim responds to his first assignment for the Party: typing letters for Mac. It's a small task, but it gets Jim outside of himself and of his own memories of a miserable past. The work gives him purpose and finally makes living worthwhile. While typing seems like a menial task—and a short one at that—it's incredibly therapeutic for a young man who has suffered trauma after trauma. The act of typing also helps Jim feel like part of something bigger than himself, and that moves him out of his lonely, individual identity.
"Mac, I don't know why I didn't come into the country oftener. It's funny how you want to do a thing and never do it." (30)
Jim has spoken earlier of feeling "dead" or "asleep" until he joined the Party and went to work. As he and Mac ride into the countryside, Jim begins to remember parts of his life when he felt pleasure but never pursued it. In this instance, he remembers making a trip into the countryside with a boys' group and making a failed resolution to get out of the city as often as he could. Jim's awakening reminds him how often people gets the chance to define themselves and their own lives but often lose the opportunity when the complications of life take over.
Dakin's stiff lips parted, showing even, white false teeth. He said, "If I owned three thousand acres of apples, d' you know what I'd do? I'd get behind a bush an' when you went by, I'd blow your god damn head off. I'd save lots of trouble. But I don't own nothing but a light truck and some camp stuff." (66)
Dakin points out the fluidity of any identity, depending on your line of perception. For the workers, Mac is a clever organizer, someone finally looking out for their best interests. But for the landowners, he's a nightmare, a real fly in the ointment of profit and progress. Since Dakin straddles these two identities, he doesn't really know what to think of Mac. While he knows he ought to side with the workers, Dakin has stuff and would like to own more. He can see both sides of the disagreement, and it makes him uneasy with Mac's call to war.
Jim said, "Do you like dogs, Mac?"
Mac retorted irritably, "I like anything." (86)
This telling little exchange highlights Mac's philosophy about work and life: use whatever material you've got. As they approach Anderson to ask for the use of his land, Mac has to figure out the best way to talk to the old man. His interest in the pointers has nothing to do with his love for cute, fluffy animals: it's all fodder for manipulation. If Mac can turn himself into a dog person by the time they encounter Anderson, he'll have a way into friendly conversation—and that's the way to get what he wants. Steinbeck spends a lot of time developing the concept of variable or non-existent personal identity in this work, but this is probably the clearest example of such "shape-shifting" that we get.
"Mac," Burton said wearily. "You're a mystery to me. You imitate any speech you're taking part in. When you're with London and Dakin you talk the way they do. You're an actor."
"No," said Mac. "I'm not an actor at all. Speech has a kind of feel about it. I get the feel, and it comes out, perfectly naturally. I don't try to do it." (111)
Doc Burton suspects that Mac is playacting with the men to get on their good side. Mac denies this and claims that his ability to slip into the local parlance has more to do with natural talent and maybe even sympathy with the workers. But we have to face facts. Mac has already shown us that he's willing and able to adjust his personality and behavior to make the most of any situation (like playing midwife, pretending to like dogs, pretending to be a humble fruit-picker).
"You're a mystery to me, too, Doc."
"Me? A mystery?"
"Yes, you. You're not a Party man, but you work with us all the time; you never get anything for it. I don't know whether you believe in what we're doing or not, you never say, you just work. I've been out with you before, and I'm not sure you believe in the cause at all." (112)
Doc has just observed what a mystery Mac was to him, and now Mac returns the compliment. To be fair, Mac has a good point: why would a non-Party member risk his reputation and paycheck to take care of a bunch of dirty workers? Doc tells Mac that his interest is purely scientific. He wants to be in on the action so that he can get the "bigger picture"—he wants to determine the truth of the situation. It's also in Doc's nature to help people who are in need, regardless of the banner they march under.
"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. I want to watch the group, and see what it's like. People have said, 'mobs are crazy, you can't tell what they'll do.' Why don't people look at mobs not as men, but as mobs? A mob nearly always seems to act reasonably, for a mob." (113-114)
Doc expounds on his idea that men in a mob are not the same as individual men. He uses a biological example (of course) to explain himself to Jim. He understands, as most people on the outside of a group do not, that mobs act with purpose. While the individual men in them lose their identity and personal will, the larger organism substitutes a group purpose and method to get things done. Doc believes that it is possible to understand the motives and actions of a mob, rather than simply dismissing them as a violent, unwashed bunch of people.
"The other side is made of men, Jim, men like you. Man hates himself. Psychologists say a man's self-love is balanced neatly with self-hate. Mankind must be the same. We fight ourselves and we can only win by killing every man. I'm lonely, Jim. I have nothing to hate." (199)
Doc tries to convince Jim that the other side—the landowners and their minions—are just people like the workers, on the most basic level. If Jim and Mac can hate them to the point of violence, it means that they are willing to hate themselves, and ultimately destroy themselves. Doc doesn't approve of the use of violent means to achieve the goals of the workers, and it throws him into despair at the state of things. And because Doc can't align himself with either Party politics or rampant capitalism, he finds himself in a very lonely position. There is little room in this narrative for such "high-falutin' ideas," so it's no surprise that Doc himself just... goes away.
"Mac—like I said, you always hear about reds is a bunch of sons-of-bitches. I guess that ain't true, is it, Mac?"
Mac Chuckled softly. "Depends on how you look at it. If you was to own thirty thousand acres of land and a million dollars, they'd be a bunch of sons-of-bitches. But if you're just London, a workin' stiff, why they're a bunch of guys that want to help you live like a man, and not like a pig, see?" (221-222)
Mac points out something that Dakin alluded to earlier: a person's identity is never absolute. It depends largely on whose side you're on or what your self-interest dictates. Mac uses this relativity to his advantage when he has to confess to London that he and Jim are, in fact, "reds." He makes sure to tell London what his position about communists should be, since he is a working man. Does Mac believe what he's saying? Or is this just another one of his tactics to win support? We'll probably never know for sure, since he's such a "shape-shifter." But Steinbeck surely does seem to believe in the relative nature of man's identity, since he's made similar statements through other characters, like Dakin and Doc.