Study Guide

In Dubious Battle Chapter 2

By John Steinbeck

Chapter 2

  • Jim stays in Harry Nilson's office until Nilson is able to put him to work. (Remember that Jim has left his boarding house room and has nowhere to live.)
  • Nilson learns about the fate of Jim's unfortunate older sister, May, who disappeared one day when she was fourteen and was never found.
  • Jim tells Nilson that the loss of May changed his father forever, making him an angry man. That started his father's fighting and run-ins with the law.
  • Nilson brings Jim down to the workers' house and introduces him to Mac, who appears to be the leader of the men there.
  • Mac puts Jim to work as a typist. There are two other men in the house: Dick, a handsome young man who charms women into contributing to the cause, and punch-drunk old Joy.
  • Jim soon realizes that Joy is an angry old man, full of fighting words that he thinks will help the workers' cause. But Joy has been beaten so badly that he's on the verge of madness.
  • After dinner, Jim and Mac walk out to mail the letters Jim had been typing. They have to drop them in mailboxes all over town so that they won't arouse suspicion and have them opened.
  • Jim tells Mac that he joined the Party because he had grown up in an atmosphere of defeat and despair.
  • Jim wants something other than hopelessness, and he feels that joining with workers is the way to get his will to live back. The guys in jail who belonged to the Party seemed to have that hope.
  • Since Jim is so efficient with a typewriter, Mac wants him to get involved on the production side of things, learning office work. But Jim wants to get his hands dirty in the fields.
  • Mac wants to cure Jim of his romantic illusions: the field (places where they will agitate the workers to strike) is a dangerous place. And the work is backbreaking.
  • Mac tells Jim about the time when his mother's house was firebombed because he'd had the nerve to make a speech about how the workers were starving.
  • But Jim is fresh-faced and eager, and he won't go back on his wish to go into the field. Mac promises to help him, as long as he hones his office skills, too.

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