Study Guide

In Dubious Battle Chapter 4

By John Steinbeck

Chapter 4

  • Jim and Mac have to catch a train, hobo-style, to make their way out to the Torgas Valley. They have a slightly hostile encounter with another man hitching a ride and Mac shows that he's really good at bluffing (he pretends to be a prize fighter).
  • Jim has never really spent any time in the country, and he's dazzled by its beauty. Mac observes that Jim has no vices, and Jim admits to it.
  • Jim's especially shy about women—because he doesn't want to get one pregnant and be imprisoned in a desperate and futile life.
  • Jim and Mac change trains to go east toward the orchards. When they get out at the right town, Mac pulls out a list of sympathizers. This is how they will find a free meal.
  • Jim and Mac wind up at an all-night "lunch wagon" run by Al, who is sympathetic to the cause. He feeds Mac and Jim and gives them information about the workers in the field.
  • We also learn that Al's father owns a little orchard and is eager to keep Mac and Jim from hurting their operations.
  • Mac promises not to hurt the little guys, and they set off for the fields.
  • On the way there, Mac and Jim encounter a police officer, who wonders if they are vagrants. Mac behaves politely and they move on.
  • Jim wonders how they are going to get comfy enough with the workers to begin agitating for change. Mac tells him they just have to show up and use what they find.
  • And what they find is that the leader of a bunch of workers, London, has a daughter-in-law in labor out in the fields. Mac steps up and says that he has medical training.
  • Mac orders the men to find materials to help with the birth—white cloth, lamps, boiled water—and mobilizes the whole group. He makes sure the environment is very clean.
  • London is kind of desperate, so he places his trust in Mac. And it works out: Mac is able to help the girl deliver her baby.
  • Afterward, Mac tells Jim to burn all the white cloths (which were really the boiled clothes of the men in the camp)—even the ones that weren't used.
  • When Jim questions him about it later, Mac explains that all the men who contributed clothing had to feel part of the birth—even if their clothes were not used. It's a bonding thing.
  • It also turns out that Mac had never worked in a hospital. He only knew that things had to be clean around a birthing mother and newborn child.
  • Jim is in awe. What if things hadn't gone well? Mac is not particularly worried about the life of the mother or child. He took the chance so that they could be heroes among the workers.
  • Now Mac and Jim have a natural "in" with the workers and will command their respect. Mac is very pleased at their progress.
  • Mac tells Jim that he did a good job assisting him, and that he'll make a good worker.

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