Study Guide

In Dubious Battle Chapter 6

By John Steinbeck

Chapter 6

  • Hostility brews between the pickers and management. A young picker, Sam, drops some attitude on a "checker" who refuses to give him credit for a bucket of apples that might be bruised.
  • The checker tells Jim that the men are restless, and he expects that they will organize for a strike. He tells Jim that there's a better job for him (and a little extra money on the side) if he schmoozes the pickers and finds out what's going on. Basically, he wants Jim to be an informant.
  • Jim says he'll think about it and goes off to find Sam. Sam is an eager lad—he can't wait to brain the checker with a rock when the strikes start.
  • Jim tries to feel Sam out and find out what the men are thinking. Sam won't say anything specific, but he does tell Jim that the men are restless about the crummy pay and conditions.
  • Jim returns to the checker and tells him that he hasn't got any information, but that he'll keep his ear to the ground for him.
  • When he gets back to the apple trees, Jim finds that the other men are talking about the potential strike. They debate the usual stuff: is it better to make a little rather than nothing?
  • They repeat Jim's argument from the night before (i.e., that the pickers will suffer even more in the cotton fields if they don't strike). Apparently, good arguments travel fast.
  • One of the men Jim speaks with is not crazy about the idea of a strike. He knows people will get hurt, and he has no faith that it will help their wages.
  • Jim seeks out Mac at lunch break, and both men observe that the workers are agitated and gathering in groups to discuss the possibility of a strike.
  • Jim tells Mac about the bribe offered by the checker and asks what to do about it. Mac thinks it would be great if Jim could work both sides of the fence and get a little extra money.
  • Soon, they are approached by a stranger made up to look like a worker. This guy claims that the "committee" has sent him down to get a report on how things are progressing.
  • The stranger tries to set Mac and Jim at ease by calling them "comrades." Mac's antennae immediately go up.
  • Mac tells the guy to take a walk, but the stranger tells them that he's keeping an eye on them. Mac explains to Jim that the stranger is part of the growers' security detail.
  • Now Mac and Jim have a little problem: they've been identified as agitators and will have to be careful not to get beaten to death.
  • Mac warns Jim to be careful who he talks to, since the workers would be likely to accept bribes. Mac tells Jim not to be a hero: if he's in danger, he has to agree to anything.
  • Mac has been working things from his end, contacting Dick for materials. But Jim is restless and wants to take a more active role. Mac promises to use him till there's nothing left.
  • Mac plans to talk to Al, the lunch wagon guy, about using his dad's farm to house the striking workers. Once they walk off the job, they won't be allowed to stay on orchard property.
  • Mac also has to get in touch with Doc Burton, a local doctor who will be able to take care of sanitation issues so that the workers won't get thrown out of their new location.
  • Jim observes that the workers are jumpy and beginning to argue and fight. Mac tells him that he'll have to keep calm, even though he's eager for things to start.
  • Back in the orchard, Jim tells the checker that he thinks the agitation among the workers will blow over. He also tells him that they're mad about some bad food purchased at the company store that made a worker sick—not about the wage cut.
  • But the checker won't give Jim the five-dollar bribe he promised him. Not until tomorrow at least. Sure.
  • Back in the trees, Jim runs into old Dan again. He's still grumpy, and now he's not so gung-ho about the work. He's cold and tired.
  • Jim tells Dan again that he belongs in a charity house, not out in the orchard. This time, Dan doesn't fight with him, especially since he's heard about the strike and isn't too keen.
  • But in the end, Dan is still a hardcore worker and doesn't like Jim's insinuation that he shouldn't work anymore. He says that the strikers are a bunch of whiners who want too much.
  • As Dan tries to descend the ladder with an overfull bucket of apples, the ladder rungs break and send him sprawling on the ground.
  • Dan feels that his hip is broken. Jim tries to manage the crowd of workers that begins to gather around the hurt man.
  • The workers see the broken ladder and begin to fume about the working conditions. The checker appears at this very inopportune moment and barely escapes the hands of the angry workers.
  • The men carry Dan away on a stretcher, leaving groups of angry workers to follow. Mac sees the disturbance and meets up with Jim.
  • Mac tells Jim that the old man has become useful (at which Jim is a little appalled) since he's stirred up the men's anger even more.
  • Mac meets up with London and tells him that they have to move quickly to direct the men's anger. He tells London to call a meeting and get himself elected chairmen by the workers.
  • Mac coaches London on how to secure the vote and then sets out for town with Jim to negotiate with Al about his father's farm.
  • In town, Jim goes to fetch Mac's mail from the post office. There's a letter from Dick reporting that Joy has assaulted another officer and broken out of custody. His whereabouts are unknown.
  • Mac wires to Doc Burton and others for help. Then they head off to speak to Al.
  • Al is his usual, supportive self, but he's not on board with the guys using his dad's farm for the striking workers.
  • Mac uses a combo of friendly persuasion and hostility to convince Al to introduce them to his dad.
  • They all go down to Al's dad's farm to see if they can make a bargain with him. Mac notices that the old man keeps hunting dogs and flatters him by praising the animals.
  • Al's dad (called Anderson) sends him on back into town and then listens to what Mac has to say. He's not immediately impressed with Mac's proposal.
  • But Mac promises that his crop will get picked for free, and that without the other apples on the market from the strike, Anderson's apples will be worth more.
  • Also, Mac has figured out that the members of the Growers' Association (guys called Hunter, Gillray, and Martin) pretty much have the whole Valley locked down.
  • Andersen owes money on his house, and he owes it to these guys. Mac doesn't have to work too hard to convince Anderson that he's pretty much sunk, anyway. Why not stick it to the man?
  • Mac confesses that he is a "red" and a stranger, but that Anderson might as well trust him, since trusting the Growers' didn't work out so well.
  • It works. Mac gets consent to bring the striking workers to an empty five-acre field on Anderson's farm. And with that, Mac and Jim hit the road before Anderson can change his mind.
  • Jim is excited by Mac's success, but Mac warns him again not to go anywhere alone. He knows that the Growers have targeted them and that bad things will happen.
  • And sure enough, they are stopped along the road by a group of men who tell them they need to get out of Torgas Valley. Mac plays innocent and says they're just good taxpayers.
  • But the men aren't buying it. They tell Jim and Mac that they are a "citizens' committee"—vigilantes. And they have no problem killing the two of them if they don't leave.
  • Mac and Jim escape and make it back to the workers at the orchard.
  • Mac and Jim run into Sam, who tells them that London has been elected chairman. Sam gloats over his earlier predictions about the strike.
  • London tells Mac and Jim that Dakin's men are in on the strike, as well as those of a man called Burke, who works in the orchards owned by Gillray. Mac tells them about the use of Anderson's farm.
  • Mac and Jim find out that Dan has had his hip set and is being tended to by the woman in the camp.
  • London reports that they've told the "super" that they won't be back to work in the morning, and they've been given orders to clear out.
  • Mac warns London to tell the workers not to go out alone. He also spills his guts about his concerns for the strike. If the guys stick together, they can win. But if not, all is lost.
  • After the meeting with London, Jim and Mac crawl off to catch some sleep before the move to Anderson's farm in the morning.

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