Study Guide

In Dubious Battle Chapter 8

By John Steinbeck

Chapter 8

  • The men do agree on the need for squads and leaders among the workers to keep order on the Anderson farm. They make the move, escorted by a whole lot of deputies.
  • The men get to the farm unscathed and manage to pick Anderson's entire crop of apples by the end of the day.
  • Dick also has success and sends provisions to the new camp. Tents go up and the workers make a little city out of the five-acre field.
  • Armed deputy sheriffs line the road in front of the camp and wait for any of the workers to make a bad move.
  • London and Mac meet with Dakin and another leader, Burke, in Dakin's spiffy tent. They discuss their progress and the need for security.
  • Mac reminds the men that the hard work is ahead, since the scabs—replacement workers—arrive in the morning. They plan to sneak off the farm in the morning to meet their train.
  • The strikers will try to bring the scabs over to the cause—or beat the snot out of them so they can't work the orchards.
  • But the sneak attack will only work if the strikers can keep their plans on the down low. Mac is concerned that there might be an informant among the workers.
  • Mac tells Dakin and London to be careful with information. They won't tell the workers about the plans for the morning until right before they leave.
  • We also learn that not only did the workers get all of Anderson's crop in quickly, but they're also poaching some apples for him from the nearby orchards.
  • Outside the tent, there's a ruckus. The cops say that some of the workers threw rocks at them. While Mac really does want them to start shooting (it's good for public opinion), he can't have that right now.
  • London gives his men a tongue-lashing and sends them packing. Mac notes that everyone, including the armed deputies, is scared.
  • Jim and Mac head into the camp to find Doc Burton. Doc tells Mac that he can't figure him out: Mac seems like a shape-shifter of sorts, changing his speech to match that of his audience.
  • Mac tells Jim that he's not playing a part or lying: he just catches the local speech naturally. Plus, it's good for business. If you can talk like the locals, they'll trust you more.
  • On the other side, Mac says he doesn't understand Doc. Doc isn't a Party member, yet he still helps them at his own expense.
  • Doc tells Mac that he believes that the Communist Party exists and all that, but he doesn't want to label it as "good" or "bad"—he wants to observe so that he can have a more accurate picture. Mac tries to convince him that the action of the Party is about social injustice and how to correct it.
  • But Doc says there is physiological injustice in the world, too, in the form of disease. Communism isn't going to fix that. Mac calls him on this. Men cause social problems; not germs.
  • Doc doesn't think there's much difference. But he's interested in the "group-man." Just like a group of cells that attack an infection, group-men (i.e., mobs, pickets) try to attack a problem.
  • He believes that men in a group are not like a man by himself: they're like cells in an organism. Doc is interested in this and wants to observe the mob. That's why he helps. He's particularly interested in Communism because the group-men gather under a "standard" of ideology. And yet, they don't really care about Communism or any cause or anyone connected with it. At least, that is his theory.
  • Mac gets pretty annoyed by Doc's ideas. He feels that he is a stand-out man—not part of the unthinking group at all, because he directs things.
  • But Doc is unimpressed. He calls Mac a cell with a special function (i.e. an eye cell) that can both give and take orders. But he's a cell all the same.
  • Doc isn't convinced that this is the way things are with group-man, but he feels that the idea must be explored. Mac can't stand this theoretical way of speaking about hungry men.
  • Mac's utterly practical. He wants to get things done. Doc realizes that there's no point in speaking theoretically to a practical man, but he does note that practical men get in a lot of trouble.
  • Mac says they don't have time for "high-falutin' ideas"—and Doc says that failure to consider things on a higher level destroys their chances of success.
  • Mac basically tells Doc to shut up. After they leave Doc at his tent, Mac tells Jim to disregard what Doc had said. Jim tells him that he wasn't listening, anyway.
  • Mac explains that the cops outside the camp have been trucked in just to manage them: they're temporary workers with a newly pinned badge.
  • Mac wants to see if he can win the cops over. But this is a mistake. As soon as they step into the road, the cops recognize them. They pull their guns and march Jim and Mac along the road.
  • Things look bleak for the boys. The cops already know about their plan to sneak out in the morning and harass the scabs.
  • The cops tell Mac and Jim that they're taking them to the "Vigilance Committee" for schooling. That means a beating—or perhaps a lynching.
  • But Jim decides on action. He trips up his captor and yells for Mac to get away. After some dramatic shuffling, Mac and Jim escape and make their way back to the camp.
  • Mac and Jim meet Dakin, and Mac tells Dakin that someone has already snitched on them—but they can't figure out who.
  • Dakin thinks that Mac and Jim are nothing but trouble at this point and wants to know what they are getting out of the whole deal. Mac says they're getting nada. Dakin doesn't trust this.
  • Mac tells Dakin that he'll just have to trust them if they want help—or put it to a vote. This seems to work on Dakin and they move on to the problem of their broken plans.
  • Mac says they should just march out in the open to the train station to meet the scabs and take their chances.
  • When they leave Dakin, Jim asks Mac if he had been frightened when the guns were stuck in their backs. Mac surely was: vigilantes are bad bad people to run into.
  • Mac also tells Jim that they really have no chance of winning the strike. The Valley is organized too well against the workers. But it's a beginning, and the idea will spread.
  • Jim says that Harry Nilson had been right at the beginning of the whole thing. He'd said that everybody would hate them.
  • Mac agrees and says that that it is the hardest part of the job. He goes one step further and says that their own side would kill them if they won. And he leaves it at that.

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