Study Guide

In Dubious Battle Community

By John Steinbeck

Community

If you've ever lived in an "organized" neighborhood (neighborhood association, anyone?), you know that the idea of community can be a slippery thing. On one hand, "community" can give you the warm fuzzies: you've got your herd or tribe to circle the wagons when necessary.

On the other hand, "community" can be another name for "mob" or any other thug organization. In In Dubious Battle, Steinbeck shows us both of these aspects of community.

While the workers try to come together in solidarity to resolve their problems, they also destroy themselves from within because they are suspicious and discouraged. The Growers are a great community… if you're into oppression and corruption. They're a small community, too, benefiting exactly three people and concentrating power into the hands of those who only have self-interest at heart.

Doc and Mac have their theories about community. For Doc, group psychology destroys the individual and can provoke some pretty scary stuff, even if the group itself achieves its goals. But Mac believes that organized men are greater than the sum of their parts, capable of overcoming anything on the path to justice. Steinbeck doesn't go easy on us: he makes the character and arguments of both men attractive and compelling.

Questions About Community

  1. What are the dangers of organizing the workers to strike? What are the benefits?
  2. What does Doc Burton say about the character of "group-man"?
  3. In what ways is Mac part of the group psychology that Doc Burton describes? In what ways does he stand out, if at all?
  4. How does Jim fit into the picture in this work? Is he meant to be hero-leader, standing out above the rest? Or is he meant to be something else?

Chew on This

The idea of community is fluid in Steinbeck's novel. Overlapping loyalties and responsibilities make it difficult for the characters to find a place to fit in.

As Doc Burton says, mobs are actually quite reasonable, considering what they are. Steinbeck's work shows that mob psychology is both a stable and predictable thing.

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