As Steinbeck sees it, everyone is motivated by self-interest, including those whose agendas seem benign and even helpful. This inherent selfishness breeds the greed and inhumanity that Steinbeck is so keen to expose in In Dubious Battle.
And, boy, does he sock it to us. From the grinding poverty of the "fruit tramps" to the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of so few (remember the 1%?), Steinbeck portrays a brutal world of unequal distribution and deep-rooted corruption.
This America is also a place where violence masquerades as patriotism (we're talking vigilante groups), and dissent is seen as deeply disloyal to the American dream. Mac knows firsthand how elusive that dream is for the many people on whose backs that 1% gets its wealth—and the rest of the country fills that 1%'s belly.
But it isn't just the greed of corporations that feature in this work. Steinbeck also shows us how ideology—in this case, communism—preys on the discontent or the oppressed. We sympathize with Mac and Jim because their lives have been difficult, and because these guys seem to want to help the workers. But the hard truth is that they have no problem manipulating the workers for their own ends.
It's an unbearable world to participate in, even for 270-ish pages. But then again, that is totally Steinbeck's point in revealing this part of American life.
Questions About Injustice
- Why does Mac object to Dakin in the end? Why does he think Dakin was ultimately a bad choice to lead the men during the strike?
- What are some of the challenges that the workers face in their efforts to strike for better wages? What makes it difficult for them to make their struggle public and successful?
- What is the Growers' Association and why is it so powerful?
- How do the three largest landowners (Hunter, Gillray, Martin) generally keep the workers "in line"? What powers, other than vast wealth, do they have in Torgas Valley?
Chew on This
Mac sees societal injustice as both a positive and negative force in the workers' lives.
Bolter genuinely believes that there are no differences between his life experiences and those of the impoverished workers.