Study Guide

In Dubious Battle Sacrifice

By John Steinbeck

Sacrifice

Let's be real: In Dubious Battle's Mac and Jim have a pretty messed-up take on the misery suffered by Joy, old Dan, and the Andersons: it's a shame and all, but someone has to do it. Tough, tough, Cocoa Puff.

There's a reason for that attitude, of course: these Party men have zero left to lose in life. Jim makes no bones about the fact that he's hit rock bottom, and he doesn't flinch at the idea of dying for the cause.

But these dudes also don't recognize that most people around them—including the poor workers in the camp—do have a whole lot to lose. Dakin is almost comfortable with his life; Anderson has his farm, his dogs, and his son; even Lisa and Joey look forward to a better future for their baby.

Yet there is something to the idea that to make a "universal gain," the individual must sometimes sacrifice something very precious. Whether that something is a shiny new truck, a few hot meals, the hope of personal prosperity—or even a life—a true battle seems to demand a blood offering.

Unfortunately for Jim and Mac, victory for the many sometimes even requires people to give up some basic things—like their humanity.

Questions About Sacrifice

  1. Why is Jim so unsympathetic to Anderson's losses?
  2. Why is Mac so unfazed by the death of his old friend, Joy?
  3. How does Mac convince the workers to strike? What makes them willing to give up their wages to try for something better?
  4. Why is Doc Burton willing to risk his medical practice and his life to help Mac and Jim?

Chew on This

In Mac and Jim's world, the willingness to give up something for the cause in itself means nothing. The only thing that matters is that a sacrifice can be used as propaganda for their side.

Mac and Jim are able to think coldly about their own probable violent deaths because they know that ultimately, there's no place for them in American society as it is.

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