This story opens with the main character named Jim Nolan leaving behind his former life and going to meet Harry Nilson, a leader of the "Party." Jim had a father killed in a riot, a mother who died, and a sister that was missing. He wants to join the "Party" because he wants to do something that will give his life meaning. He is accepted, and is introduced to other members of the party. The next day, Jim accompanies Mac McLeod to Torgas Valley to help workers organize a strike against the orchard owners in the valley. They meet a restaurant car owner named Al, who gives them food for free. Jim and Mac get off the train and meet a group of people. They help a woman named Lisa who is in labor deliver a baby. This event is important in the story, because this leads to the trust that Jim and Mac receive from all the other workers. They also meet London, the father-in-law of Lisa, who they will trust to lead the strike that they start. The workers already have a low mood, and when an old apple-picker falls out of a tree, the workers no longer wish to work in concern of their health. The workers start to strike, and assemble on the land of Al?s father, in exchange for picking his crop for free. London is charismatic, and takes the ideas from Mac to lead the strike. What will be the fate of the strikers, and what will Jim accomplish with his newly acquired skills?
Jim Nolan is a character who has always been angry at some type of institution throughout his life, which causes him to join the "Party." He is young, and goes from being an apprentice to a leader. He is keen and brave, which emanate from his innate leadership ability.
Mac McLeod is a seasoned veteran of the "red" work, as he knows more about fieldwork than anyone else does. He is an older character, who has broad shoulders, long arms, and dried and cracked lips. He uses his experience to lead and organize the men that he works with.
Joy is an enforcer who contributes to the "Party" by sacrificing his body in taking chronic beatings. He is a short man with a disfigured face. He is typified by some as not too bright and insane by others; he is very pugnacious, as he is willing to fight anyone.
London is a working stiff who is able to command and gain the respect of men through his stature and charisma. He is an older man with intimidating size. He has a very big temper and is stubborn in a way.
Leadership is a prevailing force in life, because one?s ability to guide and direct a group determines the outcome of that group?s actions. Those who lead the strikers in the novel In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck manifest the idea that some leaders use violence and the thirst for revenge to augment the spirit of their group. Violence is one tool of which the leaders of the strikers use to give vitality to their group. The leaders feel that the intense nature of violence is what provokes the group most out of the aspects of violence. Mac comments, "Some things I do know, though. A smell of blood seems to steam ?em up. Let ?em kill somethin?, even a cat, an? they?ll want to go right on killin?. If there?s a fight, an? our guys get first blood, they?ll put up a hell of a battle." The leaders feel the intensity as London, Mac and Jim discuss, "I cold-cocked Burke? I seen you pointin?, an? I know what to do with ?em. A little blood set the guys off." (p. 331) The violence exacted by London brings the strikers to the level at which they are willing to go into battle. Because violence is such an effective device, leaders like Mac look at moments of violence as desirable opportunities. Some leaders also use the desire for revenge to gain exuberance from their group. This desire for revenge stems from the desire to look out for those who are victims of power. Mac explains, "For every man they kill ten new ones come over to us." (p. 333) The unity for which the desire for revenge provides makes it a desirable tool to put life into a group. Mac explains that it is necessary that they use the corpse of Joy, for it can create a sense of sympathy in the strikers, and with the sympathy comes a call for revenge, which will bring the men together. He says, "We?ve got to take [Joy?s corpse], I tell you. We?ve got to use him to step our guys up, to keep ?em together. This?ll stick ?em together, this?ll make ?em fight." (p. 168) The unity that the desire for revenge, as well as the intensity brought on by violence both work toward putting life back into group, for one unites the men and the other gives them a cause.
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Each person?s endeavors are toward captivating their ideals. In order to have an ideal, there must also be motives. The characters Jim and Mac in the novel In Dubious Battle exemplify that people are motivated by different reasons to fight for a cause. Jim fights for his cause to satisfy a desire to give meaning to his life. Everyday work makes Jim feel as though he is dead, for it has no importance to him. He explains, "I want to work toward something. I feel dead, I thought I might get alive again." He feels that there is no substance to everyday work, and that the only type of work that can satisfy his needs is "Party" work. He explains, "I liked doing [the "Party" work]? It seemed to have some meaning. Nothing I ever did before had any meaning. It was all just a mess. I don?t think I resented the fact that someone profited from the mess, but I did hate working in the rat-cage." Jim fights for his cause because he feels that in doing so he is given vitality. To him, fighting for his cause gives his life meaning. The character Mac fights for his cause to convert other people toward his beliefs. Mac believes that by fighting for his cause and pushing it along, he gets people to start seeing things with his perspective. He feels that the results of his work changes the minds of people as he explains; "Our job?s just to push along our little baby strike, if we can? if we could get the National Guard called out, now with the crops coming ready, we?d have the whole district organized by spring." Mac does not fight his cause for a tangible victory, but for an intangible one. He feels that even if he does not succeed in winning a strike, the change in thought that he brings to the men will be more than enough for him, as the tangible victory will follow. He explains, "The thing will carry on and on. It?ll spread, and some day?it?ll work.. Some day we?ll win. We?ve got to believe that." Mac fights for his cause in order to spread his ideas to other people, whereas Jim fights his cause in order to alleviate his urge to do something meaningful in his life. Both of these characters have motives for fighting their causes, which are very different from each other, but both of these motives cause them to strive for their personal ideals.
Every story manifests some type of idea to think about. This book provides an illustration of how a group of people or movement has greater importance than any individual. This book also provides a perspective of the mechanics of a strike and the type of people that it involves. Because this book provides these perspectives, I believe that it is worth reading. The parts of the book that involved great intensity were the best parts, for those were the periods in which the perspectives were illustrated best. The most intense parts of the book included the strikers? raid on the replacement workers, for it illustrated the roles of the different groups involved, such as the police, the vigilantes, the strikers and the scabs. Another intense portion of the book was that of the strikers? raid on the apple orchard in which they attacked their replacements, for it showed the type of brutality that the strikers could carry out to send their message. The scene where Mac tortures a young boy who was caught around Anderson?s barn when it was set on fire is also a very intense scene. The aspect of the book that I did not care for was that of their being no explanation of what happened after the strike was resolved. It would have been interesting to learn about the type of effect that the strike had on the people, as well as what type of change occurred among them. Because of the interesting perspectives that this book provides, I would recommend that others read it. I would especially recommend this book to those who do not fully understand the power of the group and how it can be manipulated by its leaders, because the book goes into great detail of how this is accomplished. I would give this book a four star rating ****.