“Under the trees a dusk still held, and the earth was dark, as though the light had to be sucked in slowly. Now that they could see, the guards had given up their pacing. They stood in tired groups, hands in pockets, coats turned up and buttoned over their throats. And they talked in the soft monotone of men who only talk to stay awake.”
Apples won't wait to be picked. In Depression- era America, growers cared little about the workers who picked the apples and paid the workers less than they cared. Men were desperate for work, their families homeless and starving.
Shantytowns grew near orchards where men, women and children picked apples from dawn to dusk for pennies a day. The pay wasn't enough to cover the grocery bill at the company stores. When the orchards were stripped and the men again out of work, they owed more than they had earned.
“In Dubious Battle” is the story of these men, women and children struggling simultaneously for social justice and survival.
Migrant workers ally against avaricious landowners and an organized strike evolves into mob violence. The furious pace sweeps up an aimless man who emerges as a leader of the movement and is inevitably shattered by the struggle.
The book explores the underground communist movement seen by some at the time to be an antidote for a capitalist system that afforded limited rights to its labor force.
Steinbeck has written many books about the Depression and the struggles of migrant workers. “The Grapes of Wrath” follows the plight of an Oklahoma family as they drift to Calif. in search of work during the Dust Bowl. “Cannery Row” and “Of Mice and Men” describe the travails of workers on the Monterrey Peninsula.
“In Dubious Battle” takes the reader through violent times in the American labor movement when homeless men could expect to be arrested for vagrancy, workers were watched by armed guards and beatings were common.
Steinbeck's best work is in defending the oppressed, and “In Dubious Battle” is one of his best.