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Customer Review

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A simple but deeply intelligent novel, 10 Aug. 2008
This review is from: In Dubious Battle (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
In Dubious Battle is the story of Jim Nolan, a young man brought low by poverty and oppression during the 1930s. He joins the communist party and is quickly involved in an explosive fruit pickers' strike. We follow Jim's personal growth against the background of the escalating violence between the workers and orchard owners.

As often with Steinbeck, a simple, very plainly told story is used to explore a myriad of political and philosophical themes. To say the book is not quite the equal of Of Mice and Men or The Grapes of Wrath is hardly to criticise it at all. While it doesn't have the emotional involvement of the former or the poetical polemic of the latter, it is still a deeply satisfying and intelligent work.

In common with those other two novels of the depression, the author's sympathies are strongly with the downtrodden, but beyond that he explores rather than taking any particular position. As with the Grapes of Wrath, this is a political but not an an ideological novel. While the novel is seen from the perspective of the strikers and the radicals, their actions are presented factually with little or no comment. The agitators speak very little of any political theory; they are driven by a desire for change, but in particular Marxism seems to have very little place in their world. Equally aside from one incident, we hardly see the other side of the strike, and their actions are neither praised or criticised. The divide between capital and workers is seen as the cause of a problem, but without ideological solution.

Where the real quality of this book lies is in its exploration of ideas: the greatest good for the greatest number, as personified by Jim and his mentor Mac, vs individual humanity in the character of Doc, the morality of evil deeds done in the name of good, revolution and rebellion as a purely emotional, rather than thinking act, the enduring power of human sexualitythe nature of leadership, the list goes on.

In summary, a very highly recommended, deeply intelligent novel.
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