Steinbeck could easily be my favorite author. I’ve read Grapes of Wrath three times and have plans to read it again. My favorite short story of ALL TIME is written by him and called Johnny Bear (just google it and you can probably find a copy to read.)
JS is amazing. I can’t get over the way he captures human nature the way no other author has been able to do. He gets inside the brain of mankind and he doesn’t leave any of it out. He has a point, a message, but he rarely rants about one thing without giving “devil’s advocate” a say. How can we hate the man who’s plowing down our house? He has a family, too. Blame the bank, blame the system, the government… it’s all men, but it’s beyond men. Hate doesn’t exactly have a say when it comes to society treating some well and some poorly.
In Dubious Battle was once described to me as an intense, in-your-face, punch in the gut version of Grapes of Wrath. I’d have to say I completely agree. “Read it, Melinda, and you’ll love it,” I was told. And so I read it.
I don’t know as much as some, but I have reason to believe that the union isn’t what it once was. I’ve seen unions do things that aren’t helpful. My own husband works at Whole Foods, where there is no union, but they treat their employees SO WELL because of it. They don’t need a union. If I were to have ideals about the working man getting his due (which I DO!), I’d have to say that’s the Old Union. People with Shame On posters drive me up the wall.
In true John Steinbeck fashion, this book has paragraphs that I read over and over again. Not because I didn’t understand it, but because I wanted the words to soak up into me and become part of who I am. I want to remember the words. I want to repeat them, think of them, and learn more about myself in the process.
In Dubious Battle is about a man, Mac, who is a member of the Party (which party, however, is never specified), and becomes the [hidden] leader of a fruit picking strike. Jim joins Mac, and in doing so, becomes more like Mac than Mac, himself.
Before Jim joins the party:
Jim looked evenly at him. “Do you ever work at a job where, when you got enough skill to get a raise in pay, you were fired and a new man put in? Did you ever work in a place where they talked about loyalty to the firm, and loyalty meant spying on the people around you? Hell, I’ve got nothing to lose.”
“Nothing except hatred,” Harry said quietly. “You’re going to be surprised when you see that you stop hating people. I don’t know why it is, but that’s what usually happens.”
“…You can’t make a general rule of it, because sometimes it flops, but mostly a guy that tries to scare you is a guy that can be scared.”
“Do you know that ten men can lift nearly twelve times as big a load as one man can?”
“Jim, I wish I knew it. But in my little experience the end is never very different in its nature from the means. Damn it, Jim, you can only build a violent thing with violence.”
John constantly pulls me in with his words. They’re beautiful. Simple and pure and lovely.
The candle and the dawn fought each other so that together they seemed to make less light than either would have made alone.
The air was full of their apathy, and full of their discontent.
Mac, who is such a leader, teaches Jim that in order to win this strike, he can’t think of individual men. If one barn has to be burned, then so be it. It’ll be better in the end. If Mac has to make some kid’s nose bleed to prove a point, it’s not about the kid, it’s about the strike and the small steps toward progress. “Making a billboard, not a corpse,” as he puts it.
I don’t think that violence is ever a good thing. I think human beings need to defend themselves and stand up for what they believe in. I truly believe that men, like the men that John Steinbeck writes, are hard to find these days. I’ve only met a few in my time.
No matter your political party, whether you are in a union or not, or whether you come from the bank side of things, or the farm, reading any John Steinbeck novel is a good dose of reality for you. We can’t forget the wars of dignity that have raged on. We cannot let the government take over our food the way they did during Steinbeck’s time. I think, if he could write a book about it, he’d write about Monsanto and GMOs and the way that people are being poisoned by their own government. He’d possibly point out that our basic needs were being controlled. I can just hear him saying:
They’re makin’ the people sick. They are. And you know what’ll happen next? People’ll have to go to the hospitals. But they can’t afford no hospitals. Then, guess what? They owe the bank. They owe the bank because of what they fed him. Made ‘im sick, then fed him more poison while he was there. A man has a right to grow his own crop and not get sued. A man’s got a right to feed his family somethin’ real.
Those words will never be JS’s words, but I hear them all the same.