Essay Questions

  1. Both Doc Burton and Mac comment extensively about the merits and frightening possibilities of collective behavior.  Why does Mac think collective action is critical for success of the movement?  Can mobs of men be controlled as Mac suggests?  What do you think is the novel's ultimate point about collective action?

  2. Mac is described as an expert strike tactician.  Explain the major decisions he makes to encourage and maintain the strike.  Which decisions worked best?  Which decisions on his part do you think negatively affected the strike?  What affect do you think his last decision to utilize Jim's corpse will have on the strike?

  3. Jim Nolan begins the novel as inexperienced and detached.  After a short apprenticeship, he ends up inspired and empowered, though he then meets a quick death.  Describe Jim's transformation.  Identify a few key events in the novel that you think are significant in shaping the development of his character.

  4. The strikers in the novel are up against a very powerful and organized Growers' Association.  Explain how the Growers' Association's power extends into all aspects of life in the Torgas Valley.  How do the growers utilize their influence to force the strikers out?  What does their behavior suggest about wealth and power in the novel?

  5. Mac condemns vigilantes as the worst sort of characters.  He argues their violence emanates from misplaced patriotism.  How does the novel negatively associate patriotism with violence?  How do the actions of the vigilantes call into question traditional American values in the novel?

  6. Steinbeck drew the title for his work from a passage in John Milton's epic Paradise Lost.  In the passage, Satan, disgruntled with God's will, describes how he waged "dubious battle" on the plains of heaven.  What comparison can be made between the "battle" portrayed in In Dubious Battle and the battle between Satan and heaven's forces?  What do you think Steinbeck's intention was in selecting that reference for his title? The majority of the migrant workers in California were of Hispanic or Asian decent yet the workers in Steinbeck's novel are all white.  Why do you suppose Steinbeck decided to focus on white American migrant workers?  Do you think adding race as an additional factor in the novel would have changed its message or focus?  Why or why not?