Thursday, September 13, 2007

In Dubious Battle

I've just finished reading "In Dubious Battle" by John Steinbeck. It's been awhile since I've delivered any book reports via blog, it's also been awhile since I've finished a book (for pleasure). I find that my attention span is waning in my old age. It's just like when I try to sleep. There are too many other things racing through my head to take in a book, even if it's one of my favorite authors. I need to get a hold on that.

As is expressed in much of Steinbeck's work, IDB is sympathetic with the working class and income disparity. However, IDB takes this plight a step further than other Steinbeck works I've read and makes a strong political statement. Not that political themes can't be derived from the other things I've read but, in this case, Steinbeck stops just short (only by not actually naming it) of publicly proclaiming his support for the Communist Party of the USA.

Relying on past studies of Steinbeck, I believe that, in reality, he neither supported Communism nor Capitalism. He posited that the worker would be exploited in one way or another under either.

I found something early on to be thought-provoking and, while I think I nearly stumbled upon an answer a couple of times, am not fully satisfied.

(I recognize fully that this book is fiction; however, it is reflective of events happening in the country at the time. Also, no matter how it looks, this is not intended to be a political discussion, I'm not attempting to make any political statements. The political references are only relative to the plot of the book.)

I find myself reflecting on what actually drove the front line "Reds" that were trying to encourage workers to organize and gain Party membership. Most people (though certainly not all) do things for some sort of benefit they will directly derive. In this case, there was certainly no money in it for those who believed that Communism was the way to change. Those who were fighting against Capitalism from the bottom up made no money and lived on favors from sympathizers, essentially. They were in jail frequently for their activities or for vagrancy.

As such, it would seem to me that the protagonists in this book and the "real-life" people they represented were in it for an abstract idea that they believed very strongly in.

Yet, they were trained to influence (manipulate?) to achieve their end. They found groups of workers at their most vulnerable and used it to put their foot in the door. Everything they said and did was very calculated to persuade. If they were truly living for a cause they believed in, why such deceptive techniques to make it happen?

Clearly, these types of techniques are used by anyone trying to gain power or even to keep power.

It's interesting to me, though, that in this case, there would be no personal gain for those working the front lines. Usually, there is some type of visualization of how the future will materialize itself once objectives are attained.

Here, the main characters of the book don't really talk about the future. They have a goal, they become exuberant over every little milestone and, yet, they have a very defeatist attitude in respect to how or when there will be a payoff, be it tangible or not.

What drove them?

It seems to me like the protagonists know less about what they're fighting for and know only that they want to fight against something (and will jump on any vehicle to do it). Perhaps because I'm such an optimist, I don't like that answer. It seems so contrary to what typically drives Steinbeck characters (he who believed that authors who didn't believe in man's potential perfection had no business writing).


No comments: