In Dubious Battle on Stage and on Screen
Many of Steinbeck's early works, such as The Grapes of Wrath and Tortilla Flat, lack female characters. His 1936 novel, In Dubious Battle, exemplifies this pattern and provides a tool for analyzing Steinbeck's depiction of women (Gladstein 109-110). In this work, women are rarely present in the narrative, and when they appear in any detail, they are either someone’s wife or a woman of interest.
For example, Lisa, London’s daughter-in-law, has a few important scenes. She gave birth in the working community. Her birth was an important moment for Mac who established his presence in the community by delivering her baby. Steinbeck writes, “Look, Jim. Don't you see? Every man who gave part of his clothes felt that the work was his own. They all feel responsible for that baby. It's theirs, because something from them went to it. To give back the cloth would cut them out. There's no better way to make men part of a movement than to have them give something to it” (Steinbeck 235). In this case, the community's men, not Lisa, are central to the story of childbirth. Despite being a part of this important moment in the book’s plot, Lisa’s presence in the story is brief.
James Franco’s 2016 movie adaptation of In Dubious Battle makes women more central. The director brings the birthing scene to the screen, with Selena Gomez playing Lisa. It is crucial that Franco decided to include this scene because it sets the stage for the entrance of Mac and Jim into the community. Although this is an important scene in In Dubious Battle’s role of women, other examples are also very prevalent in the film.
The most obvious example of women’s increased presence is the replacement of Dick with a woman named Edie. In the novel, Dick is a charismatic, fun-loving young man who uses his good looks and charm to get donations for the party. In the movie adaptation, however, Dick’s former character, now renamed Edith Malone, is a strong-willed woman who does not put up with Jim or anyone in the party’s attitude toward her. Edith’s identity as a woman does not change or detract from the original story lines. She remarks in the film, “He is just sore because I’ve been at this longer than him and I am better at it too” (In Dubious Battle). This comment shows how she fits in well within the party, and no one discriminates against her party’s ability just because she is a woman. Unlike the women in Steinbeck’s novels, Edie is a strong character who becomes an integral part of the film’s plot within the first ten minutes.
In Dubious Battle. Directed by James Franco, AMBI Pictures, 2016.
Gladstein, Mimi Reisel. The Indestructible Woman in Faulkner, Hemingway, and Steinbeck. UMI Press, 1986.
Steinbeck, John. In Dubious Battle. 1936. John Steinbeck: Novels 1932-1937. Edited by Robert DeMott, Library of America, 1994. pp. 529-793.