After striking out on my last two books, I really couldn’t afford a third strike – much too early in the year for a reading slump! So I picked up a classic – Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Admittedly, my first Steinbeck and assuredly not my last. I have vague memories of my mother discussing this book with me when I was very young – it’s a favorite of hers – which, I guess, stands out because she’s not a reader. Also, I had been spoiled for the ending many years ago – I just didn’t know exactly how the events unfolded, so I snuggled into my trusty reading nook and spent my Sunday afternoon learning the story of George and Lennie.
George is small in stature, but has a sharp mind. Lennie is a human giant, doesn’t know his own strength, and has the mind of a child. Together they are migrant farm workers with a dream – a very American dream – of owning and settling down on their own plot of land. Steinbeck’s novel shows us a slice of their story, one that inevitably ends in tragedy and a stark realization that dreams almost never come true.
Of Mice and Men is a quiet, yet commanding, novella. The opening paragraph places us deep in the Salinas River Valley of California, amongst the verdant riverbeds and “willows fresh and great with every spring”. We’re gently, yet repetitively warned, however, of “a path beaten hard” that disrupts this tranquil natural scene – a foreshadowing of our heroes’ journey. Steinbeck’s language is at once lush and succinct, but always terribly beautiful.
I almost immediately fell in love with Lennie. I’m not sure if it’s some sort of maternal instinct or just simple empathy for a fellow human robbed of a fair chance in life. Lennie’s just like the small creatures he loves to pet, just like the small mice, puppies, and Candy’s poor old dog who has worn out his welcome among the stronger animals. Lennie’s care and devotion to his pets is in such drastic contrast to his own brute strength that brings them harm – you can’t help but be strongly affected and feel a deep sense of pity, anger, and love all at the same time. Steinbeck has created a very challenging character and raised some very interesting questions by the end of the story.
For me, there was not an abundance of hope written within this short novel. So many dreams are dashed and darkened. A death of some variety seems to occur every few pages. Steinbeck’s portrayal of women leaves little to be desired, and I begin to wonder if this occurs throughout the rest of his works. Did Steinbeck really see the world as such a bleak and unforgiving place, or was it just something particular to the US, the migrant life, or this particular era in history?
Despite the dreariness found within Of Mice and Men, I loved my experience with the novel and the moral debates it presents. Being a novella helps the reader not feel too dragged down by the ending, but you are left feeling very introspective. I’d whole heartedly recommend this fantastic fable-esque tale to anyone with a couple of hours to spare, a warm blanket or fireplace nearby, and someone to hug when you’re done.