By: John Steinbeck
They are an unlikely pair: George is small and quick; Lennie is a man of tremendous size with the mind of a young child. Yet they have formed a bond, clinging together in the face of loneliness and alienation.
Laborers in California’s dusty vegetable fields, they hustle work when they can, living a hand-to-mouth existence. For George and Lennie have a plan: to own an acre of land and a shack they can call their own. Soon they land jobs on a ranch in the Salinas Valley, and the fulfillment of their dream seems to be within their grasp. But even George cannot guard Lennie from the provocations of a flirtatious, married woman, nor predict the consequences of Lennie’s unswerving obedience to the things George taught him.
Steinbeck chose the title Of Mice And Men after reading a poem called “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns, in which the poet regrets accidentally destroying a mouse’s nest. The poem parallels several of the novel’s central themes like the impermanence of home for migrant workers and the ease with which the vulnerable are destroyed. George and Lennie dream of purchasing land that they can one day call their own. They strive for an existence where cruel bosses can’t abuse them and the money from the crops that they harvest is theirs. The men hold onto a hope that they can accomplish what so many other workers wanted but could never get thanks to the Great Depression. Their fate is not so different from that of the mouse in the poem or the dead mouse Lennie keeps in his pocket-the characters are destined for disasters outside of their control.
Of Mice And Men also seems to serve as a warning to be careful in how you advise and try to control the actions of others who are easily influenced. Sometimes individuals will follow rules so well that they harm themselves or others in the process. Just because someone means well and has your best interest at heart doesn’t mean that they will always make the write decisions. We are each responsible for our own fate.
Love and companionship are two other themes because they were rare for migrant workers during the Great Depression. So rare in fact that most of the characters don’t understand or recognize a friendship when they see it. Workers from that era were often destitute and without many options for work forcing them to take jobs where they were abused or had to make difficult choices. They relied on themselves without trust for anyone else, so life was incredibly lonely even if they lived in a bunkhouse with other workers. George and Lennie’s behavior was the exception not the rule.
Steinbeck experimented when he wrote this novella by making it not only publishable in book form but also easily translatable to a play if required. Each scene flows with distinct descriptions and directions, so the story never stops moving. It’s over before you realize it’s begun but the emotion is densely packed in every page. I wasn’t expecting to learn so much from such a small story, but it left a big mark.
Overall rating: 4