Monday, 23 August 2010

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

GENRE: classical novella

Of Mice and Men is a novella by Nobel Prize winning author John Steinbeck, first published in 1937, which tells the tragic story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced Anglo migrant ranch workers in California during the Great Depression. Based on Steinbeck's own experience as a bindle stiff in the 1920s (before the arrival of the Okies he would vividly describe in The Grapes of Wrath), the title is taken from Robert Burns's famous poem, To a Mouse, which is often quoted as: "The best-laid plans of mice and men go oft awry." Though it remains required reading in many American, Australian, British, New Zealand and Canadian high schools, Of Mice and Men has been the frequent target of censors for what some consider "offensive" and "vulgar" language, and appears on the American Library Association's list of the Most Challenged Books of 21st Century.

I read this book for my personal American Classics challenge. This novella was my first experience with John Steinbeck. I read it in one day because it’s really short. My copy only has 100 pages. I liked the fact that it was written in a regional slang from start to finish, which, in my eyes, added to the authenticity of the story.

This is a very moving and tragic story about two farm workers, George and Lennie, moving from farm to farm. The reason for their nomadic way of life is Lennie, a simple-minded giant of a man who simply likes to touch beautiful and soft things, but sometimes, he touches people and that puts him in trouble. Lennie is not mean, just very simple and childlike. George is his friend, but mostly he acts like his parents. It seems that Lennie can’t do anything without George and George knows it. They are very protective over each other, too, and dream of establishing their own farm one day, which is all Lennie can think of.

George hopes they will get lucky at a new farm, but things are complicated from the start. Other workers – all of them interesting, individualistic characters – accepts them, but the boss’s son Curly, a small bully, and his flirtatious wife reek of trouble from the start. George, and all the other workers, keep saying that the pair will bring trouble upon them and it will happen because of the woman. Steinbeck keeps you in suspense, making you guess whether trouble will come, and they do, twice. The first time, all ends well, but the second time, trouble comes in the form no one has expected.

I have to say that I hoped for an optimistic ending, especially for the sake of the simple-minded dreamer Lennie, but the novella ends tragically. It really left an impression on me.

Ultimately, this is a story about friendship, fight for personal independence and of dreams that we all have. The novella also touches the themes of loneliness (which is the ultimate trouble-maker, so to say), the time of economic depression in American and I’d also say the theme of the American dream. The novella really is a lovely American classic. It features really interesting characters that I warmed up to. I enjoyed it very much, although the ending totally dampened my spirits.



Whitney said...

The ending is so sad, but I thought it was very fulfilling too. I'm so glad you enjoyed Of Mice and Men. Great review!

Andi said...

Steinbeck is undoubtedly a talented writer, but I wanted to throw this book into the path of a garbage truck. Literally. It made my stomach hurt it was so sad.

Blodeuedd said...

I should read some more classics, but there are so many new books out there, I need more hours in a day ;)

Jen said...

I read this book in high school & cried at the end. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Midnyte Reader said...

I read it a long time ago, but it always makes me sad when I think about it.

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

I need to read some Steinbeck; somehow I've never had to for school. I'm glad you enjoyed the next book in your American Classics challenge!

Jan von Harz said...

Sadly my classic reads list is sorely lacking. I really need to intermix my classics with current reads and Of Mice and Men needs to be on the list. Thanks for the review.