Classic Corner: Of Mice and Men

Rating:
4.5/5

Name: Of Mice And Men

Author: John Steinbeck

Year: 1937

Genre: Novella

Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck, is a novella narrating the experiences of two displaced Californian ranch workers in the 1930’s during the Great Depression.

I first heard about Of Mice And Men when I was at school as it was a book some of my friends did in English class although it wasn’t a book that I ever actually did in school (from memory I think it was actually Lord of the Flies which I did instead, which I reviewed last month). However as part of my 2022 Pinterest challenge to read a selection of short classics I thought I would read it now.

The novella begins with two men in Soledad in California, on there way to working in yet another plantation during the Great Depression. George Milton, an intelligent but uneducated man and Lennie Small, a bulky strong man but mentally disabled. They aim to one day own their own piece of land where they can manage their own farm and Lennie’s part of the dream is to tend the rabbits.

We learn Lennie loves soft, furry animals but is too heavy handed with them and accidentally kills them, such as the mice he finds by the river. We also learn both men had to flee the previous plantation they worked on after Lennie grabbed a woman’s skirt, wanting to feel the fabric and wouldn’t let go, leading to an accusation of rape. We also learn they were travelling by bus but the driver didn’t go the whole route, forcing them to walk.

The two men arrive at the farm late and have a run in with the boss’s son Curley who is a small man with a Napoleon complex who dislikes bigger men and starts to attack Lennie. Curley’s wife is also very flirtatious and Lennie is attracted to her, complicating matters further. They also meet Candy, an old man with an old dog and Slim, an intelligent and jerkline-skinner who owns a litter of puppies. Slim gives a puppy each to Candy and Lennie after Candy’s dog needs to be put down.

George and Lennie are also ecstatic when Candy overhears them talking about their plan and due to some money he received from an injury of $350 they may have enough money to make their dream a reality. However their joy is overshadowed when Lennie is attacked by Curley and Lennie defends himself by crushing Curley’s hand. However the other men force Curley to say he was injured by a machine.

George begins to relax and leaves Lennie on his own more often. Lennie speaks to Crooks, the only black worker on the ranch. They are interrupted by Curley’s wife who flirts with the men and Lennie but also shows her nasty side by belittling Crooks and threatening to lynch him.

The next day, Lennie is playing with his puppy when he accidentally kills the puppy when stroking him. Curley’s wife enters the barn and begins to explain how lonely she is. She lets Curley stroke her hair but when he grabs it too tight she panics and starts to scream. Lennie becomes frightened and tries to cover her mouth and shake her, accidentally breaking her neck and killing her. He then goes on the run to by the river where we first meet him as this was a spot agreed by him and George to meet if anything bad happened.

When the other men find the corpse, a lynch mob forms intent on killing Lennie. They call the police and set off to find him. George however gets to him first knowing where he will be and recounts his dream with Lennie but as the mob approaches he knows that if he kills Lennie it will be more merciful than what the mob would do so he shoots him in the back of the head. The men arrive and Slim, realising what is going on takes George away whilst Carlson and Curley look on, not understanding why he is so upset.

This novella is a very short read and in terms of plot not a lot really happens. However what it’s main strength is is not the events of the story but the way Steinbeck creates and develops the characters of the workers on the ranch and the relationship and brotherhood the men develop.

As someone who comes from a working class background, I can definitely relate to the men and the dreams and hopes that they have to own their own land and to be in control of their own destiny with safety and security and it is heartbreaking to read about George and Lennie’s dreams only for it to be cruelly snatched away due to Lennie’s disability.

As the novel was written in the 30’s when attitudes to mental disabilities were worse than they are now it is sad to see how Lennie is treated and perhaps with the right care in today’s society, most of the events wouldn’t happen. It is never established in the novel what the exact disability is which is left open ended for the reader (I would like to link to a post I read whilst researching this by Alex Lowery where he talks about some of the autistic traits Lennie possesses).

What is clear however is the love George has for Lennie and how he wants nothing bad to happen to him, even though he is somewhat putting his own life and dreams on hold to care for him and I love this aspect of their relationship which doesn’t always get mentioned in other books or is as well developed as it is here.

The only reasons I haven’t given it a five star are minor. One is a structural point – the book doesn’t have chapters and is instead one flowing form of text and doesn’t really have a break to show a new scene is taking place which can be a little jarring in the beginning but you do get used to it e.g. the scene with the river ends at night time then suddenly they are at the ranch and it virtually flows from one part to the next with no line or page break to signify it.

Also, as is the case with most classic books, some of the novel’s language is dated and Steinbeck uses quite a lot of profanity anyway which he did specifically to make his characters seem like real people – though personally I didn’t mind it and it did make the characters to me feel like real people.

Overall, it is an incredible book that has a lot to teach about working class men and their dreams and aspirations, the relationships and brotherhood they share with other men, disability and the various attitudes to it and it is a very enjoyable read.

If you have read it before, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments down below.

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