The other night, I completed reading John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, the sixth book from my Classics Club list. I checked out Of Mice and Men from the library along with Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. On the evening of July 4th, I decided to take an evening off from Gone With the Wind, and to read something shorter in case my newborn son required some extra attention during the evening. Of Mice and Men is my second time reading a work by Steinbeck, the first being Grapes of Wrath. You can see my thoughts on Grapes of Wrath here.
Here’s a quick synopsis of what Of Mice and Men is about:
An intimate portrait of two men who cherish the slim bond between them and the dream they share in a world marred by petty tyranny, misunderstanding, jealousy, and callousness. Clinging to each other in their loneliness and alienation, George and his simple-minded friend Lenny dream, as drifters will, of a place to call their own – a couple of acres and a few pigs, chickens, and rabbits back in Hill Country where land is cheap. But after they come to work on a ranch in the fertile Salinas Valley of California, their hopes, like “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men,” begin to go awry.
Of Mice and Men also represents an experiment in form, as Steinbeck described his work, “a kind of playable novel, written in novel form but so scened and set that it can be played as it stands.” A rarity in American letters, it achieved remarkable success as a novel, a Broadway play, and three acclaimed films. Steinbeck’s tale of commitment, loneliness, hope, and loss remains one of America’s most widely read and beloved novels.
After my previous experience with Steinbeck in Grapes of Wrath, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect out of this short novella. I definitely knew to expect a period piece of our Great Depression. Grapes of Wrath didn’t sit too well with me because of some of the social points that Steinbeck was making. While there was definitely some of that in Of Mice and Men, there nearly wasn’t as much, maybe it is because this work isn’t nearly as long as Grapes of Wrath.
I found both George and Lenny to be quite fascinating characters. Given the state of the migrant worker during the Great Depression, I found it pretty comforting that two men were sticking together and working toward a common goal. That point was driven home when they arrived at their new work site and you could see that most of the people there, Slim and Crooks, for example, were very much working and living as individuals, without any ties of friendship or family.
For most of the book, I was questioning why George was traveling with someone like Lenny. It definitely seemed to me that Lenny was holding George back from achieving his goals. What didn’t hit me was that perhaps George was using Lenny to maintain his own sanity as he didn’t want to truly be alone. Alone, he wouldn’t know what to do with himself and he might become quite depressed.
I really quite liked Lenny, and I knew that he didn’t mean any harm, but with his mental handicap, I knew it was only a matter of time before something terrible happened to him, and I was really disappointed with how everything turned out for him. And as a result, I feel equally bad for George, not because he didn’t realize how dangerous Lenny could be, but because he will truly find out what it means to not have a companion, and I would’ve been quite curious as to how it would’ve affected his mental state.
Overall, I enjoyed my second encounter with John Steinbeck, and I actually enjoyed Of Mice and Men more than Grapes of Wrath. Of Mice and Men has definitely piqued my interest into reading another of Steinbeck’s works, with East of Eden being the most likely candidate for me to tackle next.
If you’ve read Of Mice and Men or any of Steinbeck’s other works, I’d love to hear what you thought!