Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
I saw Of Mice and Men performed as a play many years ago when Lennie Small was played by Matthew Kelly, the English, Olivier-award winning actor. He was magnificent. I knew that I should read the book, but had never quite got round to it. So, when my mother gave me a copy of the book, any excuses I had evaporated.
Of Mice and Men is a novella written by Nobel Prize–winning author John Steinbeck. The book was first published in 1937 and tells the story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced, migrant, ranch workers. They move from place to place in search of new job opportunities during the Great depression in California, USA. The plot is based on Steinbeck’s own experiences as a hobo in the 1920s but the title is taken from the poem by Scottish poet, Robert Burns, poem To a Mouse. That poem has a line that reads “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley”. (The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry.) Certainly, throughout the story, George does his best by Lennie. It soon becomes clear that the two are close friends and George is Lennie’s protector, despite Lennie irritating him. The theme of friendship is a constant throughout the story.
George Milton is an intelligent but uneducated man is travelling with Lennie Small, a man of large stature and great strength but limited mental abilities to another part of California, USA to find work. The to of them dream of settling down on their own piece of land. Lennie’s part of the dream is merely to tend to soft rabbits on the farm, as he loves to touch soft animals, but he always kills them. This dream is one of Lennie’s favorite stories, which George constantly retells. They are running from their previous employment. They had to escape from that after Lennie’s love of stroking soft things resulted in an accusation of attempted rape. He touched a young woman’s dress, and would not let go.
After being hired at a ranch, the pair are confronted by Curley who is the small-statured, aggressive son of the boss. He dislikes large men and has a flirtatious and provocative wife, to whom Lennie is instantly attracted these pose problems. George and Lennie also meet Candy, a kind, old, aged ranch hand with one hand and a loyal dog, and Slim, the kind, intelligent and intuitive man whose dog has recently had a litter of puppies. Slim gives a puppy each to Lennie and Candy.
Candy also offers contribute $350, most of the money that they need, so he can join the dream with George and Lennie and the three of them can buy a farm at the end of the month. The trio are ecstatic, but their joy is overshadowed when Curley attacks Lennie. In response, a bleeding and injured Lennie, urged on by George, catches Curley’s fist and easily crushes it, reminding the group there are still obstacles to overcome before their goal is reached.
The next day, Lennie accidentally kills his puppy while stroking it. Curley’s wife enters the barn and tries to speak to him. After finding out that Lennie loves stroking soft things, she offers to let him stroke her hair, but panics and begins to scream when she feels his strength. Lennie becomes frightened, and in the scuffle, he unintentionally breaks her neck. When the other ranch hands find the corpse, George unhappily realizes that their dream is at an end and hurries to find Lennie, hoping he will be at the meeting place they designated at the start of the story, in case Lennie got into trouble. When they meet, the two men sit together and George retells the beloved story of the bright future together that they will have, knowing it is something they will never share. He then shoots Lennie in the back of the head, so that his death will be painless and happy. Curley, Slim, and Carlson find George seconds after the shooting. Only Slim realizes that George killed Lennie out of love.
Of Mice and Men is a short but powerful book. It is required reading in many schools. Of Mice and Men has been a frequent target of the censors for vulgarity and what some consider offensive and racist language. So, it appears on the American Library Association’s list of the Most Challenged Books of 21st Century.
I thoroughly enjoyed Of Mice and Men. I wish I had read it sooner and I highly recommend it, even if you have read it before, it deserves a re-visit.