Author: John Steinbeck
Publisher: Pearson Education Limited
Publishing Date: 2011
Number of Pages: 118
Genre: American Fiction, Modern Classic, Tragic Realistic Fiction
Of Mice and Men is a poignant tale of the extraordinary friendship between two itinerant workers in the harsh depression years of 1930s America. George and his large, simple-minded friend Lennie share a dream that one day they will have some land of their own. But when the two men find work on a ranch in California’s Salinas Valley, their dream is tested to the limit.
No must-read list is complete without John Steinbeck’s modern classic, Of Mice and Men. This is the main reason why my interest in the book has been piqued, although, unsurprisingly, I barely had an iota on what this novel is about. Nevertheless, my cluelessness did not prevent me from jumping into the literary void. Moreover, my experiences with The Pearl and Cannery Row, two short and quick Steinbeck reads, did stimulate my interest in what most refer to as his magnum opus.
Availing a copy of the book, however, was another story. In a country that has very limited patronage over literary classics, availing a copy of the book was a bit of a challenge. Thankfully, after months of rummaging online booksellers, I was finally able to avail a copy of the book. Without further ado (and because it was short), I immediately delved on this modern classic.
“Ain’t many guys travel around together. I don’t know why. Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.” ~ John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men
Set during the Great Depression, Of Mice and Men relates the story of two migrant field workers, George Milton and Lennie Small, who were moving around California to look for a promising employment. Both were driven by a dream – owning their own piece of land. In realizing that dream, they got hired as a farmhand. Their they met Candy who offered to pitch in a significant amount so that they can buy a farm. But then everything started going on a downward spiral. Will George and Lennie realize their dream or will something hamper them?
There are two integral elements highlighted throughout the narrative: friendship/companionship and dreams. Whereas both elements were essential to the overall context, the centrifugal point upon which most of the story’s underlying elements evolved was George and Lennie’s friendship. What makes their friendship special is the glaring disparity in their personalities which both chose to respect and understand. George is smart but uneducated while Lennie is a bulky man but mentally disabled. These contrasts are what makes their friendship special.
All throughout the story, the primary characters’ individual dreams and aspirations were highlighted throughout the story. This aspect gave the novel a more realistic and nostalgic texture. The extensive drift into the world of dreams is driven by the setting (Great Depression), a period when majority of the world experienced severe and devastating economic slump. Because of the oppressed economic conditions, individuals like George and Lennie are left with no option but to dwell into the world of dreams. There are those who takes the next step into realizing those dreams but there are some that get stuck in dreamland.
“As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment.” ~ John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men
There is a strange pall of darkness that hovered above most of the narrative. This is perhaps the novel’s biggest achievement because Steinbeck was spectacular in portraying the social and economic conditions during the Great Depression. He also did a great job in developing the characters, who, strangely enough, strongly characterized the prevailing conditions of the period including. This was reinforced by their powerlessness in the circumstances they were wrapped in. This powerlessness also resulted into a bevy of conflicts amongst the characters.
But it wasn’t only these conflicts that were palpable throughout the story. Majority of the characters’ lives are characterized by an overwhelming quality of loneliness. Whereas this feeling of loneliness was the result of numerous factors, it was the way people treated each other that was the biggest factor. Because of this loneliness, individuals seek companionship in others, if only to validate who they are and their dreams; even Lennie and George’s friendship is an offshoot of loneliness. The need for companionship is embedded in the interactions of the characters and is immortalized in lines such as, “I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why.”
But what I liked most about the story is Steinbeck’s never-failing storytelling. He was very savvy in his very straightforward delivery of the story. This is evident in his other works as well, e.g. The Pearl and Cannery Row. Moreover, Steinbeck vividly depicted the scenes of the Great Depression in a manner that easily captures the imagination of the readers. He has this tendency of capturing a particular scene and expounding from that point on. Nevertheless, it makes his narrative resonate deeper into the reader’s subconscious. But because it was too short, it didn’t give me enough time to digest the entire story.
“A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got anybody. Don’t make any difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you.” ~ John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men
Overall, I just have to commend John Steinbeck’s storytelling. Of Mice and Men is a very short narrative but powerful all the same. Perhaps it is this brevity that makes its message resonate longer. The vivid way it captured the social conditions of the Great Depression is simply remarkable. Admittedly, I picked this book to take a break from thick books that I have been digesting for dinner. However, I never regretted it because it is a riveting tail. I just wish that it was longer, that the story developed with more melodrama. There are long books which I wish were cut shorter and there are short books which I wish were longer. Of Mice and Men is a classic example of the latter.
Recommended for guaranteed literary reads, readers who like John Steinbeck’s works, readers who are looking for a short and quick read, readers who want to be riveted by modern classics, readers who prefer simpler and more straightforward narrative, and readers who like classic Western literature.
Not recommended for readers who dislike books filled with darkly depressing themes, and readers who dislike open-ended narratives.
About The Author
(Photo by Goodreads) John Ernst Steinbeck Jr. was born on February 27, 1902 in Salinas, California.
When he was younger, he started writing while doing summer jobs at Spreckels Sugar Company. After graduating high school in 1919, he studied English Literature at Stanford University but left the university in 1925 without earning a degree. To pursue writing, he moved to New York City but later on returned to California because he failed to publish his works. He then worked as a tour guide and caretaker at Lake Tahoe.
His writing career took off when he returned to California. In 1929, he published his first novel, Cup of Gold. This was followed by three shorter works and eventually by The Red Pony (1933) and To a God Unknown (1933). However, it wasn’t until Tortilla Flat (1935) that he tasted critical success. His other renowned works include Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath (1939), The Pearl (1947) and East of Eden (1952, his longest novel).
Steinbeck won the 1962 Novel Prize for literature for his “realistic and imaginative writing, combining as it does sympathetic humor and keen social perception.” He died of heart disease and congestive heart failure in New York City on December 20, 1968.