Friday, May 22, 2015

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men is a novella about two itinerant ranch hands working in California during the Depression. The events of the story take place over a few days on a ranch where the two friends have found work, having been forced to flee from their previous job because Lennie, a large man with limited mental capacity, let his penchant for stroking soft things lead him into trouble. His friend and caretaker, George, spends the night before they arrive at the new place coaching Lennie on the importance of staying out of trouble--and the steps to follow if he gets in trouble.

The two hope that they will be able to stay at the new place long enough to get the money together to buy their own place, where they can be indepenent and Lennie can care for the rabbits he loves. When George talks about the little ranch they will buy, the two enter a nearly trancelike state.

At the new job, Lennie and George encounter some interesting characters--Slim, the unofficial leader of the ranch hands; Crooks, the black stable-hand, both integrated with and isolated from the other men; Candy, an older worker with only one hand, who soon joins Lennie and George's dream of being landowners; Curley, the boss's aggressive son; and Curley's flirtatious wife. A sense of foreboding permeates the novel and, when George relaxes his supervision of Lennie, that foreboding is soon proved justified. The novella ends with a final tragic act of friendship.

Steinbeck creates well-developed characters (with the exception of Curley's wife, female characters not being Steinbeck's strong suit) and a strong sense of time and place in a very limited number of pages. Furthermore, he explores significant themes--the power of a dream, the futility of the American Dream for the poor, the beauty of friendship. While I have heard people criticize the book for its violence and raw language, both are intrinsic to the story.

Certainly worthy of the classic designation.

Favorite passages:
“Ain’t many guys travel around together,” he mused. “I don’t know why. Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other."

At about 10 o'clock in the morning the sun threw a bright dust-laden bar through one of the side windows and in and out of the beam flies shot like rushing stars.

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