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Book Review: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

of mice and menOf Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Back Cover Blurb: They are an unlikely pair: George is “small and quick and dark of face”; Lennie, a man of tremendous size, has the mind of a young child. Yet they have formed a “family,” clinging together in the face of loneliness and alienation.

Laborers in California’s dusty vegetable fields, they hustle work when they can, living a hand-to-mouth existence. For George and Lennie have a plan: to own an acre of land and a shack they can call their own. When they land jobs on a ranch in the Salinas Valley, the fulfillment of their dream seems to be within their grasp. But even George cannot guard Lennie from the provocations of a flirtatious woman, nor predict the consequences of Lennie’s unswerving obedience to the things George taught him.

Goodreads Description: Of Mice and Men takes us into the lives of George and Lennie, two farm workers set out to find their way to a new life. In true Steinbeck form, this short novel explores both loyalty and the transient nature of mankind.

I hadn’t read this book since high school. I won’t say exactly how long ago that was, but it’s been a while. I read it again in April 2013, armed with new knowledge of writing rules, to see if I could understand what makes this book a classic.

What writing rules came to mind during my second read of this book?

 Don’t phoneticize regional or cultural dialects. And yet, I can’t imagine reading this without the phonetic dialogue. “We’re going to live off of the fat of the land, George,” doesn’t have the same effect as: “We’re gonna live offa the fatta the lan’, George.” It not only shows that Lennie is mentally challenged, but I can even hear the innocence, in his voice.

I thought the dialogue was brilliant. There was so much lying under the surface of what was spoken. Candy, the elderly, crippled handyman on the farm where Lennie and George work had this to say of his aging, crippled, sheep herding dog:

I ought to of shot that dog myself, George. I shouldn’t ought to of let no stranger shoot my dog.

After my second read, I still agree with its ranking as a classic. What makes it so? A classic is defined as something that retains its worth over time, and where literature is concerned, a classic addresses a theme of timeless quality. The themes of friendship, loneliness, and the pursuit of a dream are universal and will resonate with readers.

We all dream of our own little slice of heaven on earth, and whether that is a few acres of land or a little reading nook matters not, as long as it’s a place where the harsh realities of a cruel world cannot reach.

This is a heart-wrenching story of an unlikely friendship between a pair of migrant farm workers. George and Lennie are physical and intellectual opposites, but incredibly loyal to each other.  Lennie is a contradiction beginning with his last name: Small. Physically, he is anything but small, but mentally he is limited. He has the mind of a young child, and like a young child he has an overabundance of innocence and loyalty. George is the brains of the duo, and although he is much smaller in stature he is the protector. He makes it his mission to buy a farm where the two of them can live, independent of the outside world and unexposed to its merciless nature.

The title of the book is derived from the poem To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough written by Robert Burns in 1786. It’s an apology to the mouse for destroying her home. In relation to Steinbeck’s book, two stanzas of the poem stand out in particular.

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane [you aren’t alone]
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry]
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promised joy.

Although George and Lennie are unlikely companions, opposites in almost every aspect, they share this dream of owning their own land. It is the possibility of achieving that dream that bonds them together, but even the best laid plans often go awry.

 4 of 5 stars