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Fiction

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men is a novella written by Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck. Published in 1937, it tells the tragic story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers during the Great Depression in California. George Milton, an intelligent and cynical man, and Lennie Small, an ironically-named man of large stature and immense strength but limited mental abilities—come to a ranch near Soledad southeast of Salinas, California to “work up a stake” in a hope that one day they can attain their shared dream of settling down on their own piece of land.

Lennie said, “Tell about that place, George.”

“Well, it’s ten acres. Got a little win’mill. Got a little shack on it, an’ a chicken run. got a kitchen, orchard, cherries, apples, peaches, ‘cots, nuts got a few berries. They’re a place for alfalfa and plenty water to flood it. They’s a pig pen –

“an’ rabbits, George.”

“No place for rabbits now, but I could easy build a few hutches and you could feed alfafa to the rabbits.”

“Damn right you will.”

Lennie’s part of the dream, which he never tires of hearing George describe, is merely to tend to (and pet) soft rabbits on the farm. George warns Lennie at the beginning by telling him that if Lennie gets into trouble George won’t let him “tend them rabbits.” They are fleeing from their previous employment in Weed where they were run out of town after Lennie’s love of stroking soft things resulted in an accusation of attempted rape when he touched a young woman’s dress. In Lennie’s hand, he was holding a dead mouse because he loves touching it.

There are hosts of characters living the ranch. There is the boss, his son’s Curley and his promiscuous wife. Crooks, the black guy who lives in isolation. Slim who is suspected to have an affair with Curley’s wife. At the ranch, the dream appears to move closer to reality. Candy, the aged, one-handed ranch-hand, even offers to pitch in with Lennie and George so they can buy the farm by the end of the month.

“With us it ain’t like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don’t have to sit in no bar room blowin’ in our jack jus’ because we got no place else to go. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody give a damn. But not us”

There was a difficult scene to take in when Slim offers to put Candy’s old dog to sleep by putting  the bullet at the end of his head, citing as the most painless way to end its life.

“He’s a nice fella,” said Slim. “Guy don’t need no sense to be a nice fella. Seems to me sometimes it jus’ works the other way round. Take a real smart guy and he ain’t hardly ever a nice fella.”

The book started off with dialogues and bantering between George and Lennie, and the group of Ranch-hands. Lennie is just this nice fella who works hard, wants to pet rabbits and all furry animals.

Rating: 3/5

The ending left a deep imprint in me as George took the tough decision of ending a life with his own hands by shooting someone at the back of his head. I suppose the certainty of the brutality and ugliness expected from the angry mob made George took up this decision, it is painful to read through the last few pages knowing that the victim has a child-like innocence and a living dream, but because of a mistake, he had to pay with his life.

Steinbeck wrote this as a highly personal response to the powerlessness of the California labouring class. If the scope is restricted, the implications are, as Steinbeck knew, universal.

The penguin classics edition includes an introduction by Susan Shilinglaw, who is a professor of English and Director of Center for Steinbeck studies at San Jose University. The man in the cover looks so scruffy, can’t believe they used it for cover.

I am reading this for 1001 books must read, BBC Top 100 big read, Classics Reading Challenge, What An Animal Challenge III.

Paperback. Publisher: Penguin Classics 1937, 2000; Length: 106 pages; Setting: 1930’s California, USA. Source: Library Loot. Finished reading at: 27 March 2010

In every bit of honest writing in the world there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love. There are shorter means, many of them. There is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. Try to understand each other.

John Steinbeck in his 1938 journal entry

About the writer:

John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr. (February 27, 1902 – December 20, 1968) was an American writer. He wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and the novella Of Mice and Men (1937). He wrote a total of twenty-seven books, including sixteen novels, six non-fiction books and five collections of short stories. In 1962, Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Based on Steinbeck’s own experiences as a bindlestiff in the 1920s (before the arrival of the Okies he would vividly describe in The Grapes of Wrath), the title is taken from Robert Burns’s poem, To a Mouse, which read: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley.” Of Mice and Men was published on February 25, 1937, priced at $2.00 a copy.

Required reading in many high schools, Of Mice and Men has been a frequent target of censors for what some consider offensive and vulgar language; consequently, it appears on the American Library Association’s list of the Most Challenged Books of 21st Century.

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About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.

Discussion

11 thoughts on “Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

  1. So why the rating of 3? It sounds like you liked it but … painful? dated? dialect?

    Posted by rhapsodyinbooks | March 30, 2010, 5:02 pm
    • The ending is painful, but I felt there wasn’t much going on that warrants more than a 3.
      I explained for the benefit of you, Jill. On normal days, I wouldn’t go all out to explain why I rate what I have rated. 🙂

      Posted by JoV | March 31, 2010, 7:15 am
  2. Oh did you just give the ending away? 😦 A spoiler warning next time will be appreciated..

    Posted by mee | March 30, 2010, 9:37 pm
  3. I read this some time last year. What I found really strong about the way the book was written was how much the story was told in form of conversation between the characters. I think there was probably more to the story than I caught on at that time, though. But yea, the ending was painful.

    Posted by Michelle | March 30, 2010, 11:08 pm
    • Glad you like it Michelle. I don’t like to analyse too much behind what’s been told (so I cringe when I read all those introductions of Penguin opr Vintage Classics).

      Posted by JoV | March 31, 2010, 7:23 am
  4. It’s been ages since I read this one but I think you’ve about summed up my feelings. I admit I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Steinbeck because I think he tends to get a bit ‘preachy’ (as in he’s the only person to have noticed the plight of the underprivileged) but this is a better book than Grapes of Wrath (which is on my list of top ten books I would only read again with a gun at my head.

    Posted by bernadetteinoz | March 31, 2010, 3:14 am
    • ha ha.. that’s what I like about you Bernadette, you are so honest. 🙂

      I’ll read “Grapes of Wrath” some time in the future just for the sake of knowing what you would read only with a gun pointed at you!

      Posted by JoV | March 31, 2010, 7:06 am
  5. I really like Of Mice and Men even though most of it makes me cringe. It’s stark, bleak, violent, and as you said, heartbreaking towards the end. The misery that each character feels rises from a complex mix of poverty, unfulfilled dreams that will not, in all likelihood, ever come to fruition, social isolation, stagnation, and repressed emotion. What I do love is that a book this thin, this simple and this natural can be so complex and deep.

    Posted by Tad Foster | July 21, 2011, 1:24 pm

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Mockingjay
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City


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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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