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.
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.