Steinbeck is, of course, heralded as one of the greatest American writers. As proof of such he holds a Nobel prize. One of his better known works is Of Mice and Men, a story that I admit to never having read until now. Of the "great American writers" I had been exposed to (not since high school might I add), the only ones I remembered reading and attributing to this genre was the balls-to-the-wall-boredom that was rampant throughout novels like A Death In the Family and Scarlet Letter. Yes, I didn't enjoy Scarlet Letter. I haven't even gone to see the movie. They were chores to read.
But I knew very little about Of Mice and Men and when I came across it, along with a few other classics, on the Shelf O' Knowledge of the Wizard of Boz, it stood there with its prim little paperback cover and couldn't-kill-a-fly size, that I figured I'd give it a shot. After all, if it turned out to be as sleep-inducing as the aforementioned, the pain would be over quick. Fortunately enough, it was quick. Done in a few days, with no real slated hours of solid reading - train reading. And still it was done quickly and it wasn't torturous at all.
Of Mice and Men's strongest suit is its character creation. Steinbeck's characters are alive, vital and even in the short span of this book seemed to be imbued with their own personalities. By the end of the book Steinbeck could have left out speaking attributes I think, without my having lost the flow of the discussion. The verbiage of Crooks was very different from the verbiage of George or Lennie. It was apparent who was the speaker at the time.
While all the characters of Of Mice and Men had powerful personalities that were easily and readily distinguished from one another, they all had the same dreams. Travelers and ranch workers who trotted from place to place in search of whatever work was laid out for them, boarded in a bunkhouse with no space of their own, the people longed for their own place. The lost dream of planting and reaping their own fare and not somebody else's. It's a rather sad story, and revolves around a short stretch of time spent with a guy named George and a big hulking idiotic, childlike persona named Lennie. The only thing Lennie has going for him is his size, strength and work ethic. You point, he does. But he is stuck in the world of a child - when he's scared he doesn't let go, when he's confused he turns to George - a man that lives on nothing more than blind faith in his companions for what to do next.
Expectedly, it's a failed endeavor. A sad, disturbing and depressing failed endeavor.
"Of Mice and Men" by
Published by Bantam Books by arrangement with The Viking Press, Inc.
Copyright © 1937 by John Steinbeck