Friday, August 14, 2015

Classic Fiction: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

It's almost as if I didn't take high school English. Somehow I have never read Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. It is 107 pages of easy reading, compared to most classic literature out there. I'm not sure how I missed it either, but there it is. At least I am getting to it now.

The Situation: George Milton and Lennie Small have been traveling together, trying to earn enough money to someday buy their own place, where they'll work and live off of their own land instead of being obligated to somebody else. George is small but somewhat clever, while Lennie is large and strong, but with the mind of a child. He knows he is big and strong, but doesn't have a clue as to how to control his strength. Together they move from job to job, hoping to be able to stay somewhere long enough to earn money for their own place. George has to constantly remind and tell Lennie what to do, specifically if they get into trouble. From the outside, it would look like George just bosses the big guy around, but he also keeps Lennie entertained with tales of their shared future. And rabbits. Lennie is really excited about rabbits.

The Problem: The reason why the traveling pair had to leave their last job is because of a situation with a woman in a red dress, a dress that Lennie just had to touch. And all poor Lennie knows to do is to hold onto things, especially when they struggle to get away. Even when he is attempting to be kind, his strength will still get away from him, as is evidenced by the many mice he kills simply because he loves to pet them so much. George keeps as close an eye on him as he can, and often knows when trouble is coming without Lennie having to do or say much. But while he may know how to handle Lennie, others do not. All it can take is one person looking for trouble to send George and Lennie out to look for work again.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a novella about two displaced migrant workers looking for job opportunities during the Great Depression. George and Lennie are looking to earn enough money to buy their own small piece of land and live off of it. Unfortunately, they can never stay anywhere long enough to earn what they need. It is mentioned by more than one character in the book that it isn't often that two men will travel together they way George and Lennie do. And while George will often reprimand Lennie and say he would be better off traveling around without him, he continues to watch out for him and stick up for him, while giving him specific instructions on how to handle himself in certain situations. And when George isn't either telling Lennie how to handle certain people, or talking about the future they hope to have, he is having to tell his large friends how to treat animals. Lennie, much like a child, loves animals, all animals. And he often, quite literally, loves them to death. He kills mice because he pets them to death. And when he gets a new puppy, he insists on taking it away from its mother until George instructs him to put it back. Whenever George starts talking about what they are going to do once they have enough money, Lennie's favorite part is always the part about taking care of the rabbits. More than anything, he doesn't want to mess up lest he no longer gets to take care of the rabbits. Most of the men George and Lennie now work with are decent people, but then there is Curley, the boss's son, and also Curley's wife. Curley immediately dislikes Lennie because of his size and obvious strength, while Curley's wife immediately takes a liking to pretty much all of the men, who realize she is nothing but trouble. George has to give Lennie specific instructions on how to handle these two, knowing that both of them could get his large friend in trouble.

My Verdict: I can get why every high school in America (except for mine apparently) has this book as required reading. George and Lennie are an odd pair, but they work. It would be easy to make George out to be the bully of the pair, but he does what he does for a reason. Lennie may be a grown man, but he has the mind of a child, so George treats him like one. Steinbeck is able to tell a lot of story and paint an incredible picture in very few pages, which I admire immensely. There isn't a whole lot of description to the characters beyond just what the reader needs to know to picture them, but it is all done so well and fits perfectly with the way the story is told as a whole. If you haven't read Of Mice and Men, and have an afternoon free, I recommend picking it up.

Favorite Moment: When George agrees to let old man Candy in on his future plans, despite being generally suspicious and distrusts everyone except Lennie.

Favorite Character: I will go ahead and pick George, because to take care of Lennie requires a strength and ability that I don't think I have or understand. And it isn't just that he takes care of him. It is also that he continues to travel around with him, when he could have made the decision to leave him behind at any point along the way.

Recommended Reading: I recommend Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. It is much longer and a little bit harder to stomach, but it is also worth it.

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