Monday, February 25, 2013

[Reading the Classics] Of Mice and Men // John Steinbeck

[Source: Deconstructed from 9780241952481; ©Penguin 2012]
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Author: John Steinbeck
Publication Year: 1937
Pages: 107
Violence | Sexual Content | Profanity

Verdict: Simply unforgettable. Short but packed with atmosphere and emotion. A story about two men who fall prey to the promise of The American Dream (and many other characters). The importance of companionship is pronounced time and time again, the consequences of loneliness too high a price for instant gratification. One of Steinbeck's most famous novels, and for good reason.
My thoughts

OF MICE AND MEN is one of the few books I was required to read in high school that I actually loved and intended to revisit in the future. I will admit I had a few doubts. I worried that it wouldn't be as good as I'd remembered. I worried that I'd built it up too much in my head and that I'd just end up disappointing myself. Luckily, or maybe by my sheer force of will, I had nothing to worry about because it felt like I had just come back to something uniquely special.

OF MICE AND MEN is a simple story, and short at around 100 pages, but it is packed with atmosphere and emotion. The story opens up with a firm description of a tragically beautiful rural setting, serene in all its barrenness. Two men are walking: the leader, slender and quick-witted George; and the hulking teddy bear Lennie. They have been travelling together for years, a feat that not many people around these parts could ever understand. Lennie likes to pet things that feel nice-- a trait which landed the two of them in trouble at their last job. His ultimate obsession is the rabbits, the rabbits that he will own one day.

George and Lennie dream of owning their own land, a plot where they can call their own. They'll live "offa the fatta the land", growing their own crops, owning produce-bearing animals and living out a self-sustaining existence. They have a place in mind. All they need is money. As they settle into their new short-lived lives at the ranch, they meet a plethora of characters, all consequences of the society of that time period.

Curley, the boss' son, is greedy with power. Curley is small in stature and immediately dislikes Lennie, who never means any harm but harnesses great physical strength. Then there's Curley's wife, a provocative woman who is "nothing but trouble". She is the only female presence in the novel, not counting those in the whore house that the men go to every week. I pitied her so much, for while she did amount to trouble (which was foreshadowed in the reveal of Lennie's past experience), she is constantly shut down and thoroughly misunderstood.

There are a great many other characters that you meet, but I don't really care about talking about them. What really mattered to me was the relationship that George and Lennie have, and their dream. That is where the power in this novel comes from. George stays with Lennie partly out of duty (he figures that Lennie could never survive without him) and partly because it's a lonely life without someone to stick out for you.

“A guy needs somebody―to be near him. A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody. Don't make no difference who the guy is, long's he's with you. I tell ya, I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an' he gets sick.”
Shown here.
The time and place of this book connects to how all the characters are portrayed and the desperation of George and Lennie's dream. Steinbeck points out the failings of the American Dream: all it takes is one look at the lives that the men at the ranch--as well as Curley's wife--have.

OF MICE AND MEN is simply unforgettable. I don't know what else I can say. It's a very short read, so there's no excuse not to read it at least once. It's at times painful to read, but I am glad that I did choose to come back to this book, to this story and all of Steinbeck's characters.

I received The Short Novels of John Steinbeck for my birthday. Next month I'll be reading and reviewing The Pearl. After I've finished all six of these stories I'll be reading his larger novels. But that's for another time. :)

About the author

John Ernst Steinbeck (27/02/1902 - 20/12/1968) was an American author of German, English, and Irish descent. His mother shared John's love of literature. John grew up in a rural town and worked on ranches during the summer. His inspiration for Of Mice and Men arose from his experience working on Spreckels ranch with migrant workers. Steinbeck attended Stanford University, leaving five years later sans degree. He moved to NYC where he worked several odd jobs, all the while trying to write.
[To be continued in the next John Steinbeck Reading the Classics.]

Works by John Steinbeck (in order of publication)

Cup of Gold | The Pastures of Heaven | The Red Pony | To a God Unknown | Tortilla Flat | In Dubious Battle | Of Mice and Men | The Long Valley | The Grapes of Wrath | The Forgotten Village | Sea of Cortez | The Moon Is Down | Bombs Away | Cannery Row | The Wayward Bus | The Pearl | A Russian Journal | Burning Bright | The Log from the Sea of Cortez | East of Eden | Sweet Thursday | The Short Reign of Pippin IV | Once There Was A War | The Winter of Our Discontent | Travels with Charley | America and Americans

About reading the classics

I have been reading more classics lately, and rather than just reading them, I've decided to share some of my thoughts with you. I will never write an essay--that's not the point of this, but if it gets even one person even thinking about reading this book then I'll be happy. Discussion is encouraged. If you have read this book or anything by this author, please leave a comment and discuss. =)

#1: Of Mice and Men // John Steinbeck
#2: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn // Betty Smith

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