Of Mice and Man

Book presentation

Steinbeck, J. (1937)
Of Mice And Men
New York

John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California, in 1902. He grew up a in a fertile rural environment near the Pacific Coast. He went to Stanford University in 1919, enrolling in literature. He left the university in 1925 without taking a degree. Over the next five years he supported himself by various jobs on the East Coast, all the time working on his first novel, Cup Of Gold (1929). After marriage and a move back to California, he continued writing. Fame and financial success came with Tortilla Flat (1935). He went on publishing until his peaceful death in 1968, having won a Nobel Prize in 1962.
His most famous works include The Pastures of Heaven (1932), Of Mice And Men (1937), The Grapes Of Wrath (1939), Cannery Row (1945) and East Of Eden (1952).

The book Of Mice And Men tells about two migrant workers, George Milton and Lennie Small in California during the Great Depression of the 1930s. They are an unlikely pair, George is small and quite intelligent, whereas Lennie is big and extraordinarily strong but has the mind of a little child. They travel together, sharing a dream of saving enough money to buy their own small farm.
Lennie’s slow intellect often gets both of them in trouble. They had to leave their last job behind because Lennie, in his desire to pet nice and soft things, had been falsely accused of raping a woman in the town of Weed. Although there is no meanness in him he often hurts people and animals when he gets in panic and "just holds on".
Eventually they arrive at their new jobs on a ranch near the town of Soledad. It is Friday evening, and before they report to their new boss, they decide to spend the night out in the open along the banks of the Salinas river. George sets down some rules for Lennie. He is not to say anything as long as he has not yet had the chance to prove his qualities as a worker, he is to avoid trouble, and when trouble should nevertheless arise, he is to come back to the very same spot on the riverbank to wait for George.
Saturday morning they appear on the ranch. The boss fills them in on their duties and they get to know Candy, an old man, who has lost his hand while working on the ranch, and his ancient dog. In the bunk house, they meet the boss' son, Curley, a short, quick - tempered bully. He dislikes Lennie on sight because of his height and seemingly provocative behaviour, which is caused by nothing but Lennie's slow way of thinking and reacting to his environment. George senses upcoming trouble and repeats his instructions for Lennie.
Next Curley's wife comes into the bunk house, supposedly looking for her husband, but really wanting to check out the new workers and seeking to present her good looks. George puts her down, warning Lennie to avoid her totally.
Slim, the greatest authority among the workers on the farm, and another ranch hand, Carlson, now join the others. They discuss shooting Candy's old useless dog and giving him a new puppy instead. When Lennie hears about the puppies, he pleads George to give one to him. George warns him that handling and petting a pup too much and carelessly might kill it.
Slim is interested in the fact that they travel together. George explains this relationship to him. He admits that Lennie is not that bright, but a nice guy and a good companion. Besides, George can feel smart alongside him.
Carlson begins pressuring Candy to let him put his dog out of its misery. When Slim joins him, Candy gives in. When he later overhears George talking to Lennie about their dream, he confides that he fears the day when he will no longer be of any use, like his dog was. He asks to join their dream and offers to advance half the required money from his savings. Suddenly, the dream seems within reach.
But then Curley walks in, looking for his wife. He spots Lennie still smiling at the thought of tending the rabbits on their own farm and thinks the big man is trying to make fun of him. So he attacks Lennie, who refuses to defend himself until George tells him to. Lennie then grabs Curley's hand and crushes it.
Late in the evening, when George and the others are in town at a whorehouse, Lennie comes into the room of Crooks, the Afro - American stable worker. At first, Crooks is not happy about Lennie invading on his privacy, but then Lennie's innocent good humor wins him over. Crooks describes his problems and the sublime racism on the ranch, and Lennie talks about their future farm. When Candy joins them and explains that he will advance half of the money, Crooks asks to be included, too. When George comes in, he is annoyed that they told Crooks about the dream.
The next afternoon, the situation gets out of control. Lennie has accidentally killed his puppy by breaking his neck. As he tries to hide the animal, Curley's wife comes into the barn. When Lennie tells her about his fondness for soft things, she allows him to stroke her hair. But he, as always, holds on too tight. When she begins to struggle and scream, Lennie gets in panic, shakes her and breaks her neck, like he had done to the puppy. He remembers George's advice, and flees to the banks of the Salinas.
Candy discovers the body. He gets George, who asks Candy to give him a few minutes' headstart before telling the others. George steals Carlson's Luger, which has already been used to shoot the dog.
George reenters the barn with the others. He tries to convince them that Lennie meant no harm, and that there's no need to track him down and kill him. But Curley insists on a lynching, and they go out looking for Lennie.
George, apart from the others, finds Lennie near the river. George tells Lennie to look across the river and imagine the farm. Then, after a he shoots him in the back of the head, to save him from the others or from a life in prison.

In my opinion, Of Mice And Men is a rather peculiar but genuinely moving book.
At first glimpse, John Steinbeck focuses on a group of unimportant, perhaps even outright boring people, leading meaningless lifes. They are commom men who will always be fairly anonymous and powerless. The author never tries to make them seem any more than that. Throughout the book his style sticks to their way of speaking, limited choice of words and simple, sometimes strange, grammar. Most characters are never fully developed, but instead appear as outlines of real people.
But concerning the main protagonists, George and Lennie, the author indeed is very sensitive to their personal needs, feelings and dreams. In my opinion, the empathic way John Steinbeck tells about their unusual friendship and its tragic failure is what makes the book really worth reading.
Although the whole action is perceived from a third - person perspective, the reader can easily immerse into the story. The setting and atmosphere are described in an almost poetic way. The author uses a lot of alliterations, vivid metaphors and similes. There are no abrupt jumps in the course of events, the story develops one step at a time. This gives the action a dramatic quality, instantly catching the reader.

I. Steinbeck, J. (1937)
Of Mice And Men
New York

II. Michael Goodman (Ed.) (1984)

Barron's Book Notes

John Steinbeck's Of Mice And Men
New York

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