Of Mice and Men: John Steinbeck

101 things in 1001 days

Good afternoon readers, another classic book review for you today and it’s one that I didn’t think I would choose to include, but ended up picking up at the library a week or so ago. Some books have a reputation that precedes them and despite not having to read this during my English Lit days back at school I do remember the groans and grumbles of the class in the ‘other half,’ who found it terribly tiresome and mind-numbing. I had therefore crossed it off my list of books to read. However once I saw it on the shelf in the library, thoughts that I could be missing out on a really good book got the better of me. I’m happy to say I am glad I picked this up and gave it a read! Enjoy.

Streetwise George and his big, childlike friend Lennie are drifters, searching for work in the fields and valleys of California. They have nothing except the clothes on their back, and a hope that one day they’ll find a place of their own and live the American dream. But dreams come at a price. Gentle giant Lennie doesn’t know his own strength, and when they find work at a ranch he gets into trouble with the boss’s daughter-in-law. Trouble so bad that even his protector George may not be able to save him.

So as the blurb suggests the book follows the unlikely friendship of the small but intelligent George Milton and Lenny Small, the rather large and simple minded man with a big heart. The two arrive at a working ranch near Soledad in the hope that their lives will take a turn for the better. Moving from their home town in Weed due to a series of events leaving them unable to stay, trouble just seems to follow them wherever they go As their friendship becomes all the more strained we follow the pair as we see how far they can keep running, and how long George can protect his friend.

The book is a fantastic showing of literature and the symbolism of dreams, hope, destitution, helplessness and loneliness is played to maximum. The story continually interweaves the themes spinning a tale that captures the spirit of the time absolutely perfectly. I could tell from the first chapter why this has been on the GCSE English literature syllabus for years because although on first reading seemingly a simple plot there is so much going on in-between the lines. The novel, written in times of racism and prejudice is woven throughout the characters speech from the very start and is handled incredibly well, to transport the reader back in time. This and the description of the men, their jobs on the ranch and their conversations with each other help to paint the landscape of the depression-era America pretty perfectly. The book continually seeks out and describes the social and economic problems that evolved due to the Wall Street Crash whilst using it to build up the characters, fleshing them out rather wonderfully.

I must admit I expected the plot to be more complicated, however the strength of the book lies in its complex simplicity. The constant repetition both in the foreshadowing of Lennie’s future seen in the petting of the mice, then the puppy and so forth, and the repetition of his speech shows the brilliant effect an author can create through simple and ordinary narrative writing and how it can have an overall overwhelming effect. There are so many other events that mirror the end of the book but I don’t want to spoil the effect or the ending. The repetition of the final closing scene is incredibly powerful and left me feeling a little shocked and moved. The contrast between George and Lennie means you can almost second guess the ending from quite soon in but it doesn’t spoil the book, it only makes it all the more intriguing to read.

Technically the characters are built up well and each stand on their own. The writing style and language used is particularly evocative of the time and the story moves with pace. It is a novella so it isn’t particularly long but it works perfectly. Overall it’s a wonderful mixture of raw storytelling , social and economic troubles and friendship in the hardest of times; wonderful.

Book review of, Of mice and men

13 thoughts on “Of Mice and Men: John Steinbeck

  1. Cara says:

    I actually taught this book to ninth graders (yeah, I taught high school once upon a time) at a large high school in Queens, NY. As I handed out copies of the book, I would ask various boys in the room, “What are you, a mouse or a man?”. The 14 & 15 year-olds always answered that they were men, with a few of the more bold ones suggesting themselves to be lions. Then I would ask the whole room, “Well, can it be said that some men are mice, and if yes, give examples.”. They would say things like “a man who doesn’t fight for his girlfriend is a mouse” or “a guy who lets himself be pushed around is a mouse” and things like that.

    We would read the book and discuss the characters of George, Lennie, the boss’ son. We would discuss the concepts of power, strength, and the idea of “dealing from your strength”. George’s strength, it was usually agreed, was that he was a bright guy…he knew where the work was and he went there; he was able to size people up & he knew who to mess with and who not to mess with: he had Lennie, a larger, physically stronger man, as his sidekick, which made him someone others didn’t want to mess with, and he dealt from that. Lennie’s strength was in his massive physique, he was a large man, & physically strong: this made him ideally suited to manual labor & a good ranch hand: but Lennie wasn’t too bright, he didn’t realize just how strong he was, he was childlike in mentality even though he inhabited a man’s body, & these things had the potential to get him into trouble, and so Lennie needed to be joined at the hip to a bright guy like George, who could keep him out of trouble. The boss’ son, his only strength was his daddy’s money. Being the son of the wealthy ranch owner meant he could talk down to others, he didn’t have to work very hard, the pretty girl married him (even though she lusted after Slim & went into the barn to hang out with Lennie). And the boss’ son knew his daddy’s money was his only strength, but he also knew he had money when nobody else around had any, so he used it as an excuse to be an ass hole (there are men today who use having money as an excuse to behave like assholes).

    The turning point of the whole thing comes when George realizes that, try as he might, he can’t always keep Lennie out of trouble. The boss’ daughter in law never comes out of the barn after she goes in to hang out with Lennie (and it’s worth noting that Lennie was never looking for any special attention from her, but rather the other way around) and the boss’ son, along with the other men, decide to punish Lennie for this, thinking him a sexual deviant & a cold-blooded killer rather than realizing he’s a child in a man’s body who made a mistake. George sends Lennie to hide from them, but in the end, George realizes that if he wants to be a man rather than a mouse, he must realize Lennie is more of a hindrance than a help to him in life, and so he shoots Lennie so he can live a full life.

    • littlebookblog says:

      thank you for that Incredibly insightful comment. I guess I focused more on the idea of the constant repetition of Lennie’s actions and his inability to break the cycle focusing more on the language. I didn’t look too heavily on the title or George’s connection to it so thank you for commenting. I completely get why it’s such a good text to use for teaching because there are so many different connections to make themes and symbolism. 🙂 ❤

  2. sherlockianbooklover says:

    I had to read this book in school and it was so depressing! I was also spoiled. Another class had finished reading it before mine has and told our class that (spoiler) shoots (spoiler).

    Not fair!
    As of that I was never too keen on this book, I think because I had to study it over and over and over that I got sick of it 😛

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