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