Cannonball Read V: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
I started out reading John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men while picturing it as an old-timey travelling farmer story starring Walton Goggins and Hodor (hooray!). Oh, how amusing this was to me at first. And it really was the easiest way to picture the characters (with some slight changes, of course) in my head as it all went along. Until the course of the story started to fill me with worry and doubt, which ended up in just plain old heartbreak. I should have seen it coming; I did see it coming, but just like how you may watch a film even though you know you’re going to end up crying in it, I walked right into this one as well. That’s not to say that it made me intensely emotional or anything, but it kind of weighed a little heavy on my heart at the end. This could definitely be seen as a testament to the author’s abilities as a writer, and it really was a beautiful and brief story, but at the same time, I’m not sure if it was really for me at the end of all things…
It is true, however, that when I read these “classic” novels I can understand why they are so often read and praised, though I myself may not enjoy them as much as I feel I should, simply based on the fact that they are so highly regarded. Of Mice and Men has always been one of those books whose title I’ve heard spouted about and talked about as being typical reading in high school, and yet I’ve never had anyone I know read it (for school or otherwise), and I realized that I never had even the slightest idea what the whole thing was about. What is it about? In it’s simplest sense, I found it to be about the many dreams that humans may have, and how they may act in regards to these dreams. It also seemed to deal a lot with ideas regarding companionship and loneliness, all while following the path of men without homes, as they travel from farm to farm, looking for work.
The two men the story focuses on are named Lennie and George, essentially living from ranch job to ranch job as they travel the country together in the 1920s. People that engaged in this kind of farm-work without any real land or home of their own were known as “bindlestiffs,” and never really made any commitment to stay anywhere too long. George is characterized as a small and intelligent man, despite his lack of education. Lennie, on the other hand, is extremely large, and almost childlike in his demeanor, as he is evidently suffering from some kind of mental disability. Normally bindlestiffs don’t travel together, but because of their links from childhood and a desperate want of companionship in their lonely lives, George essentially acts as caregiver for Lennie and takes him along with him; the men have difficulty staying in places too long, however, as Lennie always gets into some kind of trouble because of his size and mental confusions, causing them to have to run to whatever they can find next; people just see Lennie as “not bright” and often think that he is much more dangerous than he is because of his size, even though he is not a cruel man in the slightest.
Most of the short tale that is told of George and Lennie takes place on a farm where they find work, but soon learn there are all kinds of malicious and lonely people about causing trouble for one another. The men choose to stay, however, as they want to earn enough money to buy a piece of land of their own. At first, it seems like George is simply telling Lennie how they are going to find somewhere one day to make him happy, but as they work and meet an old man named Candy who may help them achieve their dream if they take Candy with them, it appears that George feels they may be within reach of their dream after all. But as it often is, things never work out as simply as they ought to, and Lennie finds himself in trouble yet again, causing George to have to make an ultimate decision regarding their lives and their relationship at the end of the book. But more than anything, dreams are shattered, and people are left wondering if they are even worth having to begin with.
In general, the story is short but striking, and contains characters with real emotions and dimensions. But because of this, and the likeability of both George and Lennie, it makes the whole thing very hard, as you start to feel for them and root for their dream to live off the land together. As soon as they made it to the farm, however, I knew that something would go wrong and that something painful was on it’s way, and that made me worried and nervous while reading: there’s something in the air that just tells you that things are not going to be fine when all is said and done. It made me anxious, to say the least. In addition, a problem I often have when reading older or more “classic” books is that there is so much exposition or description that it slows the whole thing down; that or they are just too boring and sprawling that I can’t make it through. Steinbeck, however, manages to have enough detail to make the world in his book seem vivid and real, but mainly focuses on the relationships and dialogue which moves the action along and makes the biggest impact within the limited length of the book.
But despite the fact that by all measures of quality, Of Mice and Men is a very good book, I still don’t know if I would recommend it to everyone, as it wasn’t really my cup of tea. I mean, I enjoyed it, but not as much as I would have liked. But I’ll chalk that up to personal taste, I think.
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