John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men: Review

UnknownHearing the news that my book club had decided to read John Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men, I admit I didn’t quite manage to stifle a groan. My previous (and only) encounter with Steinbeck had not been a happy one so the thought of a second meeting was not one to relish.

Having tried but failed to get enthused by The Grapes of Wrath, I had formed the impression that all of Steinbeck’s work would be  similarly dark and  depressing. I was completely unprepared for a book which reverberated with warmth and understanding and that packed so many ideas into just over 100 pages.

Of Mice and Men is essentially a parable about dreams and the obstacles that stand in the way of achieving them; a story about people  who are life’s losers yet never relinquish their hopes and ambitions for a better life.

The two central characters are George Milton and Lennie Small, migrant workers who drift around California in search of work. When the book opens they are on their way to a ranch where they are due to start jobs as agricultural labourers. These are not people who have grand ambitions; all they really want in life is a place they can call their own. They begin their journey full of optimism that their endeavours will help them realise their dream of owning their own farm and being in control of their own destiny.

Someday we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs….

…we’ll have a big vegetable patch and a rabbit hutch and chickens. And when it rains in the winter, we’ll just say the hell with goin’ to work and we’ll build up a fire in the stove and sit around it an’  listen to the rain coming down on the roof.

Steinbeck portrays George and Lennie as innocents caught like mice in a maze of modem life. Lennie in particular is depicted as a simple soul, a man who loves soft creatures and who never tires of hearing his friend tell the story of their future life together when they will – in Lennie’s words “live off the fatta the lan”. Though Lennie can’t retain practical information for very long (he doesn’t even remember where he and George are going tomorrow), the story of their future life is one he’s heard so many times he can practically repeat it word for word.

Lennie in essence is a simple-minded man of great size and strength. But he has a flaw in his character that will ultimately cause a tragic accident and the collapse of their dream. Though all does not end well for this pair, what Steinbeck succeeds in showing is that dreams are what sustain us. Without them, life is an endless cycle of days without meaning. Without someone to share those dreams, they become empty of life and vitality.

Ultimately, the ties of affection and love between the two men are what bind them together. They may have nothing of material value but they do have each other helping to keep alive the flame of their desire and hope.

George said: ‘Guys like us got no family. They make a little stake an’ then they blow it in. They ain’t got nobody in the worl’ that gives a hoot in hell about ‘em—’

‘But not us,’ Lennie ended happily. ‘Tell about us now.’

George was quiet for a moment. ‘But not us,’ he said.

‘Because —

‘Because I got you an’ —

‘An’ I got you. We got each other, thats what that gives a hoot in hell about us.’

The Verdict

A delightful novel even if at times it has a sense of inevitability that is unwelcome.

About BookerTalk

After a day at the coal face of corporate communications, what better way to wind down than by sticking my nose into a good book. My tastes are eclectic. I find it easier to say what kind of books I don't especially like - gothic, science fiction and science fantasy do absolutely nothing for me. It doesn't mean I will never read them, because I am trying to broaden my reading horizons - that's the idea behind my challenge to read books from each country touched by the Equator or the Prime Meridian. Regardless of the author or country, the acid test of a good book for me is whether the characters are engaging, the plot realistic and the setting evocative. If I make it to 100 pages then I know I'll finish it.

Posted on December 28, 2013, in Classics Club, USA and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. that’s so funny that there would be such a reaction… it is in fact a worhtwhile read. Some people have already seen the black and white Hollywood version and get depressed but it is at base a tribute to the human spirit…. don’t you think?

  2. This is one of Steinbeck’s works that I am yet to read. Unlike you I loved Grapes of Wrath and also East of Eden – and really like The Moon is Down too.

  3. This was one of my most loved books when I was a teenager. I’ve never had the courage to re-read it in case it didn’t stand the test of time – I think you may have persuaded me to go for it…

  4. I’ve not read any Steinbeck and would have automatically avoided him thinking that he was best read when a teenager. I’m not sure I’m going to pick him up now, but if any of his books turn up on a book group list perhaps I won’t be as disappointed as I might otherwise have been.

    • Many of the books our club has read lately have been very disappointing but if it hadn’t been for the club I wouldn’t have ever picked up the Steinbeck. And then I would have gone through life thinking he was a miserable old geezer.

  5. I’ve never read this though always meant to. A few years ago I saw a play of it here in Birmingham, Matthew Kelly played Lenny and was outstanding.

    • quite a lot of people seem to have seen a stage version, Ali.I’ve never noticed it as a production myself but will be keeping an eye out. it’s on the schools’ syllabus so I’d expect it to come around at some time.

  6. Thanks for your review. I loved this story – but am a bit of a Steinbeck fan, having read the Grapes of Wrath (once as a teenager, once as an adult) and also Cannery Row. The Grapes of Wrath ending always stumped me – but I did enjoy the novel overall.

  7. Beautiful review. I couldn’t agree more about the sense of inevitability, and I believe that Steinbeck’s ability to achieve this constant tension throughout the book is what makes him such a good writer. I’m glad you discovered how great he is!

  8. Glad you enjoyed it. I really liked the book when I read it back in high school but what has stuck with me most was seeing it as a play around the same time. It was a very moving experience.

  9. You’ve almost convinced me! I’ve always wanted to read Steinback and did in school (The Red Pony), but I don’t really remember it. I’ll start with this and see if I can then maybe do The Grapes of Wrath.

    • I’m now feeling the weight of responsibility Geoff – hope I have not led you down a path you don’t enjoy. BTW I recently also read Cannery Row and loved that too.

  10. I am planning to read this book this year after it was mentioned in Stephen King’s 11/22/63. I really am looking forward to it :)

  11. I have now read ‘Of Mice and Men’ some twenty plus times (which sounds terrible, but that’s what happens when you are an English teacher). However, I find something new in it every time and teenagers absolutely love it and can often find a real affinity with the characters or their situations at least as well as loving the story. Sadly, Mr Gove (I will refrain from offering my view of him), has decided students should now study almost entirely literature written by British authors and so good old ‘Of Mice and Men’ is leaving the syllabus and a great shame this will be (as well as further evidence of Gove’s idiotic jingoism). Nonetheless, a great book and a super review :)

    • I hadn’t heard about those changes to the syllabus. It does sound rather insular. It doesn’t sound terrible at all to have read a book that many times and still find something new in it. I think that actually sounds rather wonderful:)

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