Matt's Reviews > Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
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Jan 04, 09


I was cleaning my car a couple months ago, when I stumbled across a thin, yellowing copy of Of Mice and Men wedged between some jumper cables and roadside flares. It didn't belong to me, but I have to assume that a homeless person has been living in my car, reading the classics by light of my traffic flares.

Most everything I knew about Of Mice and Men came from my old friend Rob, who used to entertain us all with schoolyard impressions of Lennie and the rabbit: "I was just petting her!" (It is amazing how easy it is to creep out your loved ones with this simple line). I am always looking to better myself in the easiest, cheapest way possible. What better way to do that than to read a slim Steinbeck novel left in my car (possibly by a literary-minded homeless person).

To paraphrase The Squid and the Whale: it was minor Steinbeck.

Don't get me wrong: I like John Steinbeck. I think he's taken quite a few unfair hits from literary critics. I listened to an entire show on NPR devoted to slamming the Nobel Prize in literature; Exhibit A in the prosecution of the Nobel Prize was Steinbeck's receipt of said award in 1962.

I'm not sure where the criticism comes from. Sure, he wrote in simple allegory, but I haven't seen angry mobs chasing Paulo Cohelo lately. I actually have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of people just don't like his politics.

Me, I like the guy, and I don't blame him for being a left-wing radical in the early part of the 20th century. The early part of the 20th century almost required sucha stance.

Anyway, I love his writing style; accessible and detailed. I think his physical descriptions, especially of the Salinas Valley, are beautiful. And I like the myth-making - it serves its point.

For whatever reason, I didn't really like Of Mice and Men. Maybe it was too simple; maybe Steinbeck requires length, rather than brevity, to raise the simple into something profound. Or maybe it just made me sad. George and Lennie are two sad, lonely guys. Loneliness being operative; the theme. As Crooks says:

Books ain't no good. A guy needs somebody - to be near him...A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody. Don't make no difference who the guy is, long's he's with ya...I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an' he gets sick.


George and Lennie are itinerant workers during the Depression (the Great One, not the one we are currently in). Lennie is a huge, powerful, retarded man, who tends to kill things unintentionally (such as rabbits). George is his buddy and caretaker, who tries to keep Lennie from petting things, and spins a vision of the future for Lennie that will never - can never - come to pass.

The story runs along a taut, lean arc. It doesn't take long for things to get where they are going. Without giving too much away, the end will hold something of a surprise for those of you who have, like me, remained woefully ignorant of Of Mice and Men. (I hope I haven't spoiled the surprise by telling you there's a surprise; I mean, you will still be surprised by what that suprise entails).

I like to get carried away by Steinbeck novels. The big ones, like East of Eden and Grapes of Wrath. I'm definitely grading Of Mice and Men on the curve set by those novels. Still, it's a good read, a certified classic, and it's short, which means you can inflate your ego with just a couple hours of dedicated reading. And really, isn't that what this whole exercise is all about?
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message 1: by John and Kris (last edited Jan 04, 2009 12:42PM) (new)

John and Kris Possible reasons for a person to stop reading at page 95:

1)Death.
2)Someone, maybe a waitress at a truck stop, said: “You know Lennie dies, don’t you?”
3)You hear Nicholas Cage’s thriller, Bangkok Express, was released on DVD with awesome extras.
4)Somebody hid it in the back of a car.
5)The Pizza Rolls were done “cooking” in the microwave.

That’s all I have; I can smell the Rolls.




Trice well said - I like how he writes his characters, but somehow in Grapes of Wrath (the only long Steinbeck I've read so far) he transforms them into poetry


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