Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

My Copy: 9780140177398 (image from amazon.com)

I’ll give Steinbeck credit: he sure knows how to tell a story in a small amount of pages. I couldn’t believe how thin this book was when I picked it up, but then again, how many pages can a person go on about a couple of migrant farm workers who got chased off the last job and have only spent a few days at a new one?

Unless you’re deliberately trying to manipulate an audience with deeper themes, it just doesn’t have to be any longer. I think it was just right.

Of Mice and Men is a book I’ve heard referenced my whole life, especially the character Lennie. Once I read it, I was hooked through to the ending, but it made me wonder about a lot of things up to the point where Lennie did a “very bad thing.”

I wondered how old these men were, and how long George had been putting up with it. In some ways, the book lets you in on the cracks in their relationship–dependent Lennie and thinking George. George swears and gets mad at Lennie because of his forgetfulness, but then is quick to forgive or at least drop the subject. He’s used to Lennie, and knows his quirks and how to use him so they can get work. Lennie is very well described as a child in a giant’s body, totally unable to understand the consequences of his actions, and just can’t seem to understand how careful he must be with his size, or how to listen, or how to read other people.

Now that I think about it, all those Bugs Bunny cartoons with the Abominable Snowman character that I used to watch now have a more disturbing tone to them. I used to imitate the voice when petting my dog (like when he’d “pet” Bugs or Daffy); now it’s a bit creepy.

I used to wonder where they got the inspiration for this character…now I know.

Other than the basic characters, I’m not entirely sure why this is such an American classic. Perhaps it’s the slice-of-life element about workers in America trying to reach their dreams, and the various things that hold them back. I didn’t want to cheat and reference CliffsNotes or anything–this is what I got out of it. Candy and his dog, Slim, Curley, Curley’s wife, Crooks the blacksmith…there’s something they all seem to need and can’t get, and they’re all tied together whether they’d like it or not.

At least, that’s how I understood it. Part of me knew what would happen eventually when it came to Lennie and his pet projects, but I got so wrapped up in what happened away from Lennie that I was startled when I realized he’d accidentally killed another animal.

It’s only about 100 pages, but worth taking time to read. I set it down and tried to imagine what would happen to the characters once the book had closed, like where would they go from here–especially George.

The only Steinbeck I remember reading is The Pearl in school. I don’t recall caring for it much then, but at least it was short and we could move on to other books faster.

Now, I guess I wouldn’t mind taking a crack at more Steinbeck after all.

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