Book Review – Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

I’ve read Of Mice and Men numerous times both for school and pleasure. I decided to read it once more while pretending that I’d never heard the story before. I knew this would be a challenge as the characters of Lennie and George have become ingrained into American popular culture. In spite of the challenges, I managed to get through Steinbeck’s classic with an open mind. To my surprise I liked the book much more than I ever did.

I know the author borrowed the title from a line in Robert Burns’ poem “To a Mouse”. A lot of book titles represent allusions to classic literary works; many lack any relation to the story. (Steinbeck’s own The Moon is Down abstracted from Macbeth comes to mind.) I really applaud the way Steinbeck applied the novel’s appellation to the actual narrative. In the beginning of the book the author described how Lennie kept killing mice because of his stature in relation to their diminutive size. (Page 803) Because of this, the title had both literal and figurative connotations. I applaud the author for his creativity.

I would describe Steinbeck’s use of foreshadowing in this work as without peer. He utilized a lot of it, especially for a short novel. At no time did I find it excessive or obvious. Early in the tale George referenced an incident between Lennie and a girl in another town. (Page 804) Carlson’s euthanizing of the dog hinted at more tragedy to come. Of course, Lennie’s accidental slaying of both the mouse and puppy also intimated a more serious inadvertent killing on his part. In addition, the author worked all these events into the larger narrative. At no point did they stop the story from moving forward.

One element that I always miss in so called “works of literary merit” is the use of symbolism. I didn’t have that trouble with 1937’s Of Mice and Men. Steinbeck’s parallels between Carlson’s views and the policies enacted in Nazi Germany were difficult to ignore. I found Carlson’s cavalier attitude toward euthanasia chilling. The author even gave him the last line in the book. It will haunt me for the rest of my days.

The only thing about this novel I didn’t like occurred during the exchange between Lennie and Curley’s wife. (The author didn’t provide her with a name.) This passage showed me that even the best authors aren’t immune from “rookie” mistakes.

…”’Nother time I met a guy, an’ he was in pitchers. Went out to Riverside Dance Palace with him. He says he was gonna put me in the movies. Says I was a natural. Soon’s he got back to Hollywood he was gonna write to me about it.” She looked close at Lennie to see whether she was impressing him. “I never got that letter,” she said. “I always thought my ‘ol lady stole it. Well, I wasn’t gonna stay no place where I couldn’t get nowhere or make something of myself, an’ where they stole your letters. I ast her if she stole it, too, an’ she says no. So I married Curley. Met him out at the Riverside Dance Palace that same night.” (Page 863)

I found this section completely unbelievable. Would Curley’s wife really tell Lennie about her sordid romantic history during their first conversation with one another? The other guys in the camp had been there much longer and they didn’t know anything about her past. In addition, I’ve heard of dating on the rebound, but Curley’s wife’s response seems extreme. How could marrying a former boxer ameliorate a movie career that never happened? The author made the character of Curley’s wife a one dimensional tart. I couldn’t determine if she behaved as such due to a lack of judgment or intellect.

While I’ve read Of Mice and Men before, I found it well worth exploring again. It amazed me that the author could weave so many literary elements into such a short novel. He also achieved this without anything coming across as forced or pedantic. That would certainly explain why the story is still widely read today and will be for generations to come.


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