Somehow, this is my first time reading the John Steinbeck classic novella, Of Mice and Men. And what a lot of emotion, reflection and commentary is packed into its just over 100 pages! You know when you’re reading a much-loved classic and you have the worry you either won’t get it or like it? No such fear here as I am truly in awe of the powerful story on these pages.
Opening sentence: A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and rubs deep and green.
George and Lennie
Lots of people might be acquainted with the heart-breaking story of friends George and Lennie but if not, let me summarise…
Set in the town of Soledad (Spanish for loneliness – a key theme explored in the book), California in the 1930s (the book was written in 1937), we meet George and Lennie as they are just about to start a new job picking corn on a farm. It is repetitive, manual work and, like lots of other labourers, they dream of one day earning enough money to set up their own farm and not live hand-to-mouth in measly conditions.
‘An rabbits,’ Lennie said eagerly. ‘An I’d take care of ’em. Tell how I’d do that, George.’
Lennie has an unnamed learning disability which means he is quite childlike and needs to be spoken to in a simple way to understand things. George is essentially his carer, speaking for him a lot of the time and protecting him.
Lennie’s huge physical strength and inability to understand boundaries has got him in trouble in the past. It is something that George is always wary of, with good reason it turns out…
Human nature at its best and worst
As any English student will be able to tell you, there are a lot of themes that come through in the book. From the way George and Lennie’s relationship is both positive and negative for them both, to the racism that the only Black man on the farm experiences, to the base nature of humans, Of Mice and Men certainly gives you a lot to think about.
‘He’s a nice fella,’ said Slim. ‘Guy don’t need no sense to be a nice fella. Seems to me sometimes it jus’ works the other way around. Take a real smart guy and he ain’t hardly ever a nice fella.’
There was a sense of menace running through – you knew something was going to happen and when it finally did, it made for some very tense pages. When you couple that with the beautifully tragic ending, you have a perfectly plotted book.
I mean, there is, of course, a reason Of Mice and Men is so loved and I’m so glad I’ve finally read it to see for myself.
- Get your copy of Of Mice and Men here;
- First published in 1937. This edition by Penguin Classics 2008;
- 122 pages;
- My rating: