Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Rereading Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and MenA few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green. The water is warm too, for it has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight before reaching the narrow pool.

"They are an unlikely pair: George is "small and quick and dark of face"; Lennie, a man of tremendous size, has the mind of a young child. Yet they have formed a "family," clinging together in the face of loneliness and alienation. Laborers in California's dusty vegetable fields, they hustle work when they can, living a hand-to-mouth existence. For George and Lennie have a plan: to own an acre of land and a shack they can call their own. When they land jobs on a ranch in the Salinas Valley, the fulfillment of their dream seems to be within their grasp. But even George cannot guard Lennie from the provocations of a flirtatious woman, nor predict the consequences of Lennie's unswerving obedience to the things George taught him."

I first read Of Mice and Men a while ago when I was eight or nine, and I remembered liking it but not much else. Rereading it now, for school, I once again rediscovered its brilliance, its beauty, and its deep sadness. I wish I'd reread it sooner, because of Of Mice and Men is a great, great book. Who says short books can't be just as expressive and meaningful? Not I. There are so many brilliant aspects of this book, aspects that I probably didn't catch on to the first time I read it, and aspects that I still probably haven't fully realized that will be explored in the class I'm taking. The constant refrains, for example: "livin' on the fatta the lan'." And the rabbits, the rabbits that Lennie wants so desperately to tend, that he dreams of tending. Right from the start, you know it's doomed; the novel takes place south of Soledad, south of solitude, south of loneliness.

Lennie and George are two very interesting characters, almost opposites, really. Lennie is described in animal like terms quite often, as "dabbling a big paw" while drinking. He has the power to crush a man's hand in his fist, he breaks mice by petting them. Yet he never means any harm; all the bad things that he does are by accident, because he didn't know what else to do. George, on the other hand, is small and dark and very, very sharp; he knows how to survive, and often tells Lennie that if not for him, he would be doing much better. You know, however, that George doesn't really mean it, that there's such a strong bond between the two of them, even if George does get cross at Lennie sometimes because of all the bad things that he does.

You can tell from reading his work that Steinbeck fiercely loves both California's landscape and its people, its wanderers and dreamers. At the beginning of several of the chapters, there are long, detailed descriptions of the woods and the brush, and the creatures living in them. The style here is very accurate, in sharp contrast to the way the characters speak, which is quite ungrammatical, to say the least. The descriptions are beautiful, and they at least partially serve to contrast the beauty of the landscape and the ugliness of what occurs in it, on both the human and animal scale, with their similarities and differences.

Of Mice and Men is both a highly absorbing and really, really fast read. I probably finished it in about forty-five minutes worth of time, and I seem to recall reading it that quickly the first time I read it too. Of course, in this case, I'm going to go back over it again and again, but initially the pages fly by really quickly. It's also not one of those books you feel like you have to rush through, because it's quick anyway, and you can glean a lot from the novel even reading it in a short span of time. I certainly felt like I did.

Steinbeck builds dread so, so well. There are many scenes in which which the tension builds and builds (Lennie is, of course, oblivious to it all), until I could hardly bear it. Many of these scenes are with Curley, but some are with other characters as well (like Crooks). And of course, there's the scene with Lennie and Curley's wife, which just kills you (and others). I find it rather interesting that she's never given a name, just "Curley's wife", a possession described rather cheaply. There's lots of foreshadowing of the terrible, final event what with Lennie's fondness for soft things and how he often "breaks" them. Also dread-inducing.

The friendship between George and Lennie is portrayed so well, written both with fierceness and tenderness. It endures until the heartbreaking end, when George realizes what he must do, in a scene that is both powerful and deeply moving. Despite Of Mice and Men's short length, Steinbeck manages to convey so, so much about friendship and human nature and the characters' desire, their yearning, for roots, for their own little patch of land to care for and call their own. This is really at the heart of the novel. I would highly recommend Of Mice and Men. I may add to this review later once it is discussed in my English class; we'll see.

118 pages.

Rating: ***** 

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