Fiction — print. Penguin Books, 2002. 103 pgs. Library copy.
I’ve been afraid of Steinbeck’s classic novel for so long; the title alone always put me off because I never could see the connection between the two. Yet, when I went to retrieve Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath from the library, I was completely surprised to see how short Of Mice and Men really is. Right then and there I decided my fear was completely irrational — after all, I’ve read novels that 1,000 pages — and added it to my stack of books.
The novella follows Lennie Small, a large, brawny man who is also mentally slow, and George Milton, the opposite of Lennie in every way, as they travel from farm to farm during the 1930s looking for work, looking to make enough money to get their own slice of land where they can be their own boss and Lennie can take care of the rabbits. Lennie, though, manages to get into trouble everywhere they go, which forces them to flee under the cover of darkness. At their newest place of employment, George tells Lennie not to speak to anyone, especially not to Curley’s wife. But, just as before, Lennie gets in trouble.
The title stems from Lennie’s obsession with petting mice; he’s too strong and often his affection for the animal causes them to die. And the novel as a whole reminded me of a cross between My Louisiana Sky and Flowers for Algernon. The mother in My Louisiana Sky was so enthralled with hugging her kitten that she squeezed it too tightly and killed it; in Flowers for Algernon, Charlie is mentally slow and yet loves the mouse, Algernon. Of course, Of Mice and Men (1936) was written before any of these other novels, but the feelings I get from it are similar to the ones I get from the others.
Anyways, the novella examines what friendship really means and the role dependency plays in our lives. Lennie’s dependency on George causes neither of them to learn what it means to be independent, and their interwoven dream of owning their own farm places a strain in their relationship throughout their time together. These characters, though, are perfectly written, perfectly formed. The characters are what propel the plot forward, and that is the most beautiful part of this heart-wrenching novel.
Of Mice and Men is clearly a classic for a reason.