John Steinbeck’s masterful novella tells the tale of two drifters, George and Lennie. George is a good man, whose shrewdness has seen him survive the lean years of the Great Depression. Lennie is a man-mountain whose gentle heart and simple, childlike mind have a habit of getting him into strife. The two make an odd couple, but it works for them. George’s street smarts help protect and provide for Lennie, while Lennie’s friendship helps George endure the emotional toll of the Depression. They travel together looking for employment, and plan to scrape enough money together to buy a place of their own, where they can live and work without care.
The two friends find work on a farm, and things begin to look up. There they meet an old, one-armed man named Candy, whose capacity for manual labour is limited to doing odd jobs. Candy knows his working days are numbered, so when he hears about George and Lennie’s plan he offers to join them. With Candy’s savings, plus what they will earn on the farm, George figures they will soon have enough to buy a place like he and Lennie dreamed about. It isn’t long, however, before trouble presents itself in the form of Curley, the boss’s son. He is a man of short stature and shorter temper, and starts looking for an opportunity to prove his boxing skills against Lennie. Meanwhile, Curley’s wanton wife tries to cast her charms upon both of the new workers. One afternoon, while George is not there to guide him, Lennie’s slow wit and extraordinary strength cause such harm that even George cannot rescue him from the consequences. In turn, the plans George and Lennie had within their grasp are ruined.
One criticism I have of this book is that the title is somewhat misleading. Yes, mice were in the story, but they were disappointingly underused. Mice held a share of the title equal to that of men, but when it came to driving the storyline, they were almost entirely absent. I was expecting a vast, rodent army to suddenly appear and save the day, but it never happened.
I suppose though, the title, if not taken literally, could be viewed as a subtle spoiler right there on the cover, being taken from the saying, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” The idea, or observation, is that even the wisest planning and most skilful execution does not guarantee the desired result. It is the story’s main theme, but it is by no means unique to the story. This theme traverses time and culture, and finds expression in many ways; from the wisdom of ancient King Solomon, who said, “There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand,” to the more modern but less poetic, “Sh#% happens”. Life has no assurances, and sometimes things don’t turn out as planned. It seems there are some unfortunate souls who will never have any great success or peace in this life, try as they may. Perhaps the only thing that makes it all worthwhile, as it did for George and Lennie, is having a good friend by your side.
Of Mice and Men is brilliantly and beautifully written, and packs volumes of emotion and insight into its mere one hundred and twenty-odd pages. 8/10
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