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Author: John Steinbeck was born in California, in 1902. In California he lived the most of his life. He always had jobs on farms during his high school years, or, as he was very much interested in science, helped out in local laboratories. After school he went to college at Stanford University, but he dropped out without a degree to enter journalism in NY. He returned to California to become a novel-writer after he had worked as a reporter, bricklayer and a jack-of-all-trades. Of Mice and Men was the first novel that got recognition, first published in 1937. In 1962 John Steinbeck got the Nobel Prize for literature… He died in 1968.
Steinbeck describes people as if they were living their lives at the same level of existence as animals. His characters do have their dignity and face life without flinching. They have ideals and that separates them from the animals, they dream of their own promised land, but the dreams are always too far away and cannot come true in real life. George and Lennie dream of his own little farm, Curley s wife of a happy marriage to a devoted husband. Crook on the other hand of a place where he will be equal to white men.
Steinbeck seems to be uninterested in creating individuals, but makes them into representatives of the species by their primitivism. The result is that the reader does not get a clear picture of one of them, except for Lennie. But still Lennie’s mind is as a closed book to us, and only in the final chapter Steinbeck attempts to describe Lennie and his hallucinations, but the result is very poor.
Theme: Without a doubt it is companionship. The friendship between George and Lennie is so close that George takes it up for his feeble-minded friend and protects him above all, even his own interests. It is like a sacred bond, and this makes them different from people who are just on their own. Seeking friendship is also to be seen in Candy, Curley’s wife and Crooks.
Characteristics: The story is set in California, and that is what Steinbeck is good at, he loves it and knows it very well. The construction is somewhat weird, Steinbeck tried to make it a novel that could be acted or a play that could be read as a novel as well. He did not quite succeed, it was merely an experiment. It does explain the succession of dramatic scenes, with a lot of dialogue in it to keep the action going. There is symbolism in the book. George and Lennie each represent a different part of every man. Lennie is the primitive savage that lives in each one of us, but in the mean time there is no place for him in our civilized society. He represents, as Steinbeck said it himself, “not insanity at all but the inarticulate and powerful yearnings of all men”. The title originates from a poem by Robert Burns. Burns compares the lot of a mouse with his own. The animal cannot see the misery that is in store for it. Both animals and men are victims of all-powerful fate; this sets the background of Steinbeck’s story. The language is simple and much like living speech. Steinbeck studied Western dialect very close before writing the book.
Somewhere along the Salinas River in California two men are making their way through the wood to a ranch where they expect to find work. George, the small and keen one of the two, goes in front. Lennie, a big shapeless man with a feeble mind, but an enormous strength, comes after him. Lennie has been accused of assaulting a girl and that’s why they had to leave town. He merely wanted to stroke her dress, because it seemed soft. Lennie loves soft, furry things, but he can’t have a pet animal, for they all die under the pressure of his huge hands. George could not always prevent Lennie from getting into trouble and together they traveled from ranch to ranch, trying to gather as much money as they needed to get their own place, where Lennie could tend rabbits. Sometimes George feels tempted to go away on his own and leave Lennie, when Lennie has done one of his ‘bad’ things again. But their lifelong friendship and the devotion of Lennie always strengthened George in his task of acting as Lennie’s guardian. At the ranch they are engaged for the season. When George meets the farmer’s son Curley, he immediately senses trouble. Curley was used to get into fights with big men and beat them at boxing, just to make up his small size. George tries to keep Lennie out of harm’s way and pace himself as well. His only wish is to save money so they can one day get their own place and settle. The ideal appeared unattainable to him, but Candy, a disabled farm hand, offers him his savings, asking to become his partner to a scheme. The dream now comes closer to the reach. One day Curley’s fury is directed against Lennie, because he found his wife making eyes at the men. Lennie of course is forced to defend himself against the boxer, but as he gets hold of one of Curley’s hands he crushes all the bones in it in his blind terror. Luckily for George and Lennie, Curley tells everybody that he hurt his hand in a machine, so the case is dismissed. When Lennie gets a pup from one of the men, he kills it in the same way as all the other furry little things he gets into his hands. Lennie sits down besides the body in the barn and is sure that George will be furious at him. He thinks now George will certainly not let him tend rabbits on their future farm. Curley’s wife joins him in the barn, while he is still figuring out what exactly he has done. She starts to talk to him and invites him to stroke her soft hair. Lennie is excited by the softness and his strokes become more intense every time, Curley’s wife is afraid and starts to scream for help. In a panic Lennie begins to cry with fear, afraid of what George and the others will say. He tries to stop her screaming and shakes her head, but breaks her neck. Slowly realizing that she is dead, he escapes to the bushes where George had told him to hide in case anything went wrong. When the body is found, the ranch-men, and Curley, organize a search for Lennie. But as George knows where to look he finds him first. They sit down together and talk again about their little farm they are going to have in time. George reminds Lennie of the fact that they were happier than normal people because of their friendship. He asks Lennie to look away across the river and turn his head. He takes a pistol and places it against the back of Lennie’s head… and shoots.
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