Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937)
One-sentence summary: This is the tragic story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two migrant ranch workers, who move from place to place in search of new job opportunities during the Great Depression while holding on to the false hope that they can someday have the American dream.
My rating: between 3 and 4 stars
When read: December 2010
Why read: I had never read this classic and felt I should.
Impressions: It’s almost difficult to enjoy reading this classic for the first time, especially as an older reader. The story is so well-known, and even if it weren’t, Steinbeck telegraphs the climactic events almost too much in the initial pages. But that doesn’t negate the power of this simple story. It has so much to say in such a few pages about how people are, about how many forces there are arrayed against us, and how our humanity comes from trying to do the best thing for one another despite that. Nowhere does Steinbeck explicitly spell all this out; he lets his story speak for him. A must-read (but perhaps better to first read when you’re young).
Current status: I don’t currently have a copy, but it would be a worthwhile addition to my classics collection.
- The title is taken from the Robert Burns‘ poem “To a Mouse“, which reads: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley.” (The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry.)
- Structured in three acts of two chapters each, Of Mice and Men is intended to be both a novella and a script for a play, which could be either read or performed.
- The book has been frequently banned from libraries and schools for “promoting euthanasia” and being “anti-business.”
- An early draft of the novel was eaten by Steinbeck’s dog, Max.
- The character of Lennie Small is used as the standard for legal mental retardation for executing a prisoner in Texas. If a person appears smarter than Lennie Small in an interview, then he may be executed. If he does not, then he cannot understand his crime.
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