John Steinbeck is known world wide for a number of works including Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden and Of mice and men. This later work is something that can be read very quickly but is a story that you mull over in your mind for a long time afterwards.
The story of two friends that are roaming around trying to get ranch work in order to try and save up to but their own plot of land. Lennie is a large strong man with the brain of a child who relies on his friend George to look after him. They have left a ranch where Lennie got into trouble and George starts the book begging him to be quiet and to keep out of trouble. In the end sadly through no fault of his own Lennie ends up killing the ranch owners daughter-in-law and is shot by George before the rest of the lynch mob can catch up with him.
According to the introduction to the book there were some attempts to ban it in America because they viewed it as encouraging euthanasia. They obviously failed to see that it was a metaphor for the cruelty of the depression and the sentiment, which is echoed with the killing of an old dog in the book, that only the strong will survive.
is it well written?
It takes a bit of time to put the story into a context of the depression hit 1930s and you are continually wondering if Lennie and George are brothers, until it is explained about the historical friendship later in the book. It is a very short story compared to some others but manages to pack in a great deal of deep themes. At the end you are left moved by the ugliness of the extents that poverty drive people to, sadness at the desperation of their dreams of escape and anger at Lennie’s victim who eptiomises the voyeurism that the rich could afford.
Should it be read?
Without a doubt it is a story bigger than its setting and deserves to be read by anyone looking for a tale of friendship, failed ambition and the cost of what happens when the lines are crossed between two different worlds – the adult and the child and the rich and the poor. The ending should leave you moved and keen to read more by Steinbeck and more about the race and class issues that drive so much modern American literature.
You can go in various directions. Firstly, more Steinbeck, which is what is happening next week, or secondly, something I did is to go into more classic American literature including Harper Lee, Capote, Twain and for reasons I’ll explain later some Upton Sinclair and Theodore Dreiser.
Version – Penguin Red Classics range