- Continuing my exploration of critically acclaimed books that every school leaver should’ve read, this is the story ‘Of Mice and Men’ by John Steinbeck.
A book about a pair of travelling workers, during the American Great Depression (1930’s). One, George, is uneducated but quite street-smart. The other, Lennie, a powerful but simple man with a fixation very tactile experiences, normally with small animals. On the run from an unfortunate incident at a previous farm where they worked, the two arrive at another farm where work is assured.
We never really find out the truth about the incident that puts them on the road before the story starts – did Lennie really only hold the girls dress? The actions in this story lead the reader to question this, quite early on. I don’t think we have any reason to believe they lie about it, certainly not to each other, but as the story ends in a similar but far worse scenario for George and Lennie.
I tend to have a negative impression on things that people tell me I should like or I should read, therefore I have marked this book perhaps lower than I actually feel it’s worth. But I liked it. I liked the insight into the US during the Great Depression, from the perspective of two mild-mannered, uneducated workers. I liked the progression of the story through the characters.
Aside from the story of George and Lennie, and their plans for their own land, is the minor but detailed insight into how an African American crooked (stooped, bent-backed) man treated. Not being allowed inside where ‘whites’ are allowed, similarly whites are not allowed in his (Crooks’) room, but that doesn’t stop them from just taking over. Frequently ignored. Often overlooked and forgotten about, Crooks almost holds the story together, befriending Lennie and being one of the few in the story to see his genuine gentle side.
I was surprised with George’s actions at the end. Did he kill Lennie to spare him the pain and suffering Curley was going to inflict on him for killing his wife? Did he shoot Lennie to free himself from the trouble he would also have been dragged into as a result of Lennies action? I like to think he did it to save Lennie the humiliation and pain Curley and posse were planning for him, but the end is to ambiguous to really know. There are enough hints (when Slim leads him away, he seems to know George did it out of love for Lennie) about the caring nature in such a violent action, but you could read it that Slim lead George away in order to keep him separate from Curley to protect him until the law arrives? As I said, I prefer the ‘honourable’ and caring interpretation.
Another aspect to this book, reading it fresh in 2015, is just how original is this? The predictable ranch/farm characters are here: the over confident and aggressive son of the ranch owner, the very young trophy wife, weather beaten and hardened farm hands, dubious history that we don’t really ever get to know enough about, etc. Everything we expect from a story set in rural America in the 1930’s. Is this unique, at the time of writing/publishing? One more book that needs further reading around to fully understand it.
Held my interest: 8/10
Captured my imagination: 7/10
Worth reading: 7/10