Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Of Mice and Men

The storytellers at the city gate twist life so that it looks sweet to the lazy and the stupid and the weak, and this only strengthens their infirmities and teaches nothing, cures nothing, nor does it let the heart soar*.

I have a t-shirt of this book cover. It's a size too small but it was on sale so I bought it hoping to shrink myself into it. Hasn't happened yet. I stole this image from here.

I feel like most people who have read Of Mice and Men, read it in high school or junior high. (I specifically remember classmates giving away the ending when I was in junior high.) The first time I read it was a good six years after graduating high school.

I'm glad I read it when I did. Who knows if I would've enjoyed it, or even finished it, back in high school; such is the nature of compulsory reading. (And English and literature were some of my worst classes in high school. But in those days the only thing I got consistent A's in was ceramics.)

The first time through, I liked it. The second time, just last May, I loved it**. When you read Of Mice and Men a second time, it's such an aching book. You already know the characters, and you know how it ends. You hope that this time, George and Lennie will succeed in their dream, which is something so many of us take for granted -- having a place of their own. But in the back of your mind, you already know of the imminent tragedy to come.

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George said, "Guys like us got no fambly. They make a little stake an' they blow it in. They got nobody in the worl' that gives a hoot in hell about 'em--"

"But not us," Lennie cried happily. "Tell about us now."

George was quiet for a moment. "But not us," he said.


"Because I got you an'--"

"An' I got you. We got each other, that's what, that gives a hoot in hell about us," Lennie cried in triumph.

Knowing what came next, I might have cried a bit as I read this part (which is why I like to finish books in privacy).

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Within the last few years, I've talked with friends who read Of Mice and Men in high school. Quite a few didn't like it. I can't say that I've matured much since then, but my choices in reading have. For those who didn't like it in high school, I wonder if their minds would change after a second reading.

Of Mice and Men is a story that "lets the heart soar" -- it's the crash at the end that makes your hopes fly so high.

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*This quote is from the superlative East of Eden.

**I tend to judge books by the range or depth of emotions they evoke. That's probably why I can love a book as sad as this one.

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I'm curious of the thoughts of those who read this in high school (or beyond) -- did you like it?


  1. one of my favorite parts of at least a few steinbeck nove's is the dialectic spelling of the word "family" as "fambly."

    i have only read of mice and men once. this post convinces me that it's time for a second reading.

  2. I have not read Of Mice & Men, though I am quite familiar with the plot. Here's my thoughts on fictional stories with sorrowful endings: There is enough tragedy, pain, and sorrow in the real world. It is beneficial for those of us who lead blessedly ignorant lives to understand some of that pain and the sacrifices others give, but I prefer to gain that insight from the true stories of real people, or like the Grapes of Wrath, where an individual or family experience is really a conglomoration of the experiences of many people. This gives names to the nameless.

    While the story of George and Lenny is definitely touching, I would prefer to save my grief for real people. Let authors of fiction entertain and provide an escape from some of the troubles of this world.

    aaron birch

  3. Clint -- That's one of my favorite things too. I love even more how he uses the phrase "in a fambly way" to mean "pregnant."

    Aaron -- I feel like Of Mice and Men, to some extant, "gives names to the nameless," i.e., the pre-depression migrant workers (Steinbeck was one himself for a while); it's a pretty good description of the loneliness and economic challenges they faced.

    The thing I find with reading, is that it's not so much about how it ends (as is often the case with movie and TV and a lot of mainstream entertainment). This is especially true with Steinbeck since so many of his books (of the ones I've read) have very little plot. For me, Of Mice and Men evokes so many feelings -- hope, love, friendship, compassion, and yes, sorrow -- it's the tragic ending that validates these feelings and gives them so much depth: it "lets the heart soar."

    Ha, if that doesn't make much sense it's because I barely understand it myself. In the end, good fiction -- really good fiction -- transcends entertainment.