Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.
(Published in 1937).
04 April 2021
Presenter: Mohini Khot
Mohini I have no words to describe what I felt while listening to your presentation. You brought each character to life and painted a vivid word picture.A simple thank you seems totally inadequate
Review by Kusum Gokarn
Mohini Khot, being a well experienced Prof of English Literature, gave a very interesting presentation of the book Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck at the Book Club program held on Zoom on Sunday 4th April’21.
Since Prof Dr Prashant Sinha was not able to give his presentation of the book The Brothers Karamazov as scheduled, Mohini Khot came forth as our saving grace and prepared her presentation on Of Mice And Men around 2 p.m. on the scheduled date. We are greatly obliged to her for her fine gesture.
To begin with, Mohini gave a brief outline of the story of the novella Of Mice And Men. This book is not as popularly known as Steinbeck’s famous novel Grapes of Wrath. It is generally believed that the Nobel Prize was awarded to Steinbeck on the strength of the quality of The Grapes of Wrath. However, Steinbeck himself considered East of Eden as his best work. Of Mice and Men, though not as substantial as these two great works, held a special place in his heart always.
The story of Of Mice And Men revolves around two friends – George and Lennie. One is tall, big and strong and the other one short, slim and sharp. They both keep changing jobs as farm hands at ranches in California. Lennie is innocent and has a mental disability. Thus George is protective of him.
George has nurtured Lennie’s dream of owning a piece of land with a house and farm of his own. Several times in the novel we hear George reciting the dream for Lennie. The dream of owning their own land and being their own masters gives meaning to their lives.
The arrogant son of the boss of the ranch on which George and Lennie start work is named Curley. Curley’s wife (no name given) is another character in the story.
Lennie has a history of losing jobs. In their last place of work in a town called Weed, Lennie meets a girl wearing a lovely soft red dress. Like a child, he is attracted to it. She allows him to touch the dress, flattered at his interest. He keeps stroking the girl’s velvet dress. He loves soft things. Inadvertently he hurts the girl and tears her dress and she screams out, yelling ‘Rape!’ The men on the ranch start chasing Lennie with every intention of lynching him. George manages to guide Lennie to safety. They both run away and look for another job elsewhere.
In the present scenario the main characters besides the two friends George and Lennie are Curley, the aggressive son of the boss of the ranch and Curley’s wife, a pretty, flirtatious girl. Candy, an elderly man who has lost one hand in a machine on the farm, and his dog who share a Barrack meant for eight persons along with George and Lennie is another character. He overhears the narration of “the dream” and wants to join in; he is willing to offer his savings towards buying their own ranch.
Slim is the Prince of the Ranch, a nice understanding man, respected by everyone. Crooks is a Black man isolated from the Whites.
Curley’s wife tries to talk to the men. Her mistake is her flirtatious manner. She is manipulative and misuses her sex appeal. (Penguin).
The men, wanting no trouble, knowing Curley is always itching for a fight, steer clear of her. Finally she finds Lennie alone and confides in him. Lennie responds. She asks Lennie to touch her hair to see how soft it is. She is very proud of it. He loves the softness. When he uses too much strength, she cries out in fear. While trying to prevent her from screaming, he accidentally shakes her so hard that she dies.
George shoots Lennie and kills him to prevent him from being avenged by Curley whose wife he has killed, or get lynched by the mob or sent to jail for the lifetime.
Slim arrives and understands George’s motive for killing Lennie. Slim consoles George and leads him away .
The central theme Of Mice and Men is about the nature of human existence, the sense of profound loneliness and isolation. The author’s plea is for men ‘ to understand each other (so that) it will lead to love.’
This book was banned in schools and public libraries in the United States by the American Library Association for profanity, vulgarity, racism, treatment of women and offensive language.
But Steinbeck argued that his book was ‘ historically accurate and reflected the times.’ It reflects the period of the Great Depression in America.
On the other hand one critic praised the author for his ‘visionary style and carefully structured narrative.’ ‘The sentences are short and the dialogues are touching.’
Of Mice and Men remains ‘one of the most challenged books of the 21st century’. It was proposed for censorship for 54 times over the years.
But scholar Thomas Scarseth argues that the book has ‘literary value’. As he says about the book -‘ The pain of life is transmuted into the beauty of Art.’ The book has ‘a balanced and thoughtful structure.’
Of Mice And Men was made into a stage production in the year of its publication as a novel – 1937. It was Steinbeck’s great desire to see the book staged. The book is written in a very dramatic way – it shows rather than tells. Each section (there are 6) is like a scene in a play. There is hardly any authorial presence; there are no philosophical passages nor commentaries. There are more than one film adaptations. A Radio Play was also adapted in 1966, 1992 and 2010.