Not every book listed as a piece of great literature or heralded as one of the ‘classics’ is going to appeal to you as a reader. But there is a reason texts such as Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, The Great Gatsby and Romeo and Juliet are often chosen for school curriculums. They have something valuable to teach – something that these particular authors have done well. Allegory, characteristics, subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) themes and meanings, commentaries on periods or cultures. And from my perspective books such as Of Mice and Men can educate you on writing; even if they aren’t, in a narrative sense, your cup of tea.
Of Mice and Men will never be one of my favourites books. I’ll remember it fondly as it sits on the shelf but I can’t get excited about it. But for a book that barely hits the 100 page mark, John Steinbeck does a lot right and I appreciate that.
I appreciate how Steinbeck creates dialogue that is natural and flows. Spoken throughout in heavy Californian US dialect yet each character has their own tone, and the words they use have weight. I’ve read that Of Mice and Men was originally written as a play, which makes a lot of sense when you consider the small number of ‘scenes’ throughout the book and the rather wooden and descriptive introductions to them, which read a lot like stage directions.
The friendship and responsibility George feels for Lennie, even though their past (and reasons for companionship) are never covered in depth. They don’t need to be, because Steinbeck’s tale is set in the Great Depression, and the consequential struggles many faced to make something of their lives (a theme common throughout Steinbeck’s work), and in George’s case in particular, the fear of loneliness. He admits that Lennie is a nuisance, and deep down knows he is a danger to himself and others. There is a stigma against mental illness in this time, and there is a fantastic chapter in which one of the farm workers convinces an elderly ranch-hand to let him mercifully shoot his old, stinking, worthless dog. It’s a clear metaphor for the relationship between George and Lennie, and it makes for a surprisingly sad and uncomfortable scene.
I ain’t got no people. I seen the guys that go around on the ranches alone. That ain’t no good. They don’t have no fun. After a long time they get mean. They get wantin’ to fight all the time. . . ‘Course Lennie’s a God damn nuisance most of the time, but you get used to goin’ around with a guy an’ you can’t get rid of him.
Of Mice and Men reinforces the fact that a book does not need to be lengthy to be compelling, emotional and hard-hitting.