I didn’t read John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men in high school; we read The Pearl instead — and I don’t remember much about it. I wanted to experience Of Mice and Men for myself, but I didn’t expect to be knocked on my ass by its raw power.
As the father of a son with autism, I identified with George and Lenny’s lopsided relationship, especially George’s caregiver stress. Sometimes it’s hard keeping someone you love from hurting himself or herself … or someone else.
Dear, sweet Lenny — how can you not sympathize with his childlike innocence and eagerness? Everyone in Of Mice and Men is affected by Lenny’s simple-minded focus — he just wants to cuddle with soft, fuzzy rabbits. People let their guard down around Lenny, sharing personal dreams with him. George wants his own piece of land. Candy wants his hand and youth back. Crooks wants a straight back and the same treatment as the white men he works alongside. Even Curly’s slutty wife opens up — she just wants someone to love her; she needs a friend. Lenny lets them know it’s okay to dream; you can live off the fumes of pipe dreams if you have to … and you often do.
Loneliness permeates this novel. There is such longing, such sorrow among these broken misfit characters. Billy Joel says we’re sharing a drink we call loneliness, but it’s better than drinking alone, while the late great Charles Bukowski suggests you get so alone sometimes that it all makes sense. We’re all connected on a basic human level, yet we remain mysteries to each other, walled up inside our own heads.
Steinbeck said he wanted to write a novel that could be played from its lines, or a play that could be read like a novel. Of Mice and Men is pretty damn close to perfect that way. It’s a lean, mean, dialogue-driven machine. This novel is as socially relevant today as it was when it was published in 1937 — a snapshot of a desperate working class, struggling to make ends meet amidst a shrinking job market.
According to literary scholar Thomas Scarseth, “in true great literature, the pain of Life is transmuted into the beauty of Art.” Experience Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men for yourself, and let the transmutation begin!