George and Lennie, the protagonists of Steinbeck’s masterpiece Of Mice and Men, are travelling farm workers in the 1930’s. The two men have a dream to rent their own farm and be their own bosses. Lennie is a gentle giant who is “slow”; he loves to pet small furry animals because they are soft, and consequently George often has to confiscate dead mice from him.
In contrast to Lennie, George is clever and responsible; despite his fondness for his friend, George finds himself feeling bitter about the burden of keeping Lennie out of trouble. We meet the pair as they are going to a new job on a ranch in California, and soon the men settle in and work alongside the other ranch hands.
However, it’s not long before Lennie’s oddness is noticed; it’s only due to his extreme strength and the fact that he’s championed by George that he is accepted by the other men.
Meanwhile, the farm has its own stories: Curley, the owner’s son, is a hothead who has married recently. His bride (also known as ‘Curley’s Wife) often wanders provocatively down to the workers’ quarters “looking” for her husband, and her presence promises trouble from the outset.
Of Mice and Men is a short novel that seems to contain lifetimes of emotions and meanings into just over one hundred pages. One of the key themes that Steinbeck explores in Of Mice and Men is that of dreams, as most of the characters have a dream of some sort: George dreams of a farm of his own, Lennie dreams of tending rabbits, one man dreams of a brighter future, the negro stable buck dreams of freedom and equality, and Curley’s wife dreams of escaping her domestic servitude by running away to Hollywood.
Additionally, Of Mice and Men prompts the reader to consider obstacles in life and how they can be overcome. The majority of the characters in the novel have some disability or other, either mental or physical, and others have emotional scars. Steinbeck shows how each person deals with his own and with others’ disabilities, and reveals that a broken soul can be as much of a handicap as a missing hand.
The beauty of Steinbeck’s novel is that each new reading will reveal something new. Recently I was struck by the beautiful, calm beginning paragraphs that begin every chapter and set the scene. Even if you’ve already read this classic, read it again – you’ll discover something you hadn’t seen or discussed before.
Vanessa Pateco Te