Of Mice and Men is a novel, first published in 1937, by John Steinbeck. Told in the third-person omniscient point-of-view, this classic work follows the mishap-ridden journey of Lennie and George — both California itinerate ranch hands. This is one of the novels for which Steinbeck is most widely remembered, with his way with words — as he ushers into such a tragically unforgettable scenario.
Steinbeck pulls us into the landscape. Despite the depressive situation, the place feels like heaven or paradise: “A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green. The water is warm too, for it has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight before reaching the narrow pool.”
We’re drawn to the place. It’s the American Dream. Perhaps we all want to find our version of that — a piece of land, with space enough to move and grow.
About Lennie & George
When I first read Of Mice and Men in high school, I’d experienced constant moving around, poverty, and what I would have thought was the depths of dejection. And, over the years perspective has changed (as it so often does)…
Beyond the slightly dejected ranch hands, they really are “the loneliest guys in the world.” Of course, they don’t accept that label, or that mentality. They see other guys in a bar or rotting in jail, but they insist that they aren’t there. That’s “not us…” It’s the brotherhood, the fellowship and the comradeship that we all like to remember. They stick together no matter what. It’s the ties that mean more than family.
Just because they are brothers in circumstance, though, doesn’t mean that George doesn’t resent the situation. Just like a sibling, there’s the feeling of lost opportunity, of being tied down (like an albatross around his neck). “Whatever we ain’t got, that’s what you want. God a’mighty, if I was alone I could live so easy. I could go get a job an’ work, an no trouble. No mess at all, and when the end of the month come I could take my fifty bucks and go into town and get whatever I want.”
The Impossible Dream
It was the Depression. But, even in the best of times, the American Dream might seem lofty, even impossible. Yes, Lennie and George have a dream, but that doesn’t mean that it will ever come true.
Crooks tells Lennie, “I seen hundreds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an’ that same damn thing in their heads . . . every damn one of ’em’s got a little piece of land in his head. An’ never a God damn one of ’em ever gets it.” Then in the sacrilegious vein, Crooks says: “Just like heaven… Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land.”
Even if the dream was impossible, it appears to be inhuman cruelty for Crooks to crush Lennie’s dreams in such an offhanded way. One might even say: heartless.
Where did all that angst and hopelessness come from anyway? Could it be: a lifetime of learning, and seeing all those people walking down the road, and never seeing anyone who gets their little piece of heaven? Oppressed, downtrodden, and forever on the fringes, how could there be hope?
Exit The Garden
Once there was a dream, but the dream was dashed, and even the prospect of survival comes crashing around them. Even the serpent water snake (“twisting its periscope head”) is unceremonially snatched up by a waiting heron. There’s no romantic Garden of Eden awaiting them. There once was that self-proclaiming promise that some path before them would bring them to their Promised Land.
But, life isn’t fair… it can be harsh. And, hope is a fragile thing.