Review of 'Of Mice and Men'

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

I originally read this book as part of my English class in high school and I remember how the ending really made an impression on me. Re-reading it now the ending has no less of an impact and makes it one of the most memorable, and perhaps most tragic, of Steinbeck's books.

Two men have formed a friendship travelling together from job to job across the American west: George, a tough but fair man with a kind heart for the physically large and strong Lennie who, it is fair to say, is “mentally handicapped”, obsessing over small mice who he repeatedly pats even when they are killed by his affection. They both dream of owning their own land, ending their endless roving and working their own fields. Arriving on a ranch for another job it is clear right from the start that there may be problems as they are confronted by the bosses son, Curley. Curley is a bully who is forever challenging anyone he sees as a threat to himself or has in some way shown any sort of interest in his young attractive wife Candy. Restless Candy is a flirt which frequently upsets Curley, leading to trouble for all involved. In the course of the story we learn that George and Lennie have had to flee their previous job in Weed due to Lennie's innocent behaviour towards a woman which was misinterpreted by the locals who chased the two out of town. Slim is an intelligent and gentle jerkline-skinner whose dog has had puppies. Predictably, after Slim gives Lennie one of the puppies the extremely grateful gentle giant obsesses over it to the point it is crushed. This all sets the stage for the tragedy that follows.

This story is highly memorable from start to finish with well fleshed-out characters with intensely human emotions differing from the polemic aspects of other Steinbeck works. We have here a simple story without any ulterior social or political message - Human frailty writ large. It is also one of Steinbeck's most violent works with terrible, vivid personal violence that leaves little to the imagination. With all of this, it is a story of great humanity and compassion - We really care for Lennie and George, hoping they do find the peace they so desperately seek. The prose is easy to read with the concentration very much on the characters but with descriptive flourishes that really bring everything to life while not being overly wordy.

A very human novelette from a master of American literature full of compassion but ultimately a tragic tale…and all the more human for it.

Rating: “I have absolutely no complaints”

Review Date: 2021-03-06

Genre: Classic

Publication Date: 1937

Other reviewed books by John Steinbeck: