Friday, October 4, 2013

Review: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Publisher: Penguin Modern Classics
ISBN: 9780141185101

This has probably been reviewed to death over the last few decades, so I'll try not to show myself up too much...

Regular readers of my blog will know that I have an issue with 'the classics', even the modern classics.  Bad school experiences of reading classics and years of being put down by teachers and peers meant I didn't think I could handle them.  At my school we never studied Of Mice and Men.  I remember Romeo and Juliet (which I hated then and now) but I don't remember much else, except we didn't read this book.  I really wish we had.  I loved it.

For those who might this story, here's the short synopsis:  George and Lennie are itinerant workers, moving from farm to farm in 1930's California.  They dream of one day owning their own farm, but they never stay long enough anywhere to be paid enough to save up the money needed to buy a place.  George wants to work his own land and have the security and stability of staying in one place, whereas Lennie just wants to keep pet rabbits that he can stroke.  George is sharp-witted, and a protector to his friend Lennie, who is a giant of a man, as dim and strong as he is tall.  Unfortunately for Lennie, he has a tendency toward unintentional violence when panicked and his strength means he can be very dangerous.  George and Lennie find themselves jobs on a new farm where the prospects of owning their own farm begin to improve.  The wife of the farm manager provokes Lennie and things come to a head.  Suddenly their dream becomes impossible and George and Lennie's friendship is tested to the extreme.

I did read the introduction to the book, which may have helped, but I found Steinbeck a master of scene setting and characterisation, so it didn't matter that I'm not American, and I haven't studied American history.  The book is very short but nonetheless he created George and Lennie's world very convincingly, and made them totally real for me.

There are a number of themes running through the book... Racism, 1930's California farm setting, Poverty, Death, but the strongest theme for me was Friendship.  George and Lennie are chalk and cheese, but there's no splitting them up.  I think of Friendship as almost having a scale, with friends that are like family at one end, and deadly enemies at the other.  The scale is fluid and flexible, and this story touches every part of that scale.  It pushes and flexes and tests every point until the final scene, which utterly broke my heart.

I am definitely going to be reading more of Steinbeck's work, and I couldn't be happier to have made another step into the 'classics'.

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