Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Happy Birthday, John Steinbeck!

Happy Birthday to John Steinbeck! The author of 27 books, and the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, he is one of the greatest American authors.

In honor of John Steinbeck’s birthday today, I decided to write a review of his novel “Of Mice and Men”. I recently read this book for the first time as part of my goal to read one book a week (or 52 total) in 2013. I don’t know how I missed out on reading this book in high school, but I decided it was time to tackle it.

It has been a while since I read a Steinbeck novel, the most recent being “The Winter of Our Discontent”, two years ago. I had forgotten how easy it is to read Steinbeck; he doesn’t beat around the bush, and provides vivid imagery to set the scene for the reader.

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t read the book, and wish to do so without preconceived notions, please do not read any further!

Since the book is very short (only 107 pages), I was able to read it in one day. I enjoy reading this way because I can stay in the story and take everything in in one fell swoop. I had heard that the book was very sad, and those anecdotes proved true.

 The book tells the story of George Milton and Lenny Small, two migrant workers who struggle to find and keep work due to Lenny’s mental disability. While Lenny is a bit of a gentle giant, his inability to know and control his own actions repeatedly gets the duo into trouble.

One of the main themes of the book is essentially “The American Dream”. Published in 1937, the book tells the story of individuals who yearn for independence, and a life under their own power. Most of the characters in the book are poor, and beholden to others for their pay, food, and shelter. Throughout the book, George and Lenny spread their dream of “living of the fatta the lan’”, and having their own farm in a location that only George knows about. There is a triumphant moment in the second half of the book where it seems that this dream is really going to come true. As a reader, I felt very happy for George at this moment, because as tough as he wants to seem, he has a kind heart and is a good person for taking care of Lenny. Unfortunately, Steinbeck is as cruel as most authors, and disaster prevents this American dream from coming true.

Another theme in the book is loyalty. As I mentioned previously, George is essentially Lenny’s caretaker. They are repeatedly questioned as to why they traveled together, which indicates that this kind of loyalty was not common at the time. Lenny is strong as an ox which makes him a good worker, but has the mind of a child, which creates many problems for George. George hints throughout the book that he is resentful towards Lenny, and that it would be easier for him to go out on his own, but he never abandons him, and does everything he can to help Lenny navigate life. It is really sweet how George takes care of Lenny, even in the end when Lenny accidentally murders a woman, and George kills him to prevent a gruesome death at the hands of the woman’s husband. It was very sad to read about Lenny’s demise, but also made me see that George always did what was best for Lenny, even when it was very hard.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and am glad to have read it.

What is your favorite Steinbeck novel? Have you read “Of Mice and Men”? What did you think of it? Tell me in the comments!