Thursday, May 5, 2011

Of Mice and Men essay

The novel Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck is a short novel made up of six parts and its setting is California of the United States in the 1930s, a time of the Great Depression. The action of the whole story takes place within several days and it is focused on a farmhouse by the side of the Salina River in California. The story is about the experience of two working hands, Lennie and George, in a bunkhouse. These two men earn their living in the ranch as labours and they have their devotion to working just because they share their common dream of owning a farm together in their future. It is a pity that Lennie's killing of Curley's wife breaks their dream and forces George to kill Lennie with his own hand. The novel is a social novel describing the hard life of the Americans in the west in the 1930s. Throughout the story, the author would like to bring out his most explicit theme that we human beings exist and make efforts in life just because we have a dream for our future and once the dream breaks, we lose all our inertia for work.

Of the few characters in the novel, the two most important ones are George and Lennie. It is difficult to identify which one is the protagonist since the two play an equal part in the development of the plot. Lennie has to depend on the intelligent advice from George while George has to rely on the gigantic strength of Lennie. They are so interdependent on each other that they generate an intimate relationship, a relationship that arouses the suspicion of those in the farm. George has a sense of responsibility as he accepts the duty of looking after his retarded partner Lennie. However, Lennie has his own problems, the problem of petting soft things and having no brains. (I should say that) They are both character foils to each other. Physically, George is small and skinny while Lennie is "strong as a horse" and "as big as a bear". George, as the author describes, is a small fellow with a "small and quick, dark" and bony nose." He describes Lennie as a "huge man, shapeless" His arms did not swing at his sides, but hung loosely." Mentally, George is smart while Lennie has a child's mind. George makes the decision for both and has promised Aunt Clara to look after Lennie.

Both characters are static characters as they learn nothing from their experience in the story. I learn much about the two characters through indirect presentation since the author puts a lot of conversations in the novel. In my opinion, the characters of Lennie and George are a little bit exaggerated because it is difficult to find such a pair in real life. At least, there is no such sincerity existing between two persons today. What we find today are characters who can only share mutual benefits in a practical world. As long as a person's value of being manipulated does not exist, co-operation or friendship evaporates. In the story, there are other minor characters such as the boss' son Curley and his wife and the ranch helpers like the old man Candy and Crooks.

The conflicts of man versus man are common in the story. Curley is jealous of the strong and muscular Lennie. The critical conflict comes with Lennie grabbing Curley's fist and crushing the latter's hand. The coincidence of killing Candy's old dog from behind foreshadows the killing of Lennie by George from behind. The loneliness of Curley's wife encourages her to come into close contact with Lennie, thus meeting her death. George's advice to Lennie on hiding near the Salina River foreshadows Lennie's hiding after he has killed Curley's wife. These coincidences , when weaved together, give the story a sense of coherence and smooth plot development. The author's purposes in writing the novel are twofold. First , he wants to reveal that human beings need mutual trust and companionship. Secondly, human beings need a dream to survive.

Curley and his wife lack companionship because they do not trust each other. On the other hand, the author shows that mutual trust and communication enable George and Lennie to take care of each other. In order to survive, George and Lennie are given the hope of owning a farm of their own by the author. Such a dream allows the two to work hard in the ranch and support their life spiritually. On the other hand, Curley's wife loses her dream of being a Hollywood star after her marriage, thus making her life empty and meaningless.

The novel is mainly told in the form of a dialogue and I look upon it as a play-novel. However, there are some instances when the writer enters the mind of all the characters and see through their thoughts and actions. Thus (I may also say that) the novel is written in the omniscient point of view. The author has the ability to pay attention in describing details. I do appreciate his detailed description of the bunk house and the surroundings in the Salina River. "The bunk house was a long, rectangular building. Inside, the walls were whitewashed and the floor unpainted. In three walls there were small, square windows, and in the fourth, a solid door with a wooden latch." (19) He is also able to pour emotions into the dialogue from which the readers can feel the inner feelings of the characters. "Let's have different color rabbits, George." "Sure we will," George said sleepily. "Red and blue and green rabbits, Lennie. Millions of 'em."(17) The conversation reveals Lennie's wishes and George's impatience and sleepiness. In using the lot of informal grammar and content , the author deliberately tries to make the readers feel that we are enjoying the conversations of the lower-class people in the 1930s.

I like the novel because I learn much from reading it. Apart from understanding the background of Steinbeck's time in the 1930s, I also know that the stronger ones are not always clever while the physically weaker ones may be those who manipulate others through their intelligence. I also find that loneliness is a horrible thing on Earth and therefore we need companionship and communication. Moreover, we also need a dream to enrich our life and future. Finally, I learn that racial discrimination is wrong because it is unfair to the black people. The novel has a universal appeal although it is set in the 1930s. We accept that we need communication and understanding and a dream for survival. The ending gives me surprises because George not only fails to materialize the dream of owning a farm with Lennie but also has to kill Lennie with his own hand. From another angle, the novel is a tragedy since there are the death of Curley's wife, the killing of Lennie by George and the breaking up of friendship between George and Lennie.

I shower pity on Curley's wife because she is the loneliest character in the novel. Moreover, the killing of Candy's old dog leaves Candy without a companion. I came across another novel called The Grapes of Wrath by the same author some years ago. There is a similar setting like that of Of Mice and Men and it also has a tragic ending when those migrating from the east fail to find a hand-to-mouth living in the west despite the so-called prosperity in the west. Although it is miserable for me to accept the tragic ending in Of Mice and Men, the story successfully leaves a deep impression in my mind. The characters and its themes do stimulate my thinking and give me a new perspective of human relationship and companionship. Seldom do I get a book so worthy of reading. I have got a lot in terms of knowledge, human experience and entertainment through reading the novel. In short, I would give the novel Of Mice and Men a rating of 9 out of 10 when I recommend it to students in Grades 11 and 12.