Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (BOOK REVIEW) 5/5
I was convinced to read Of Mice and Men when my girlfriend told me the plot. She told me everything, including how it ended- and I knew it was a book I had to read for myself. I wasn’t wrong. Even knowing how it ended, the book blew me away with its depth, its subtlety, its symbolism, and the pure raw emotional strength of its writing. Most classics have always gone past my head or entirely disinterested me- they’re not my favorite class of books. When I started Of Mice and Men, I thought it would be the same. I groaned inwardly at the accented writing, at the setting and the story. It isn’t the sort of story I would normally read. However, I acknowledged that it was well written, and there were several tidbits within the writing that was true for the time period- such as the actions of the tart, Curley’s trouble-seeking wife, and his extremely controlling and distrustful acts of running after her, or the struggles for people like main characters Lennie and George to stay anywhere too long, always having to seek out new work because of Lennie’s mental disabilities. There was not much help to be had for people like Lennie back in this era, and the punishment for a crime committed was harsh.
For those who haven’t read it, beware of the spoilers in this review. Of Mice and Men is a short book, and it packs such a punch that I would recommend reading it yourself.
The story of Mice and Men isn’t carried out over a very long period of time. No sooner have Lennie and George arrived, have they begun to stir up trouble with Curley- a small man with a vendetta against large men. Skillfully, Mr. Steinbeck sets up the plot; Lennie’s simplemindedness, his love of petting small things like mice and rabbits, his tendency to squeeze his strong hands and the incident that had caused them to flee their last job. The little details of this book just make it that much easier to anticipate what Lennie will do. But it does nothing to tell you what George will do.
When I started my read, I hated George as a character. He was mean, belittling, and cruel to Lennie, burdened by the responsibility of taking care of him. I grew angry at his jabs and comments, his clear resentment, and began to wonder why he bothered. My girlfriend commented, “Oh, just wait.” She was right. As I read, this book sat at a 3, and I wasn’t understanding what made it such an important classic. Then the end came.
I was met with George’s conflicting nature- the difference between his words and his actions. Despite his groaning over taking care of Lennie the entire way through the book, he stayed loyal to him through it all. At the end, he knows the fate left for Lennie, and he knows it’s inescapable. So he chooses to put him down. It’s not a cruel act- at least not the way I read it. It’s an act of love. He knows that, even if they get away, Lennie is beyond his capability to stop from harm, and he’s committed a grave crime. Reading it, I’m not even sure Lennie was capable of conscious thought on what he did, capable of feeling remorse for the woman, or even the dog.
The end, though horrifying and deeply sad, was exactly how it should have gone. And I say that not from a moral viewpoint- but from the minds of the characters. I thought, when my dear girlfriend told me this story, that George killed Lennie out of his own selfish desire to be free from him. But it’s not so. It feels that way, up until those last few pages, and then you know; he kills him out of mercy, and painful, painful love.
It’s one of the most beautiful, personally striking novels I’ve ever read. And I think that most people who read this book will be touched by it. High School students might groan at this reading assignment- but those who actually read it and comprehend it are being blessed by a story that sticks with you. I haven’t read anything else by John Steinbeck, but I can see why he’s revered and still taught in schools today.