I love the sweeping grandeur of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. The characters built on each other, and I felt I was living through the experiences with them. Steinbeck’s purpose to the novel is found in the subtle and not so subtle conversations and actions of the fleshed-out characters, and in my two reads of the novel, I’ve been amazed by Steinbeck’s command of the language.
Of Mice and Men is a sixth the size and, unfortunately, I thought had a comparatively lesser portion of the grandeur and subtly. It is unfair to compare the two: one is a novella, the other a sweeping generational epic. Yet, my read of Of Mice and Men was colored by my comparisons to East of Eden. Reading Steinbeck’s novella reminded me of reading Wharton’s novella Ethan Frome recently: it just didn’t equal the longer, better work by the author, although it was still well-written and emotionally charged, and addressed an intriguing subject: innocence and guilt.
I still loved the characters (who felt real), the setting (a community near Salinas), and the story. But Of Mice and Men was so short, I found it lacking simply for what it was not. I wanted more: I wanted to be swept away.
Lennie is a gentle giant, a mentally retarded man more than six feet tall who loves to carry mice in his pocket to “pet” them. George is his ever faithful friend, helping him navigate the unfair world. Lennie’s innocent strength is his downfall, and George can’t always come to the rescue.
Chris book-a-rama recently wrote about the Robert Burns poem “To a Mouse,” which inspired Steinbeck’s title. Burns apparently wrote the poem after he overturned the mouse’s home with his plow.
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
(Read the full poem, and listen to it read, at Chris’s post.)
A note on reading this book: I did something I never do. I bought this book without opening it. I had already picked up a half dozen books at the thrift store (89 cents each) , and then I saw this calling to me so I grabbed it at the last minute as I walked to check out. Well, when I came home and opened it, I realized it was covered with writing. Highlighting, commentary, questions for the teacher, words circled multiple times with lines leading to the margin saying “Vocab!!” I was annoyed at first, but as I read the novella, I became amused by this girl’s commentary. In the end, it was kind of a fun experience to read it as if I were in eighth grade, reading it for the first time for a class. I wouldn’t suggest that for your first read, but it was, in retrospect, okay and amusing for me.
This post doesn’t really say much about what Of Mice and Men contains. I feel I am talking around the subject. But in my opinion, at 103 pages, the novella doesn’t seem to need much discussion. It’s so self-explanatory, so complete, and so heart-breaking just as it is. As the previous reader of my book wrote in the margin at the end, “I just died inside” reading this novella. And that was a good thing.
I’ll let Of Mice and Men speak for itself.
Do you like reading previous reader’s commentary in the margins of your books? Could you have put up with it? It kind of drove me nuts, but it was okay.
Did you read Of Mice and Men in high school? How did you discuss it? It just seems so self explanatory to me.