The story of Lennie and George—jobless migrant workers in early 20th century California—is haunting and beautiful. Lennie is mentally retarded but physically huge, gentle yet capable of intense violence. George loves Lennie as only a man can love another man, like a brother, and he cares for Lennie. When they find work at a ranch it seems their dreams of getting a place of their own are closer to realization, but the wife of an arrogant foreman ignites events that play out with apocalyptic intensity.
Here Steinbeck returns to one of his favorite themes—man's capacity for love and selflessness in the face of shared hardship. Evil isn't ignored, but neither is it given more credibility than it deserves. Though the ending is gut-wrenching,it isn't bleak. Many writers portray a world of human evil that leads only to despair because there is no goodness to balance the bad. In Steinbeck's world there is human evil, but there is also human goodness, and the goodness is strong and life-affirming.
Written in typically earthy prose with moments of poetic sublimity and grandeur, Of Mice and Men is a fine American novel, and an excellent introduction to the works and ideas of John Steinbeck, whose vision of the American dream is at once more American and more appealing than any the politicians have been able to fabricate. If you want pure despair, read Hemingway; if you want despair tempered realistically by hope, read Steinbeck, particularly Of Mice and Men.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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