The Big Read

Books from School – No.52 Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck

The first book that I had to read as part of my school curriculum. I studied Of Mice and Men for my GCSE English Literature exam and rather surprisingly I really enjoyed it; not that I mentioned that to my school friends at the time because you know “euch reading sucked!!”. Set in the Dust Bowl in America shortly after the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Of Mice and Men follows the lives of two itinerant workers George and his intellectually disabled friend Lennie.

Oh God it’s a wonderful book. It is technically a novella and its structure is crucial to its storyline. At only six chapters long you can feel that every word is carefully chosen and every moment crucial to the story. Yet for such a short book so much is explored: race, gender, disability, revenge, jealousy, love; the entire human condition is examined in just over 100 pages. It is a book that needs to be examined in close detail to be appreciated for so much slips through the net of observation on first reading it. The animal references, at first appear trivial and then they morph into one of my favourite literary examples of foreshadowing.

The character’s names as well. At first you give them no notice and then with the information that George means farmer and Lennie derives from lion ever metaphor comes full circle in a way so satisfying it’s like a perfect cadence at the end of a piece of Baroque music.

I also wish to point out that I have never read a book with so many disabled characters in it. If every thing else is ignored this book could be interpreted as a criticism of the ill treatment of disabled people. Disability in the novella means insecurity, for Lennie, for Candy and for Crooks, not to mention Candy’s dog and Steinbeck gives a voice to those so frequently silenced or ignored completely.

It would be naive not to mention the context in which this book was written. Life was horrific for many in the Great Depression but especially in the Dust Bowl, where people lived entirely on ‘the fatta the land’ as Steinbeck calls it. When drought struck, desperate people were now not just impoverished but starving. And yet the characters in the book all have dreams, The American Dream you could say of living a quite life and bettering themselves. But Steinbeck never allows the reader to believe that there is any hope for the dreams of George and Lennie. Their destitution is so complete the audience never escapes the sense of foreboding that builds throughout the novella to its inevitable tragic end.

Rating: 4.5/5

Would recommend to: everybody

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