Of Mice and Men (1937), a quintessential masterpiece of American literature. Have you read it? Didn’t think so. It’s a rarity to find someone who’s an avid fan of classics, they’re usually just too boring for mainstream audiences, but here’s the thing: Of Mice and Men is different from all the self-proclaimed ‘classics’ because it’s actually interesting. The concerns tackled in John Steinbeck’s novella are numerous, intriguing and extremely relevant to a modern audience. It explores issues like racism and loneliness (topics that were not generally touched upon in Steinbeck’s time).
Even now, in a world desperate for equality, there are still many instances of racism. Even in this technologically evolved planet, thousands remain lonely, likely suffering from mental issues or isolation. It’s through these issues that Of Mice and Men manages to retain its claim as a worthy text as it addresses issues that have somehow remained prevalent in society for generations. Now, join me as we delve deeper into the fascinating story of loneliness and segregation, painted vividly in the novella by the ingenious mind of John Steinbeck.
First published in 1937, Of Mice and Men is a novella written by John Steinbeck (East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath). It explores the relationship between Lennie Small, an oafish man with a childlike mind, and George Milton, a short but clever man who only wants to work hard. This odd couple travel across California farmlands during the Great Depression and are the closest of friends, a rarity for a time when relationships between migrant workers was basically nonexistent. They move about from place to place, working on ranches for little pay and keeping to themselves as best as possible. However, Lennie often gets himself into all sorts of trouble that George has to get them out of and it is their arrival at their latest job that proves the most testing and threatens their dream of one day owning their own land.
Do you ever look at someone and immediately judge them? Have you ever felt alone, scared or isolated? If the answer is yes, then you might relate to the characters in Of Mice and Men. They are flawed, and each have their own personal issues but one character, Crooks, is more memorable than the rest.
Crooks is not the nicest guy, yet you’ll sympathise with him because of the conditions he’s forced to live under. As an African-American living in Southern California during the early 1900s; he’s treated as less than human, made to live in a rundown stable amongst hay and manure and is forbidden to come in contact with any of the other ranch workers.
During the later stages of the novel, Candy tells Lennie, ‘I been here a long time, an’ Crooks been here a long time. This’s the first time I ever been in his room.’ In response Crooks states, ‘Guys don’t come into a colored man’s room very much.’ This revelation emphasises the severity of the issue and proves that as much as people want racism to end, there are still those who mistreat others because of race. For example, there is a hotel which was recently exposed for giving it’s indigenous guests rooms in worse conditions than its white guests. This is alarming but proves that the issues shown in Of Mice and Men is more relevant today than ever before.
According to ‘ABC Life’, an entire quarter of the population are experiencing loneliness and that statistic is only growing. What’s truly sad is that this is not a new problem, as is evident by the loneliness seen in the migrant farmers of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, who spend their lives working in isolation on a rural ranch in California.
It’s well-known that the men of this time typically travelled alone, trying to make their way from job to job without others holding them back, and it was near impossible to truly form a close relationship. With such dire living conditions, it’s understandable that many people felt alone during this time, but how does that explain the large proportion of society who still feel lonely today?
According to Slim, who acts as the voice of reason in the novel, it’s because, “Ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.’ Clearly Slim is someone who’s quite mature, despite living in a society that’s not aware of it’s issues, and he’s capable of understanding that a close relationship, such as the one that George and Lennie have, is something special. After all, relationships are the foundation for human happiness.
Overall, Of Mice and Men is a worthy read that gives a unique insight to the issues that have plagued society for generations. The 1937 novella is well ahead of its time and hasn’t grown tiresome with age. Steinbeck’s understanding of racism and loneliness and its effect on the human spirit allows him to toy with your emotions in a way that can make you both furious and angry. The backdrop of The Great Depression also provides a setting through which these issues can be further investigated. So, the next time you’re in your local bookstore, be sure to pick up a copy of Of Mice and Men, you might just be surprised.