HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Of Mice and Men
Author: John Steinbeck
Publisher: Penguin Group USA Inc., reissued in 1993
Language level: 5 (offensive and vulgar language)
Reading level: Required reading in high schools, but really for adults only
Rating: 0 stars (NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men (published in 1937 by Covici Friede). John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr. (1902-1968) was an American writer. He wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and the novella Of Mice and Men (1937), with a total of twenty-seven books, including sixteen novels, six non-fiction books, and five collections of short stories. In 1962, Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Born in Salinas, CA, He was of German and Irish descent. His father, John Steinbeck Sr., served as Monterey County Treasurer. John’s mother, Olive Hamilton, a former school teacher, shared Steinbeck’s passion of reading and writing. He spent his summers working on nearby ranches and later with migrant workers. In 1919, Steinbeck graduated from Salinas High School and attended Stanford University intermittently until 1925, eventually leaving without a degree. He traveled to New York City and held odd jobs while pursuing his dream of becoming a writer. When he failed to get his work published, he returned to California and worked for a time in 1928 as a tour guide and caretaker at the fish hatchery in Tahoe City. Steinbeck’s first novel, Cup of Gold, was published in 1929. The publication of his novel Tortilla Flat in 1935 was his first clear novelistic success. Steinbeck then began to write a series of “California novels” and Dust Bowl fiction, set among common people during the Great Depression. These included Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath. Of Mice and Men, about the dreams of a pair of migrant laborers working the California soil, was critically acclaimed. Steinbeck followed this wave of success with The Grapes of Wrath (1939), based on newspaper articles he had written in San Francisco.
Of Mice and Men is the story is about two traveling ranch workers, George Milton and Lennie Small, trying to work up enough money to buy their own farm during the Great Depression in California. It encompasses themes of racism, loneliness, prejudice against the mentally ill, and the struggle for personal independence, based on Steinbeck’s own experiences as a bindlestiff in the 1920s. Fleeing from their previous employment in Weed where they were run out of town after Lennie’s love of stroking soft things resulted in an accusation of attempted rape when he touched a young woman’s dress, George, an intelligent and cynical man, and Lennie, an ironically-named man of large stature and immense strength but limited mental abilities, come to a ranch near Soledad southeast of Salinas, CA, to “work up a stake” and attain their shared dream of settling down on their own piece of land. Lennie’s part of the dream, which he never tires of hearing George describe, is merely to tend to (and touch) soft rabbits on the farm. George protects Lennie by telling him that if Lennie gets into trouble George won’t let him “tend them rabbits.” The dream crashes when Lennie accidentally kills the young and attractive wife of Curley, the ranch owner’s son, while trying to stroke her hair. A lynch mob led by Curley gathers. George, realizing he is doomed to a life of loneliness and despair like the rest of the migrant workers and wanting to spare Lennie a painful death at the hands of the vengeful and violent Curley, shoots Lennie in the back of the head before the mob can find him.
I have never been a fan of John Steinbeck. He usually seemed to emphasize the seemier, darker side of life. I have never read The Grapes of Wrath, and having seen portions of the movie I have no desire to do so. I have been told that The Red Pony and The Pearl are fairly good stories. I would never have read Of Mice and Men if a copy had not been returned to the high school library where I worked during my junior and senior years with all the “bad words” underlined. When the librarian was going to throw it away, I asked if I could have it. It is required reading in many high schools, but besides the fact that there is a lot of bad language in it, not just cursing and profanity but offensive and vulgar language, I just found it plain morbid and was sorry that I had read it. I do not recommend it.