By John Steinbeck
“A thriller, a gripping tale … that you will not set down until it is finished. Steinbeck has touched the quick.” — The New York Times.
Of Mice and Men started life as a novel (or novella) first published in 1937. As with many of his books, Steinbeck drew directly on his personal experiences and observations to produce a stunningly accurate portrait of life for migrant workers in California during the Great Depression. In 1939 Steinbeck himself wrote the play script and took a personal interest in the transfer of Of Mice and Men from page to stage.
The story is set in the farmland of the Salinas valley, where John Steinbeck was born and which he knew all his life. Steinbeck’s father owned land in the area, and as a young man Steinbeck had worked as a farm hand. The ranch in the story is near Soledad, which is south-east of Salinas on the Salinas river. Weed, another place significant to the story, is nearby.
George and Lennie, the main characters, are migrant farm workers. They travel around doing whatever work is available, earning a few dollars a day, plus food and very basic accommodation. George looks after Lennie who, despite his size, is extremely simple minded to the extent that he is more like a child than a man. Added to this he is incredibly strong, though with no idea of his own strength. This proves a highly dangerous combination and ultimately leads to tragedy.
At the beginning George and Lennie arrive at a new ranch ready to work. Here we are introduced to a range of characters representing the lonely, dispossessed and victimised. There is Crooks, the only black man on the ranch and a constant victim of the ignorant racial discrimination endemic at the time. There’s the aggressive Boss’s son, Curley, who takes an instant dislike to Lennie. Finally Curley’s wife, being the only woman on the ranch, craves company and fuels her husband’s jealous temper by flirting with the other male workers. These characters provide a microcosmic view of a society in crisis, where so many were abandoned by the state following The Wall Street Crash and left struggling to survive.
Despite the hardships, all the characters have dreams. Some dream of freedom and acceptance, independence or dignity. Like so many at the time, George and Lennie cling to a dream of one day owning their own land and home. It is that desperately futile search for the elusive American dream that made Of Mice and Men such a success.
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