Thursday, 29 December 2011

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (5/5)

The back says: Streetwise George and his big, childlike friend Lennie are drifters, searching for work in the fields and valleys of California. They have nothing except the clothes on their back, and hope that one day they’ll find a place of their own and live the American dream. But dreams come at a price. Gentle giant Lennie doesn’t know his own strength, and when they find work at a ranch he gets into trouble with the boss’s daughter-in-law. Trouble so bad that even his protector George may not be able to save him…

I say: Woah. What an absolutely brilliant ending. Even though I could sense from the beginning that this wasn’t going to be a cheerful story, I didn’t guess the end until we were right there.

Perfection.

I’ve only read one novella by Steinbeck before, and that was The Pearl when I was about twelve and I remember loving it for its simplicity – mind me, this was years ago and I was a pretentious child so maybe it wasn’t so simple – and the first thing that popped up in my head when I was reading Of Mice and Men was its simplicity; of language, of character, of setting, and of, in a way, ending. Steinbeck pretty much lets us know that this is how things are and that’s that.

Except it’s not.

There’s so much more underneath.
Crooks stared hopelessly at her, and then he sat down on his bunk and drew into himself.
She closed on him. “You know what I could do?”
Crooks seemed to grow smaller, and he pressed himself against the wall. “Yes, ma’am.”
[…]
Crooks had reduced himself to nothing. There was no personality, no ego – nothing to arouse either like or dislike. He said, “Yes, ma’am,” and his voice was toneless. – p 91
There is just so much wrapped into that seemingly insignificant encounter that it breaks my heart, and I love the tiny morsels of history that Steinbeck offers before laying it out. And not just with Crooks, but with all the characters. It’s like he’s slowly baiting us throughout the story, letting us know that something is going to happen (and making sure we follow) and when it finally does, we slowly look back at the steps that led us there and realise that

just because it was inevitable doesn’t make it any less shocking.

Another future re-read.

3 comments:

  1. Oh, this book is one of my favorite classics. And you're so right; one of the best parts of this book is the pure simplicity.

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  2. I love Steinbeck. I read most of his short stories/novellas years ago. I need to give them another read soon I think. I especially liked this one. You can't help but be drawn in by his words.

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  3. Meg, I don't know why it's taken me so long to read this. And I even have the DVD in my shelf, but have never seen it since I wanted to read it first.

    Karen, I'm definately going to pick up some Steinbeck in the new year. I may have to throw over the Russians for some Americans (I sense a challenge in there somewhere).

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