OF MICE AND MEN is a novella written by author
John Steinbeck .
Published in 1937, it tells the story of George Milton and Lennie
Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers, who move from place to
Steinbeck based the novella on his own experiences working alongside
migrant farm workers as a teenager in the 1910s (before the arrival of
the Okies he would vividly describe in
The Grapes of Wrath ). The
title is taken from
While it is a book taught in many schools,
Of Mice and Men
* 1 Plot * 2 Characters * 3 Themes * 4 Development * 5 Reception
* 6 Adaptations
* 6.1 Cinema * 6.2 Stage * 6.3 Radio
* 7 References
* 7.1 Notes * 7.2 Bibliography
* 8 External links
Two migrant field workers in
After being hired at a farm, the pair are confronted by Curley—The Boss's small, aggressive son with a Napoleon complex who dislikes larger men, and starts to target Lennie. Curley's flirtatious and provocative wife, to whom Lennie is instantly attracted, poses a problem as well. In contrast, the pair also meets Candy, an elderly ranch handyman with one hand and a loyal dog, and Slim, an intelligent and gentle jerkline-skinner whose dog has recently had a litter of puppies. Slim gives a puppy to Lennie and Candy, whose loyal, accomplished sheep dog was put down by fellow ranch-hand Carlson.
In spite of problems, their dream leaps towards reality when Candy offers to pitch in $350 with George and Lennie so that they can buy a farm at the end of the month, in return for permission to live with them. The trio are ecstatic, but their joy is overshadowed when Curley attacks Lennie, who defends himself by easily crushing Curley's fist while urged on by George.
Nevertheless, George feels more relaxed, to the extent that he even leaves Lennie behind on the ranch while he goes into town with the other ranch hands. Lennie wanders into the stable, and chats with Crooks, the bitter, yet educated stable buck, who is isolated from the other workers racially. Candy finds them and they discuss their plans for the farm with Crooks, who cannot resist asking them if he can hoe a garden patch on the farm albeit scorning its possibility. Curley's wife makes another appearance and flirts with the men, especially Lennie. However, her spiteful side is shown when she belittles them and threatens Crooks to have him lynched .
The next day, Lennie accidentally kills his puppy while stroking it. Curley's wife enters the barn and tries to speak to Lennie, admitting that she is lonely and how her dreams of becoming a movie star are crushed, revealing her personality. After finding out about Lennie's habit, she offers to let him stroke her hair, but panics and begins to scream when she feels his strength. Lennie becomes frightened, and unintentionally breaks her neck thereafter and runs away. When the other ranch hands find the corpse, George realizes that their dream is at an end. George hurries to find Lennie, hoping he will be at the meeting place they designated in case he got into trouble.
George meets Lennie at the place, their camping spot before they came to the ranch. The two sit together and George retells the beloved story of the dream, knowing it is something they'll never share. He then shoots Lennie, with Curley, Slim, and Carlson arriving seconds after. Only Slim realizes what happened, and consolingly leads him away. Curley and Carlson look on, unable to comprehend the subdued mood of the two men.
I was a bindlestiff myself for quite a spell. I worked in the same
country that the story is laid in. The characters are composites to a
certain extent. Lennie was a real person. He's in an insane asylum in
* GEORGE MILTON: A quick-witted man who is Lennie's guardian and best friend. His friendship with Lennie helps sustain his dream of a better future. He was bound in teasing Lennie since he was young. He is described by Steinbeck in the novel as "small and quick," every part of him being "defined," with small strong hands on slender arms. He has a dark face and "restless eyes" and "sharp, strong features" including a "thin, bony nose." * LENNIE SMALL: A mentally disabled , but physically strong man who travels with George and is his constant companion. He dreams of "living off the fatta' the lan'" and being able to tend to rabbits. His love for soft things conspires against him, mostly because he does not know his own strength, and eventually becomes his undoing. Steinbeck defines his appearance as George's "opposite," writing that he is a "huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes" and "wide, sloping shoulders." Lennie walks heavily, dragging his feet a little, "the way a bear drags his paws," adding that his arms do not swing at his sides, but hang loosely. * CANDY: An aging ranch handyman, Candy lost his hand in an accident and worries about his future on the ranch. Fearing that his age is making him useless, he seizes on George’s description of the farm he and Lennie will have, offering his life’s savings if he can join George and Lennie in owning the land. * SLIM: A "jerkline skinner," the main driver of a mule team and the "prince of the ranch". Slim is greatly respected by many of the characters and is the only character whom Curley treats with respect. His insight, intuition, kindness and natural authority draw the other ranch hands automatically towards him, and he is significantly the only character to fully understand the bond between George and Lennie. * CURLEY: The Boss' son, a young, pugnacious character, once a semi-professional boxer. He is described by others, with some irony, as "handy", partly because he likes to keep a glove filled with vaseline on his left hand. He is very jealous and protective of his wife and immediately develops a dislike toward Lennie. At one point, Curley loses his temper after he sees Lennie appear to laugh at him, and ends up with his hand horribly damaged after Lennie fights back against him. * CURLEY\'S WIFE: A young, pretty woman, who is mistrusted by her husband. The other characters refer to her only as "Curley's wife". Steinbeck explained that she is "not a person, she's a symbol. She has no function, except to be a foil – and a danger to Lennie." Curley's wife's preoccupation with her own beauty eventually helps precipitate her death: She allows Lennie to stroke her hair as an apparently harmless indulgence, only for her to upset Lennie when she yells at him to stop him 'mussing it'. Lennie tries to stop her yelling and eventually, and accidentally, kills her by breaking her neck. * CROOKS: Crooks, the black stable-hand, gets his name from his crooked back. Proud, bitter, and cynical, he is isolated from the other men because of the color of his skin. Despite himself, Crooks becomes fond of Lennie, and though he claims to have seen countless men following empty dreams of buying their own land, he asks Lennie if he can go with them and hoe in the garden. * CANDY\'S DOG: A blind dog who is described as "old", "stinky", and "crippled", and is killed by Carlson. * CARLSON: A "thick bodied" ranch hand, he kills Candy's dog with little sympathy. * THE BOSS: Curley's father, the superintendent of the ranch. The ranch is owned by "a big land company" according to Candy. * WHIT: A young ranch hand.
In every bit of honest writing in the world there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love. There are shorter means, many of them. There is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. Try to understand each other. — John Steinbeck in his 1938 journal entry
Steinbeck emphasizes dreams throughout the book. George aspires to independence, to be his own boss, to have a homestead, and most importantly to be "somebody". Lennie aspires to be with George on his independent homestead, and to quench his fixation on soft objects. Candy aspires to reassert his responsibility lost with the death of his dog, and for security for his old age—on George's homestead. Crooks aspires to a small homestead where he can express self-respect, security, and most of all, acceptance. Curley's wife dreams to be an actress, to satisfy her desire for fame lost when she married Curley, and an end to her loneliness.
Loneliness is a significant factor in several characters' lives. Candy is lonely after his dog is gone. Curley's wife is lonely because her husband is not the friend she hoped for—she deals with her loneliness by flirting with the men on the ranch, which causes Curley to increase his abusiveness and jealousy. The companionship of George and Lennie is the result of loneliness. Crooks states the theme candidly as "A guy goes nuts if he ain't got anybody. Don't make any difference who the guy is, long's he's with you." The author further reinforces this theme through subtle methods by situating the story near the town of Soledad , which means "solitude" in Spanish.
Despite the need for companionship, Steinbeck emphasizes how loneliness is sustained through the barriers established from acting inhuman to one another. The loneliness of Curley's wife is upheld by Curley's jealousy, which causes all the ranch hands to avoid her. Crooks's barrier results from being barred from the bunkhouse by restraining him to the stable ; his bitterness is partially broken, however, through Lennie's ignorance.
Steinbeck's characters are often powerless, due to intellectual,
economic, and social circumstances. Lennie possesses the greatest
physical strength of any character, which should therefore establish a
sense of respect as he is employed as a ranch hand. However, his
intellectual handicap undercuts this and results in his powerlessness.
Economic powerlessness is established as many of the ranch hands are
victims of the
Regarding human interaction, evil of oppression and abuse is a theme that is illustrated through Curley and Curley's wife. Curley uses his aggressive nature and superior position in an attempt to take control of his father's farm. He constantly reprimands the farm hands and accuses some of fooling around with his wife. Curley's Napoleon complex is evidenced by his threatening of the farm hands for minuscule incidents. Curley's wife, on the other hand, is not physically but verbally manipulative. She uses her sex appeal to gain some attention, flirting with the farm hands. According to the Penguin Teacher's Guide for Of Mice and Men, Curley and Curley's wife represent evil in that both oppress and abuse the migrants in different ways.
Fate is felt most heavily as the characters' aspirations are destroyed when George is unable to protect Lennie (who is a real danger). Steinbeck presents this as "something that happened" or as his friend coined for him "non-teleological thinking" or "is thinking", which postulates a non-judgmental point of view.
Of Mice and Men
Steinbeck originally titled it Something That Happened (referring to
the events of the book as "something that happened" because nobody can
be really blamed for the tragedy that unfolds in the story). However,
he changed the title after reading
Attaining the greatest positive response of any of his works up to that time, Steinbeck's novella was chosen as a Book of the Month Club selection before it was published. Praise for the work came from many notable critics, including Maxine Garrard (Enquirer-Sun), Christopher Morley , and Harry Thornton Moore (New Republic). New York Times critic Ralph Thompson described the novella as a "grand little book, for all its ultimate melodrama."
The novella has been banned from various US public and school
libraries or curricula for allegedly "promoting euthanasia ",
"condoning racial slurs", being "anti-business", containing profanity,
and generally containing "vulgar" and "offensive language". Many of
the bans and restrictions have been lifted and it remains required
reading in many other American, Australian, Irish, British, New
Zealand and Canadian high schools. As a result of being a frequent
target of censors,
Of Mice and Men
See also: Of Mice and Men in popular culture Poster for the 1939 film
The first adaptation was in 1939, two years after the publication of
the novella, and starred
Lon Chaney Jr. as Lennie, with Burgess
Meredith as George, and was directed by
Lewis Milestone . It was
nominated for four
A TV version, produced by David Susskind in 1968, starred George Segal as George, Nicol Williamson as Lennie, Will Geer as Candy, Moses Gunn as Crooks, and Don Gordon and Joey Heatherton as Curley and his wife.
A 1972 Iranian film, Topoli , directed by Reza Mirlohi was adapted from and dedicated to John Steinbeck and his story.
Another theatrical film version was made in 1992, directed by Gary
Sinise , who was nominated for the Palme d\'Or at
The first stage production was written by Steinbeck, produced by Sam
H. Harris and directed by
George S. Kaufman . It opened on November
23, 1937, in the
Music Box Theatre on Broadway. Running for 207
performances, it starred
The production was chosen as Best Play in 1938 by the New York Drama Critics\' Circle .
In 1939 the production was moved to Los Angeles, still with Wallace Ford in the role of George, but with Lon Chaney, Jr., taking on the role of Lennie. Chaney's performance in the role resulted in his casting in the movie.
The play was revived in a 1974 Broadway production in the Brooks Atkinson Theatre starring Kevin Conway as George and James Earl Jones as Lennie. Noted stage actress Pamela Blair played Curley's Wife in this production.
In 1970 Carlisle Floyd wrote an opera based on this novella. One departure between Steinbeck's book and Floyd's opera is that the opera features The Ballad Singer, a character not found in the book.
A new version of the play opened on Broadway at The Longacre Theater on March 19, 2014 for a limited 18-week engagement, starring James Franco , Chris O\'Dowd , Leighton Meester and Jim Norton .
Of Mice and Men
Of Mice and Men
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