Migrant agricultural workers George Milton and Lennie Small wander from farm to farm looking for work in Depression-era California. Finding work isn't so much a problem for these two friends as keeping jobs, for the good-hearted but simple-minded Lennie has such a propensity for trouble that even smooth-talking George can't convince employers to keep them for long. When the two arrive at a ranch in Salinas County, they are determined to stay until they make enough to buy a small farm where they can be their own boss, beholden to no one. But George and Lennie's plan goes tragically awry when their bullying boss, Curley, targets Lennie as his next victim.
I know I promised you historical fiction last week, but I just didn't have time to read any historical fiction this week. I also realized that this would be my fiftieth post on my blog *throws confetti*, so I wanted to pick something special to review. Also, I have been promising my good friend Maddie for quite some time that I would review a book by her favorite author, John Steinbeck. Finally, I wanted to return to a normal-sized post after frightening you guys with those behemoths from the past two weeks. With all of these thoughts swimming around in my poor diseased mind, I saw my Of Mice and Men copy -- one of my absolute favorite books ever -- on the shelf and knew that was what I had to blog about.
So exactly why is this slender little novella one of my favorites? Well, first and foremost, George and Lennie are two of my favorite literary characters...period. I sympathize with the put-upon George, who masks his sensitive side with biting sarcasm, and poor Lennie's child-like innocence and vulnerability just breaks my heart. Curley is also one of the most vile characters in literature. We have all met a Curley (read: idiotic bully), and the resulting collision between the sadistic, spoiled rancher and the workers he mistreats is one of the most compelling, heartbreaking confrontations I have ever read. When I first read this book, the shocking ending (which I refuse to divulge, in case you haven't read it) made me sob relentlessly and turned me into an emotional pile of goo for a day. The ending still makes me weep every time I read it. *dabs eyes with hankie* The emotional intensity of this novella is the primary reason I adore it so much, but I also love the realism Steinbeck employs in his portrayal of the setting. The rugged life of Depression-era migrant workers comes to life with Steinbeck's dialogue and narration.
I think this book is a masterpiece, but I would be remiss if I didn't discuss the controversy that surrounds Of Mice and Men. Though this book is widely regarded as a classic of 20th century literature (rightly so!), Of Mice and Men is one of the most censored books in US history. As late as the 1990s, this novella was the second most banned book in this country and it still remains a frequent target of censors. Why? Welllll, the book is chalk full of profanity, the plot is morbid, and some of the characters espouse racism and are insensitive toward the mentally handicapped Lennie. I think these critics who dismiss this book as offensive are missing the point of this novel. Yes, the language is heavy. There is profanity on virtually every page. However, the cursing is never gratuitous and is essential to understanding several of the characters. I have read books that had less language than Of Mice and Men that offended me far more, because the language was not necessary. I am also not going to deny the book is morbid, but I think attacks that this book is racist or discriminatory are utter nonsense. There is a huge difference between a book where the author advocates despicable platforms and a book that reveals how despicable those beliefs are by showing them in action. I think showing the consequences of these actions is a far more effective means of condemning these ideas than merely lecturing about them. I think the philosophical issues that this novella explore would have nowhere near the powerful effect if these elements of the book were not present.
Of Mice and Men is a powerful tale about friendship, dreams, and justice. If you have never read this superb story, I beg you to pick it up and give it a read. This is one of those books that stay with you long after you put it down.
Next Week: I just got several books from the library that I can't wait to read and blog about. I can't guarantee what next week will be, but it is likely the review will cover Vikas Swarup's Six Suspects (an experimental mystery set in modern-day India and written by the author of Q & A, which was turned into the acclaimed film Slumdog Millionaire), Lisa See's Peony in Love (a supernatural romance set in 17th century China), Hilary Mantel's Booker Prize winning Wolf Hall (a historical fiction piece about Elizabethan England suggested to me by James), or, if I get it in later this week as planned, John Knowles' classic coming of age tragedy A Separate Peace (suggested to me by Scott).