Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

This is only the third Steinbeck that I have read.  I came to him rather late, probably because when I was at school we didn't have to analyse the arse off a book to know what literature was (and still is).  From Amazon, I learn that there are loads of editions of this with notes to help you understand........ Really?  This is a novella of just over 100 pages, and even if you are a slow reader, you could polish this off in a couple of days and you'd understand it, too.  And I know from remarks from other booky folk that they don't "do" Steinbeck because they were sick of him before school ended.  Sad, sad, and a loss for them, for they are books to grip the heart in a number of different ways.

Let me tell you a little about this one.  There is no date or time line for it, but as it was published in the late 1930s originally, it's a sure thing that the setting was the American Depression.  It's about men.  About how they do things, how they feel about things, how they get along.   It shows it's age - remember that sexism was not invented in 1937;  people still called those with a dark skin "niggers"; and in this book a woman with just a bit too much rouge, lipstick and curled hair is a "tart".  But don't take offence.  The world was a different place then.

Lennie is a giant of a man, tall, broad, huge hands and with a heart of gold.  A mental age of maybe 5 years, and not much of a memory, except for the things George tells him.  We don't need to know what the original relationship was when they were children, but they have certainly known each other most of their lives, and George is now stuck with Lennie.   The two of them are drifters.  They hitch lifts, they walk, they take menial farm jobs all over California.  They do what they can, and they dream.  The same dream for both of them.  They are going to save enough to buy a small farm, some hens, enough vegetables to feed themselves, a couple of pigs for slaughter every year, and the rabbits.  Lennie is addicted to soft things - animal fur, velvet; so the thought of keeping those soft furry creatures is his part of the dream.  But Lennie has no idea of his own strength.  And that is how trouble creeps into their itinerant life.

If you've never seen a film of this book, don't go looking for it, because no-one can, I think, do justice to Steinbeck's word pictures.  Just read the book, with all its beauty, its hardship, its cruelty, its sadness.  But do read it.