Thursday, June 30, 2016

Of Mice and MenOf Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

My favorite thing about this book was how delightfully short it was! Short, but packed with so much, which in my opinion is the mark of a great storyteller. I can't remember the last time I read anything under 200 pages, which is such a shame! Alright, new resolution: read shorter books from now on!

I never had to read this book for school or anything like that, so going into it, all I knew was that it was a book typically assigned as required reading. I didn't know anything about the plot or themes or any of that. I had heard of the author, obviously, but had never read anything by him. I picked this up because I had been thinking of the phrase, "The best laid plans of mice and men." I had the experience recently of things I carefully planned and hoped for not coming through and I knew this book was about something along those lines.

In brief, this story is about two migrant ranch workers, Lennie and George, and takes place during the Great Depression. George and Lennie console themselves with their dream of owning their own ranch someday as they start a job at a new ranch. They are tired of always drifting about the country, doing hard work for other people and not getting to set their own schedule, make their own profit, or have their own place to call home. This is summed up nicely in a quote by George: 'Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don't belong no place." This story is about loneliness and the different ways people deal with it.

Right off the bat, the relationship between Lennie and George was so sweet and I really enjoyed their dynamic. Lennie is this great giant of a man who suffers from mental retardation. He often gets into embarrassing and dangerous scrapes and George is the one who bails him out. What I found very endearing was that George keeps saying to Lennie how he could live such a swell life if only he wasn't saddled with Lennie's problems all the time, but we see that he would not actually abandon Lennie, no matter how bitterly he complains about it when Lennie does things that upset or endanger them.

When they arrive at their new job, George and Lennie are treated with suspicion because they are a duo instead of loners like other migrant ranch workers. George says, “Ain’t many guys travel around together...I don’t know why. Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.” The friendship between the two of them is contrasted with the other characters in the book who are each lonely in different ways.

Curly's Wife is the only woman on the entire ranch and she is always hanging around the workers, trying to strike up a conversation with them despite their discomfort with this since her husband is a jealous and possessive man. Curly's Wife infuriated me, first off, because she doesn't even have a name other than Curly's Wife. Of course, this was to show how she is considered a possession by the despicable Curly. I hated her and felt sorry for her at the same time.

There's Candy, who is not only lonely because he has no one to care about him, but also worried about being discarded because of how old he is. One of the saddest scenes in the book involves his dog, a creature almost as ancient as Candy himself, who is the only family he has had for years.

The loneliest character in this story would have to be Crooks, a black worker on the ranch. This quote by him just broke my heart: "S'pose you didn't have nobody. S'pose you couldn't go into the bunk house and play rummy 'cause you was black. How'd you like that? S'pose you had to sit out here an' read books. Sure you could play horseshoes till it got dark, but then you got to read books. Books ain't no good. A guy needs somebody-to be near him. A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody. Don't make no difference who the guy is, long's he's with you. I tell ya, I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an' he gets sick"

The conclusion to the story was tragic. I can't really go into without spoiling. In fact, because this story is so short, I made sure not to read any kinds of reviews at all before I experienced it. I'm glad I did that. And I'm glad I read this.

I enjoyed the way the characters complemented the theme of the story. I enjoyed the speculation over friendship and how it is so rare in the world. And of course, loneliness is a topic everyone can relate to.

In all, this was a 5-star read for me. I always love it when a widely acclaimed classic actually gets me in the feels. I worried I would not find this book accessible or interesting, but that was absolutely not the case. The themes are universal and relatable. The characters are interesting and very well-developed. And best of all was the brevity of this book. I know from experience how difficult it is to write something meaningful AND short.

So yeah, go read this!

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