Of mice and men
John Steinbeck was born in Salinas,
California in 1902. Although his family
was wealthy, he was interested in the
lives of the farm labourers and spent
time working with them. He used his
experiences as material for his
writing. He dropped out of college
and worked as labourer before
achieving success as a writer.
He wrote a number of novels about
poor people who worked on the land
and dreamed of a better life,
including The Grapes of Wrath, which
is the heart-rending story of a family's
struggle to escape the dust bowl of
the West to reach California.
Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel
Prize for Literature in 1962.
His father, John Ernst
Steinbeck, worked at several
places: He owned a feed-andgrain store, managed a flour
plant and served as treasurer
of Monterey County. His
mother, Olive Hamilton
Steinbeck, was a former
schoolteacher. John died in
After World War I, economic forces
brought many poor and migrant
agricultural workers from the Great Plains
states, such as Oklahoma, Texas,
California. Following World War I, a
recession led to a drop in the market
price of farm crops, which meant that
farmers were forced to produce more
goods in order to earn the same amount
The stock market crash of 1929
only made matters worse. Banks
were forced to foreclose on
mortgages and collect debts.
Unable to pay their bank, many
farmers lost their property and
were forced to find other work.
Of Mice and Men teaches a lesson
about the nature of human existence.
Nearly all of the characters, including
George, Lennie, Candy, Crooks, and
Curley’s wife, admit, at one time or
another, to having a profound sense
of loneliness. Each desires the
comfort of a friend. Curley’s wife
admits to Candy, Crooks, and Lennie
that she is unhappily married, and
Crooks tells Lennie that life is no good
without a companion to turn to in
times of confusion and need.
The characters are helpless by their
isolation, and yet, even at their weakest,
they seek to destroy those who are even
weaker than themn. The most powerful
example of this cruel tendency is when
Crooks criticizes Lennie’s dream of the farm
and his dependence on George. Having just
admitted his own vulnerabilities—he is a
black man with a crooked back who longs
for companionship—Crooks zeroes in on
Lennie’s own weaknesses.
Steinbeck records a human truth:
oppression does not come only
from the hands of the strong or the
powerful. Crooks seems at his
strongest when he has nearly
reduced Lennie to tears for fear that
something bad has happened to
George, just as Curley’s wife feels
most powerful when she threatens
to have Crooks lynched. The novel
suggests that the most visible kind
of strength is used to oppress.
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