Of Mice and Men

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Literature project

Of Mice and Men
John Steinbeck

Introduction summary

John Steinbeck celebrated friendship, both in his life and in his fiction. Friendship is the most enduring relationship in his best work… But Steinbeck’s vision of camaraderie is less markedly an escape from marriage, home, and commitment than an exploration of the parameters of society and self. (Pvii)

… arguably the best of his short novels… commitment between friends that is love at its highest pitch. To read Of Mice and Men as Steinbeck intended is to keep firmly in mind its original title “Something That Happened,” a phrase expressing the non-judgmental acceptance that imprints his best work of the 1930s and early 40s. in the novel Steinbeck in effect tells us that this is the way things are; he called his approach non-teleological thinking, or “is thinking”. “Is thinking” focused not on the ends but on the process of life, the Aristotelean efficient cause of nature. (Pviii)

When reading Of Mice and Men, we are asked to acknowledge the inevitability of a situation in which two men, each with a particular weakness and need, cling to the margins of an unforgiving world. It is a parable about commitment, loneliness, hope, and loss, drawing its power from the fact that these universal truths are grounded in the realistic context of friendship and a shared dream. It is the energy of that friendship, real but hardly sentimental that charges this richly suggestive and emotional text. Of Mice and Men is the middle book in Steinbeck’s trilogy about agricultural labor in California. (Pix)

...for Of Mice and Men he created his own genre, the play/novelette. Of Mice and Men is thus poised on the cusp of two genres, one moribund, the other alive. (Pxvi)

…the clash between a troubled worker and his boss, between the powerless and the elite. What became the climax of his fiction was a confrontation between two of the disenfranchised – Lennie and Curley’s lonely wife – a conflict whose meaning is less concerned with the cause of oppression, class conflict, than the very tenor of that oppression. Of Mice and Men is a “portrait in ivory” of a highly representative working class enclave, where the laborers’ own powerlessness results in social instability. It is a world where personal interaction is marked by instances of petty control, misunderstanding, jealousy, and callousness. …set a “few miles south of Soledad”-Spanish for “solitude”- is the intense loneliness and anger engendered by hopelessness. (Pxviii)

The opening scene insists on this narrowing as Steinbeck introduces his two tramps in a landscape that conveys both their intimacy with nature and their exclusion from any real power. …our eye is brought to dwell on the darkening enclosure by the Salinas River , to focus on a pool where life rises momentarily to the surface, then sinks to the depths. The tight scenes suggest the men’s entrapment. This narrow, focused, and as Steinbeck admitted, “difficult” study allowed him to show that workers destroy themselves not through external conflicts but through their own disaffection. (Pxix)

“-the earth longings of a Lennie who was not to represent insanity at all but the inarticulate and powerful yearning of all men.” “Something That Happened” is resolved not inn what the characters do next, not in an order imposed on life, but rather in the readers comprehension of the doomed appeal of Lennie and George. (Pxx)

Chapter one

The book commences with a dramatic setting of nature and geographical detail. A few kilometers South of Soledad, the Salinas River flows with warm water green water running deep into the earth, close to the banks running deep and green. On the one side, Golden foothills lead into strong rocky Galiban mountains and on the other side of the river there is symbolism of life from deer coming to drink at night and rabbits running away from any sign of emerging life. As well as piles of ashes under the sycamore trees...
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