“His ear heard more than what was said to him and his slow speech had overtones not of thought, but of understanding beyond thought.”, said John Steinbeck describing ‘Slim’ one of the characters in his book Of Mice and Men. To one who has read the book however, they will understand how Steinbeck’s this very ability to understand human beings and the environment they live in and present what he sees and hears takes a simple book about the working class during the Great Depression to a whole other level and makes it Of Mice and Men. This novella transcends societal barriers, cultural factors and situational circumstances to become relatable and comprehensible to every reader.
A story of friendship and the bond shared between Lennie Small and George Milton is the nucleus of the novella which attracts all other plots and subplots making this an endearing tale that tugs at every readers heartstrings. Steinbeck beautifully highlights man’s greatest fear, which is to live with nobody to share life with and die alone with nobody realising that they are gone; but how they act paradoxically, constantly sabotaging the companionship that life has to offer. The author takes the readers on a journey of realisation to recognize the farce that is the “American Dream”, the concept that all individuals are equal and everyone has a chance at a life with no hurdles characterised by smooth sailing is absurd and utopian. All the characters in the book have at one point or another had the dream, but have resigned to reality understanding the façade and idealism of the “American Dream.” The way the book slowly enters in to a realm where the dream the main protagonists have of owning “a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs —An’ live off the fatta the lan… an’ have rabbits…” slowly disintegrates and never realised is heartbreaking. This farm that they imagine is a symbol of man’s inherent desire “to be the master of his fate and the captain of his soul.”
When Steinbeck wrote Of Mice and Men he had one intention, which was to show the triumph of the human spirit against “weakness and despair” that friendship and kindness is the “great rally flag of hope”. The author ever so beautifully explores the ideas of weakness and strength by questioning the traditional definitions of the same. He urges people not to abuse power and to understand that cruelty only begets more cruelty and in this context George’s compassion towards Lennie stands out even more brightly.
The aim of the author while writing this book was to celebrate: ‘greatness of heart and spirit’; ‘gallantry in defeat’; ‘to highlight the importance of courage, compassion, and love as key element in the endless war against weakness and despair’ and to celebrate ‘hope.’ And that is exactly what the book is, a celebration of humanness.
Written by Kshaema Susan Mathew