Saturday, March 26, 2016

Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck (Spoilers)

OK, it's probably a cliche, but I feel compelled to quote the original saying from which this book derives its title:

“The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft a-gley.” -Robert Burns

This short and simple read is actually so packed full of meaning and potential analysis that it's hard to believe it's barely more than 100 pages long. Each character has a "scheme" in mind, and we watch as each one comes to terms with this beloved plan going awry. As a reader, it's easy to see that most of these ideas are nonsense, and some of the characters are cynical enough to voice this. But it's also hard not to sympathize with George's dream of owning his own plot of land (if he can only get enough money together), and it's hard not to hope when his dream starts to spill over to some of the other characters.

It's also hard to know why George sticks with Lennie; it seems like it's partly out of guilt and feeling somehow responsible for him, but it's such a detriment to George - Lennie literally destroys everything he touches. In this way the ending makes perfect sense; there is no way for George to keep going forward with Lennie if he is ever to get what he wants.

Sorry this is rambly, but I'm having a hard time forming thoughts in a coherent way. My mind is racing, thinking of all the things I could have written college papers on.

So let's move on to this book's status as #12 on the ALA's list of frequently banned and challenged classics; and talk about some of the reasons:

"Challenged in Greenville, S.C. (1977) by the Fourth Province of the Knights of the Ku KIux KIan" (if you're raising the ire of this group, you're probably doing something right)

Banned/challenged for "profanity" - and in the 1980s and later (give me a break, this is how rough and tumble people talk, and by current standards it's nothing big)

"Challenged as a summer youth program reading assignment in Chattanooga, Tenn. (1989) because 'Steinbeck is known to have had an anti business attitude:' In addition, 'he was very questionable as to his patriotism:'" (Bwahahahahahahahahahaha - thanks for your input, 1%ers - anti-business, that's hilarious; and I love how scoundrels always hide behind "patriotism" when they have no valid complaint)

Banned and challenged for "offensive language" - Some of the characters do use the N-word a couple times, but sadly that was the way people spoke back then, and frankly I think it's important to keep in mind both how far we have come since this book was written in the late 1930s and how far we still have to go in this regard. Much like its use in Huckleberry Finn, Steinbeck includes it to comment on how the African-American character is marginalized both in the story and in general, in society. I love how nobody notes that George refers to a "Jap cook" but that's in there too; again, it shows how people with little economic (or other) power always search for another group to look down on, to make themselves feel better. But let's move on...

"In 1992 a coalition of community members and clergy in Mobile, Ala., requested that local school officials form a special textbook screening committee to 'weed out objectionable things:' Steinbeck's novel was the first target because it contained 'profanity' and 'morbid and depressing themes'" (mustn't think of anything that isn't unicorns and lollipops and sunshine and rainbows... well, maybe not rainbows, exactly, ahem - UGH)

I can't make myself do any more but you get the idea. You can read the entire list (if you can stomach it) here. Once again it's mainly the bleatings of people who have most likely never actually read the book. Sigh. I know I'm biased, because I love Steinbeck, but this book is amazing and I can't recommend it highly enough.


  1. Yep I love Steinbeck too. This is a very powerful book for one so short.

  2. Hi Joseph - I couldn't believe how short it was, there was so much to the story that it felt like it was 1,000 pages! Which other books by Steinbeck do you recommend?

  3. I definitely recommend The Grapes of Wrath. I've also read Cannery Row. It's about as long as Of Mice and Men. It's been a while though, I don't remember it well. I think I liked it, but not nearly as much as Of Mice and Men.

  4. The Grapes of Wrath totally rocked my world - and I really liked Cannery Row, more than I thought I would (and yes, OM&M is better). Sweet Thursday is the sequel to Can.Row. and it's pretty good too. Have you ever read East of Eden?

    1. Nope that's my full Steinbeck resume thus far.