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Posted on 2010-10-22. By anonymous.
Of Mice and Men is a novella written by Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck. Published in 1937, it tells the tragic story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers during the Great Depression in California.
Based on Steinbeck's own experiences as a bindlestiff in the 1920s (before the arrival of the Okies he would vividly describe in The Grapes of Wrath), the title is taken from Robert Burns's poem, To a Mouse, which read: "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley." (The best laid schemes of mice and men / Go oft awry.)
Required reading in many high schools, Of Mice and Men has been a frequent target of censors for vulgarity and what some consider offensive language; consequently, it appears on the American Library Association's list of the Most Challenged Books of 21st Century.
Two migrant field workers in California during the Great Depression?George Milton, an intelligent and cynical man, and Lennie Small, an ironically named man of large stature and immense strength but limited mental abilities?are on their way to a ranch near Soledad southeast of Salinas, California to "work up a stake." They hope to one day attain their shared dream of settling down on their own piece of land. Lennie's part of the dream, is merely to tend to (and touch) soft rabbits on the farm. This dream is one of Lennie's favorite stories, which George constantly retells. They are fleeing from their previous employment in Weed where they were run out of town after Lennie's love of stroking soft things resulted in an accusation of attempted rape when he touched a young woman's dress. It soon becomes clear that the two are close friends and George is Lennie's protector.
At the ranch however, the situation appears to be menacing and dangerous, especially when the pair are confronted by Curley, the boss' small made, aggressive son with an inferiority complex, who dislikes larger men, leaving the gentle giant Lennie potentially vulnerable. Curley's flirtatious and provocative wife, who Lennie is instantly attracted to, poses a problem as well. In sharp contrast to these two characters, the pair also meet Slim, the kind, intelligent and intuitive jerkline skinner, who agrees to give Lennie one of the puppies his dog has recently given birth to.
Amazingly, their dream leaps hugely towards reality, in spite of the potential problems on the ranch, when Candy, the aged, one-handed ranch-hand offers to pitch in with George and Lennie so that they can buy the farm at the end of the month in return for permission to live with them on it. The trio are ecstatic, but their joy is slightly overshadowed when Curley attacks Lennie, reminding them that there are still obstacles to overcome before their goal is reached.
Nevertheless, George feels more relaxed, since the dream seems just within their grasp, to the extent that he even leaves Lennie behind on the ranch while he goes into town with the other ranch hands. Lennie wanders into the stable, and chats with Crooks, the bitter, yet educated stable buck, who is isolated from the other workers because he is black. Candy finds them and they discuss their plans for the farm with Crooks, who cannot resist asking them if he can hoe a garden patch on the farm, despite scorning the possibility of achieving the dream. Curley's wife makes another appearance, and flirts with the men especially Lennie.
Lennie has accidentally killed his puppy while he was stroking it. Curley's wife enters and tries to speak to Lennie, admitting that she is lonely, and how her dreams of becoming a movie star crashed, and the reason she flirts with the ranch hands is finally understood. After finding out that Lennie loves stroking soft things, she offers to let him stroke her hair, but panics and begins to scream when she feels his strength. Lennie becomes frightened, and in the scuffle, unintentionally breaks her neck. When the other ranch hands find the body, George unhappily realizes that their dream is at an end, and hurries away to find Lennie, hoping that he will be at the meeting place that they had designated at the start of the novel in case Lennie got into trouble, knowing that there is only one thing he can do to save Lennie from the painful death that Curley's lynch mob intends to deliver.
George meets Lennie at the designated place, the same spot that they had camped in the night before they came to the ranch. The two sit together and George retells the beloved story of the bright future together that they will never share, and then shoots Lennie in the back of the head, so that his friend's inevitable death is painless and happy. Curley, Slim and another ranch hand named Carlson find George seconds after the shooting. Only Slim realizes that George killed Lennie out of love, and gently and consolingly leads him away, while Curley and Carlson look on, unable to comprehend the subdued mood of the two men.
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