Of Mice and Men #
Steinbeck’s Nobel Award #
At the Nobel banquet in 1962, Steinbeck said he was undeserving of the award, but graciously accepted it on behalf of great writers before him.
“In my heart, there may be doubt that I deserve the Nobel award over other men of letters whom I hold in respect and reverence – but there is no question of my pleasure and pride in having it for myself,”
“Such is the prestige of the Nobel award and of this place where I stand that I am impelled, not to squeak like a grateful and apologetic mouse, but to roar like a lion out of pride in my profession and in the great and good men who have practised it through the ages.
“Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it, and it has not changed except to become more needed.”
American poet and literary critic Dorothy Parker said The Grapes of Wrath was “the greatest American novel I have ever read”.
Drama critic and commentator for The New Yorker magazine Alexander Woollcott said at the time that it was “as great a book as has yet come out of America”.
Since Steinbeck’s death, Of Mice and Men has sold more than 14 million copies and his life’s work has inspired political movements.
Seventeen of Steinbeck’s works have been made into TV or studio movies, with Steinbeck earning three Academy Award nominations for writing.
Among the numerous popular films adapted from Steinbeck’s books are The Grapes of Wrath (1940), Of Mice and Men (1992), The Pearl (2001) and In Dubious Battle (2017).
John Steinbeck Award, presented annually to an artist, thinker, activist, or writer whose work exemplifies, Steinbeck’s “belief in the dignity of people who by circumstance are pushed to the fringes.”
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck #
The best laid schemes of mice an’ men Gang aft a-gley (Go oft astray) Robert Burns
Life is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans. John Lennon
Of Mice and Men is a novella by Steinbeck (Published in 1937) set in America in the 1920’s illustrating the values, aspirations and failures of desperate lonely drifters who work as itinerant farm labourers in California. It is a sad and pessimistic protest of the plight of the disadvantaged in a bygone era in American History that resonates with people of all times and places.
Steinbeck gained a reputation as a protest writer because he expressed his dissatisfaction with the way society was structured and run by the advantaged with little regard to improving the opportunities of the disadvantaged. The great American Dream has little chance of reality for most people. Even today, most workers live below the poverty line. It has become symptomatic of betrayal of an ideal resulting pessimism and despair.
Most of the characters had good cause for pessimism; all of the men are loners who don’t trust each other, they are drifters, on the lookout for new jobs, they can’t really save much money as they don’t get paid much, and spend it in bars or cathouses. The severely disadvantaged are mistreated, Crooks because he is black and Curley’s wife because she is a woman. There appears to be little sensitivity or compassion for the disabled, Candy, with his game leg or Lennie with his mental disability.
The American Dream? #
There are many versions and aspects of the American dream, a term was first used by James Adams in his book The Epic of America (1931) in which he states:
“The American Dream is “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."
Based on the Myth of a new Eden in creating a new heaven and a new earth, as part of discovering a new continent with the possibilities of forming an ideal society, the myth, after dismissing Atlantis or Utopia, focussed on America.
The new American Adam, according to R.W.B. Lewis, is a radically new personality, an individual emancipated from history, happily bereft of ancestry, untouched and undefiled by the usual inheritances of family and race, an individual standing alone, self reliant, and self propelling, ready to confront whatever awaited him with the aid of his own unique and inherent resources.” America was founded by dissident idealistic religious sects who sought to free themselves of the restraints of Old Europe: Parochial nationalism, intolerance of non orthodox religions, rigid class systems and petty traditions that restricted daring business ventures.
In the United States’ Declaration of Independence, our founding fathers:
"…held certain truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."
Might this sentiment be considered the foundation of the American Dream?
Thomas Wolfe said,
"…to every man, regardless of his birth, … golden opportunity ….the right to live, to work, to be himself, and to become whatever thing his manhood and his vision can combine to make him."
As all idealistic ventures of creating a new paradise on earth, this myth came into danger of turning from a dream to a nightmare due to corrosive values of selfish entrepreneurs in creating a disparity of wealth through privilege meaning most Americans continue to live in fear and misery.*
The characters: #
A small intelligent man who appears to be a protective carer for Lennie. He seems to know how to get the most out of Lennie.
A bear of a man who has the mentality of a child. He likes small soft things like a mouse or delicate women. He is tactile and likes to stroke them, but when they resist his mammoth strength crushes the life out of them. There is an indication of past troubles. Lennie is very dependent on George.
Curley The Boss’s son:
Neat, fastidious, finicky; projects a cock sure, aggressive and mean image to compensate for his small stature; tries to be one of the boys but too threatened to accept their camaraderie. He is immediately suspicious of Lennie’s dependence on George. When he later picks a fight with Lennie, George urges Lennie to defend himself and Lennie crushes Curley’s hand.
The foreman of the ranch, Slim likes to keep control of all the men.
An old ranch hand who lost his hand in a farm accident. Candy owns an old dying dog but he can’t shoot it.
One of the leading farm hands, who shoots Candy’s dog, foreshadowing George’s decision to shoot Lennie as an act of mercy killing.
We can perceive Crooks' loneliness in the depiction of how he is forced to live apart from the other men:
Crooks, the Negro stable buck, had his bunk in the harness room; a little shed that leaned off the wall of the barn. … This room was swept and fairly neat, for Crooks was a proud, aloof man. He kept his distance and demanded that other people keep theirs.
His loneliness comes through too as he says to Lennie:
“I ain’t wanted in the bunk house, and you ain’t wanted in> my room.” “Why ain’t you wanted?” Lennie asked. “’Cause I’m black. They play cards in there, but I can’t play because I’m black. They say I stink. …"
“A guy needs somebody—to be near him.” He whined, “A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody.” “Crooks stood up from his bunk and faced her. “I had enough,” he said coldly. “You got no rights comin' in a colored man’s room. You got no rights messing around in here at all. Now you jus' get out, an' get out quick. If you don’t, I’m gonna ast the boss not to ever let you come in the barn no more."
She turned on him in scorn. “Listen, Nigger,” she said. “You know what I can do to you if you open your trap?"
Crooks stared helplessly at her, and then he sat down on his bunk and drew into himself.
She closed on him. “You know what I could do?"
Crooks seemed to grow smaller, and he pressed himself against the wall. “Yes, ma’am."
“Well, you keep your place then, Nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny."
Crooks had reduced himself to nothing. There was no personality, no ego–nothing to arouse either like or dislike. He said, “Yes, ma’am,” and his voice was toneless.
For a moment she stood over him as though waiting for him to move so that she could whip at him again; but Crooks sat perfectly still, his eyes averted, everything that might be hurt drawn in. She turned at last to the other two.”
Anonymous, we never get to hear her name because women are considered men’s chattel and only identified by their masters. She is pretty and knows it so she flirts with all the men making Curley jealous and angry.
Old Susie’s girls
Cheap flossie prostitutes who operate out of a Cathouse – a brothel
More expensive high class pros.
A respectable spinster, a sister of Lennie who cared for him in his youth.