Of Mice and Men
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, 3/5
It is embarrassing to admit, but I really don’t understand why this novella is so famous and respected. Is it merely because of the shocking ending? The fact that it was censored by many schools? Besides the linguistic value of the dialogue, which can be presumed to accurately represent the spoken English of a certain time and social class, I found little else to recommend this simple story. Yes, it is competently written, has some nice imagery and a few touching scenes, but by the end the main sensation it inspired was the question “Why?” As in, “Why was this even written? Why would anyone want to read it?” Now there are many works of literature for which I could not answer those same questions, but the big difference is that those works of literature don’t really inspire me to ask those questions in the first place.
I thought this edition’s substantial introduction would perhaps give some insight into the book’s point, but it was full of “troubled interplay,” “concentration on the circumscribed space,” “allegorical potential,” “symbiotic dependency”…all the silly things that scholars love to write about writing and readers hate to read. The most helpful bit was an actual quote from Steinbeck to his disappointed agents: “I probably did not make my subjects and my symbols clear. The microcosm is rather difficult to handle and apparently I did not get it over–the earth longings of a Lennie who was not to represent insanity at all but the inarticulate and powerful yearning of all men.” I would have to agree with the author that this point was not at all communicated by the story, at least to me.
As a side note, I cannot believe that high schoolers are forced to read books like this, The Old Man and the Sea, The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, Lord of the Flies and the works of Shakespeare. Whatever their literary value might be according to scholars and those with mature taste, I only know that, if this were the only sort of literature I was exposed to at a young age, I would likely not read at all.
[Why I read it: It is famous, but wasn’t really on my radar until I saw several references to it in the film Man on Fire (1987).]
You’re so refreshing! I read this for the first (and only) time when Rabic was in high school. I found it turgid then, and I’m very glad to find that I’m not the only one. Unfortunately, schools seem to be moving away from the tedious classics you mention straight to trashy drivel. When I open a school I’ll have you design the literature program.
I am likewise glad to hear of your experience with the book–I was feeling a bit embarrassed, like I’m the only person around who can’t understand Steinbeck’s genius. Now I have to decide…do I try Grapes of Wrath and hope for better?
You make a good point about the trashy drivel. I’m not completely behind the “at least they’re reading” excuse people use to justify all sorts of books. For your school, I’d look for books that demonstrate some sort of balance between good writing, accessibility and intriguing plot–having just one of these qualities would not be enough. And definitely no mandatory Shakespeare unless the kids watched and enjoyed theatrical productions or movie versions first!