Today I am marking off my thirty fourth #34th checkpoint category for the POPSUGAR READING CHALLENGE 2020 with:
A stunning new series look for one of the greatest writers of the 20th century in Penguin Modern Classics
Drifters in search of work, George and his simple-minded friend Lennie, have nothing in the world except each other – and a dream. A dream that one day they will have some land of their own. Eventually they find work on a ranch, but their hopes are doomed as Lennie – struggling against extreme cruelty, misunderstanding and jealousy – becomes a victim of his own strength. Tackling universal themes, friendship and a shared vision, and giving a voice to America’s lonely and dispossesed, OF MICE AND MEN remains Steinbeck’s most popular work.
Of Mice and Men is considered a modern classic. John Steinbeck’s novel represents an ode to life during the depression in the United States as two transient farm workers search for a life free from control, starvation and prejudice. Steinbeck’s novella, which was published in 1937, is my first experience of this Nobel Prize winner’s writing and it also represents my entry for the 2020 Banned Book Week read for the Pop Sugar Reading Challenge.
Of Mice and Men is considered as one of John Steinbeck’s keynote works. This novella traces the lives of George Milton and Lennie Small. These two migrant ranch workers are on the fringes of society. Together this twosome continue their fight for freedom and for recognition in a society that condemns them. George and Lennie toil on despite their hardship and loneliness. They do have each other to call on. But they have hopes and dreams. They long to own a piece of land and farm their own property. In order to achieve this dream, the two men continue to search for work in the Salinas Valley locale of California, an area hit hard by the depression. But when disaster strikes, with Lennie at the very centre of this tragic incident, questions of friendship, loyalty and protection prevail. Of Mice and Men is an enduring modern classic, embraced by audiences and generations worldwide.
Taking advantage of banned book week 2020, I decided it was high time that I experienced the work of highly praised American author John Steinbeck. Although I did not study Steinbeck’s work at school, I am familiar with The Grapes of Wrath, which I examined in depth as part of my media studies curriculum in my graduating year. As a voracious reader, I do like to dabble in traditional and modern classics from time to time, if my schedule allows. I was fortunate enough to be able to squeeze in a session with Of Mice and Men this holiday break. Steinbeck’s novella was a quick read that I managed to turn over in just a morning.
I was intrigued by the introduction of my copy of Of Mice and Men that provides some insight into the act of banning Steinbeck’s classic novel of American life in times past.
‘The Police Bureau in Providence, Rhode Island, denied a license to the “low down” play in June 1939. In February 1940, the film was banned in Australia. And in December of that year, the New York Times reported that Ft McClellan, Alabama, “chaplains objected to a Christmas Eve screening of (Milestone’s ) Of Mice and Men, condemning it beforehand as ‘morbid and degenerate,’ and as a result General Haskell ordered the showing be cancelled.” Book, play and film – coming in quick succession – disturbed many Americans in part because they chipped away at the nation’s faith in the incantatory dream: a new beginning, a tidy home. And in part Steinbeck’s dialogue offended and continues to offend (the novel is one of the most frequently banned by schools throughout country).’
Susan Shillinglaw, Introduction, Of Mice and Men.
This introduction sheds some light on the issue of why Steinbeck’s novella was banned. It is fascinating and it definitely infiltrated my thoughts as I made my way through this concise novella. On the whole I was moved, but also perplexed by the portrait that Steinbeck vividly provides of America’s not too distant past. We are taken on a journey with Steinbeck’s two mismatched leads who show the reader the true meaning of friendship, brotherhood, protection and loyalty. These are tough times and Steinbeck illuminates an era marred by economic downturns, unfair labour relations, racism, sexism, prejudice, strict community judgement and more. This is a strong sketch of American society, morality and general relations in decades past. It is at times tough to read, especially as mistruths, assumptions and misunderstandings occur, but it is important to remember that this was the state of affairs during this period.
Lennie and George, the formidable leads of Steinbeck’s book, are well realised on the pages of this novel despite the short length of this tale. It is hard not be moved by George and Lennie’s tender friendship. This twosome’s hopes and dreams for a better life does give the reader some hope, in the face of such adversity. But when tragedy occurs, tough decisions and heartbreaking choices are made. There is a sense of melancholy that follows this story. Of Mice and Men represents a raw reality for many members of society at this time. I can see glimmers of why Of Mice and Men is such a prolific novel, studied across schools worldwide and reprised on the stage, as well as on film. However, I did feel that in taking the format of a short length novel, this great story lost its potential power. I struggled to connect and embrace the overall vision of this novel due to its concise format.
All in all, Of Mice and Men didn’t enamour me, but I’m glad I can finally claim to have read a slice of John Steinbeck’s work.
*** 3 stars
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck was first published in 1937. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.