Of Mice and Men
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Set in the Salinas Valley of central California during the Great Depression, the novella tells the story of two men, George and Lennie. During this time period, it was not unusual for men to travel from job to job as a result of the economic recession. However, it was unusual for two men to travel together.
Lennie is a large, strong man with the intellectual capabilities of a small child. He is often forgetful, but is capable of doing intense physical labor. Lennie was raised by his Aunt Clara, who looked after Lennie until her death. At that point, George, a childhood friend, takes responsibility for Lennie.
George and Lennie travel and work together for years before the novella begins. Their last job was in a town called Weed. One day, Lennie sees a girl wearing a red dress and decides to touch it. Lennie likes to pet soft things and has a history of killing the small animals he touches. The girl screams and Lennie freezes, holding her dress tighter. Eventually, George gets Lennie to let go of the dress. Lennie does not physically hurt the girl, but she tells the sheriff she has been raped. George and Lennie flee town.
Besides sharing a history, George and Lennie also share a dream of owning property and living off the fat of the land. While on the ranch, they share this dream with Candy, a swamper with only one hand and an old dog. After the mercy killing of his dog, Candy realizes that, like his dog, his usefulness on the ranch is nearing an end. He has some money and asks if he can join the two men to fulfill their dream.
However, life on the ranch is not easy. The boss’s son, Curley, takes an instant dislike to Lennie because of his size. Curley is a small man who likes to prove his worth by beating up large men, usually men who work for his father and cannot defend themselves out of fear of losing their jobs. Curley is unhappily married to a woman with a reputation for flirting with the ranch hands. After searching for his wife again, an angry Curley starts hitting Lennie, who does not fight back until George gives permission. Lennie then grabs Curley’s hand and crushes it, causing Curley to be rushed to the hospital.
George gets Lennie a puppy to pet while he is on the ranch. However, Lennie kills the puppy, not realizing his own strength. He is in the barn burying the puppy when Curley’s wife approaches. She is lonely and desperate for attention. She allows Lennie to pet her hair, but screams at Lennie to stop when he begins to handle her too roughly. Lennie panics, shakes the woman, and snaps her neck.
Lennie flees the ranch and hides in the brush by the river bank as George instructs him in the beginning of the novella. Chaos ensues at the ranch when the body is found. Curley wants to lynch Lennie and make him suffer. George knows Lennie will suffer, no matter who finds him, and must make an agonizing decision. What would be best and most merciful for Lennie?
Major themes in the novella are loneliness as well as companionship, alienation, mercy, compassion, and the importance of dreams. The novel can also be read through a historical lens as a study of migratory workers during the Great Depression.
This book, despite being written in 1937, remains controversial today because of the issue of euthanasia.
Attribution and references
This article uses contents from Of Mice and Men - GNU FDL wiki which provided the start of this article. Includes full character and chapter summaries. Due to the GFDL license provisions, this article should be released under GFDL.