Tuesday, 29 March 2011
Of Mice and Men - The First Book That Made Me Cry
How many movies have made you cry? Numerous, maybe. The cinema has the advantage of creating vivid images, music, sights, looks, etc, which influence the viewer and touch the deepest, most hidden and sincere parts of his/her soul.
How about a book that made you cry? That's a bit more difficult. You have to submerge into the story, to feel it, to understand it, to visualize it, to go into the character's souls and then to cry. It all happens inside your mind without any visual aids. That's why it is more difficult to have a book that makes you cry. Some novels indeed make you sad, lonely, desperate, despaired. But how many of them prompted you to share a tear? How many of them in fact had you crying like a little baby even though "it was just a story". Of Mice and Men is such a novel. I finished it in exactly 5 hours and still whenever I think about I can't help but cry. Way to start, Mr Steinbeck. The first novel by you that I read made be whimper like a little baby looking for its mother's hug.
Of Mice and Men is a novel about friendship. Friendship in its purest form, friendship between two lonely men on the quest for happiness. Lennie and George are drifters looking for work in the diffucult years of the Great Depression in the USA. George is a clever ambitious little man, looking for ways to save up enough money and one day to have a house of his own. His friend, Lennie, is a simple minded good guy, very hard worker, but not much of a brilliant thinker. George is trapped in taking care for his mentally slow friend and they constantly change jobs because of Lennie's unfortunate inclination to always get into trouble. Finally, the two friends get a job on a ranch in California's Salinas Valley. Their hopes of a better future are doomed when Lennie is again confronted with jealousy, cruelty, misunderstanding, and becomes a victim of his own strength. Now his best friend George must make the most difficult decision in his life in order to save both himself and Lennie from a terrible destiny.
Of Mice and Men is Steinbeck's middle book in his trilogy about agricultural labor in California (including In Dubious Battle and The Grapes of Wrath). All of these novels are epic responses to the acute problems of farm labor in California, where large-scale firms exploit the laborers to harvest seasonal crop. The author explores the difficulties of the working force, their loneliness, despair, and isolation.
Lennie and George are among the few workers that travel together. Most of the men at that time prefer to be alone, changing jobs, always in competition with each other for a place under the sun. George and Lennie are different. They are different because they have each other to take care of. It seems that only George is taking care of his slow friend Lennie. However, Lennie also provides support for George, constantly reminding him about their shared dream to own their own place one day, to have their own harvest, and to work only for themselves. Steinbeck's greatness as a writer lies in his empathy for the simple people - their joys, anger, strenght, and dreams, their cravings for land and their connection to places. All of these themes are elaborated in the context of the theme of friendship between men. As Steinbeck himself pointed out "Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love". Even though sometimes George is sorry for being trapped with Lennie, the reader feels the great connection and compassion between the two poor souls, looking for a place in an unforgiving world.
The character of Lennie somewhat reminded me of the big African-American character in the movie Green Mile. Clumsy, strong, but incredibly good at heart, both of them become victims of misunderstanding and cruelty in society. Reading about Lennie I kept imagining the storyline in the Green Mile. Maybe this vivid image ultimately led to my sobbing throughout the whole novel. When I came to the end of the novel, I couldn't but feel terribly sorry for Lennie, for George, for the unfortunate circumstances that determined their destiny, for the collapse of their dreams.
I fell in love with Of Mice and Men. I loved the image of George and Lennie's friendship, the way George yelled to Lennie, the way Lennie tried not to disappoint his friend, the goodness and affection that kept them going together for so many years, the shared dream that kept them alive. The title itself, taken from a Robert Burns's poem, suggests the transitory quality of even the "best laid schemes". George and Lennie would never get their own land, with a cow, rabits, chickens, a fireplace, etc. They would always remain outsiders in this world. The important message that Steinbeck conveys though is that it is OK because "I got you to look after me and you got me to look after you and that's why".