For such a short book (at barely 100 pages in my version), Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck weighs in as an emotional heavyweight. Many readers attest to this story's ability to make them feel, or give them the feels.
So, how did that happen with such a slim novel?
Four things that truly make this little masterpiece the emotional gut-punch it is:
- Character motivations. It's what Lennie, George, Candy, Crooks and all of the many other characters want. Particularly for George and Lennie, it's to live off the "fadda the land" and have rabbits and a stretch to grow hay; a little piece of their own, to call their own, and to live. Away from the pressures and neverending problems of other people and bosses and their misperceptions. Who wouldn't want that? Is it so wrong to want something so innocent?
- Scene setting. The first page says it all. Steinbeck begins by explaining a spot by a river, where a heron and a hare and a squirrel are doing their thing, the light of a setting sun on the hills above, the flow of the water. Steinbeck "sets the scene" at multiple points through the book, often allowing the characters to walk away, and even all people leave, and he just lets the scene — that sense of place — speak for itself.
- A malleable moral core. No spoiler here, but the crux of George and Lennie's relationship steers them toward what-feels-like an inevitable outcome. We should've seen it coming! But, even when it happens, at the end of the book, we're still sucker-punched with the moral weight of Steinbeck's character's tough and awful and unavoidable decisions. (Also see Cain and Abel tie-in here.)
- Reflection. I don't know what else to call it, but it's when one act in one part of the story is reflected, metaphorically, in another part of the story. So when Steinbeck shows us Candy's old, old dog that ought to be just put out of its misery, he's putting that into the story for a reason. When Steinbeck introduces us to the spot by the river in the beginning, he does so for a reason. The entire story, despite its shortness, is filled with such reflectivity, which means it's filled with well-thoughout purpose and symmetry.
That's what I take away from Of Mice and Men, how it's able to hit the heart even after going on nearly a century since its publication. It's a book about innocence, loneliness, loss, and a sense of being misunderstood by everyone else. All any of us wants is a little spot of our own — but do we deserve it?
Thanks for reading! 😀
Source: reddit post