Camaraderie Turned Homicidal: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Steinbeck’s forte, the struggling proletariat of America, is well crafted in this terse work. At just over 100 pages, one might mistake it for a short story. However, it is not. It stands alone as a classical work of fiction.
It is a thin slice of literature that is anything but thin in content. In fact, the content is of such a decisively expectant nature, it may as well have been Jonathan Franzen’s 562-page novel Freedom. Barry Morrow’s movie Rain Man also comes to mind, as does E. Annie Proulx’s short story turned movie, Brokeback Mountain.
Steinbeck plunks us into Midwest America (where he usually deposits us), and begins with detailed imagery, mostly of landscape. He wastes no time in giving us an early description of our two main characters, George and Lenny. Our senses are roused by expressions of nature, man’s ruminations and an alien dialogue between the two men.
By fixing his attention on two main characters, Steinbeck bypasses the customary literary triangle. He introduces other personalities into the story in due course, yet this is a tale about the ebb and flow of a friendship. George and Lenny are traveling companions, two men who have been bound together since childhood (for better or for worse) and a pair who are frequently asked to define their relationship—an altogether futile demand unless one observes the interactions between them.
Compassion and cruelty are packaged tightly together, just as humor and tragedy are indistinguishable at times. Steinbeck’s finesse for writing about daily drudgery, poverty and defeatism is not lost in this succinct piece. If anything, Steinbeck should be praised for his ability to paint such a definitively burdensome picture in so few words.
We are left reeling at the end, unable to grasp what we were just witness to—something so shocking, so incomprehensible, only Steinbeck could have concocted it and then cradled it in plausibility. We close the book incredulous, questioning whether the conclusion was reprehensible or charitable. How an author was able to create such bilateralism is astounding.