“Nobody never gets to heaven… It’s just in their head.” – Book Review on Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley (Often go awry)
— Robert Burns (1759-1796), To a Mouse

The nobel prize winner John Steinbeck tells the story of two migrant workers George Milton and Lennie Small in a ranch in California. Steinbeck’s works often features ranch workers due to his summer experience at a ranch as a teenager.

George takes care of Lennie, who suffers from mental disability and is much dependent on George, as they move from one ranch to another. They share the dream of buying farmland, but is rather unrealistic in the time of depression. Lennie has a fetish for soft things and has been found petting a dead mouse in his pocket. Days go by until the flirtatious wife of Curley, the boss’s son, knows of Lennie’s fetish and allows him to stroke her hair. Lennie starts to stroke it harder and tighter and during the attempt to shush her panic, he accidentally breaks her neck. Lennie is scared and run to the place where George has promised to meet him if he gets into trouble. George comes after the other ranch workers, in particularly Curley, find out death of the wife. George mentions nothing but their shared dream of owning a piece of farmland, raising lots of rabbits, Lennie’s favourite animals. George then shoots Lennie from the back, out of mercy.

I read this book once years ago. As a reader who almost forgets every plot of the book, all I can remember is some character petting something soft in his pocket and the feeling of deep sorrows. Having reread the book I understand why I forget everything else but the fetish and sorrowful feeling.

This world preys on the weak

Lennie is kind-hearted and innocent, and yet his innocence, which brings nothing more than sympathy and compassion, leads to self-destruction. It does not follow that innocence is not a good virtue. To me it is. Only that in this world which preys on the weak, innocence may not be the most preferred way of survival.

George, although sometimes short-tempered and may scold Lennie on his inappropriate demeanour, is a loving character. He takes good care of Lennie across ranches like a brother. Same as innocent Lennie, George has a simple dream of earning enough to buy his farmland, where he can live peacefully with Lennie, away from all troubles that may be caused by unpleasant people at the ranch. He strongly believes in this dream that he retells it from time to time to Lennie, who gets elated listening to it. However, the death of Curley’s wife caused by Lennie crashes his ideal. He comes to realise the cruel nature of the society. With the impulsive and mean personality of Curley and his authority as the boss’s son, George knows that Curley will definitely kill Lennie mercilessly. He also understands that the society does not welcome and takes advantage of the weak. “If I was alone I could live so easy. I could get a job an’ not have no mess,” said George to Lennie before shooting him.

Nevertheless, George loves Lennie deeply. There exists also a unique bond between George and Lennie – they are not lonely wanderers in the age of depression and wanderings; they are two connected souls that together, they are ready to stand against the world. Indeed, prior to Lennie’s death, the two distinguish themselves from other lonely ranch workers: “Guys like us got no fambly. They make a little stake an’ then they blow it in. They ain’t got nobody in the worl’ that gives a hoot in hell about ’em. But not us, because I got you an’ … We got each other, that’s what, that gives a hoot in hell about us.”

One thing to note is that oppression does not only come from the physically strong or powerful authority. It may also originate from weakness. George sadly exhibits his oppression against Lennie at his moment of utmost weakness and helplessness through killing him.

Dreams are always dreams

Lennie’s death also represents the destruction of George’s dreams – the capability of sustaining themselves, becoming the masters of their souls, and the absence of harm and troubles from ill-intentioned people. These dreams are not much different from any other American dreams which advocate for following one’s own desires. The American Dream centres on the freedom and possibility of achieving what one wants. However, with oppression and the unfavourable circumstances in time, upward mobility is rare and difficult. Freedom can be hardly traced in this world which tends to confine people to established social orders. The American Dream, is merely a myth.

I seen hundreds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an’ that same damn thing in their heads. Hundreds of them. They come, an’ they quit an’ go on; an’ every damn one of ’em’s got a little piece of land in his head. An’ never a God damn one of ’em ever gets it. Just like heaven. Ever’body wants a little piece of lan’. I read plenty of books out there. Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody never gets no land. It’s just in their head.

Although set in the early 20th century, the hope to find a comfortable position for oneself may still be an unreachable dream nowadays haunting many of us.

Loneliness

Loneliness is a recurring theme in the novella. Curley’s wife admits to Lennie that she is lonely and often flirts with other ranch men to escape from the loneliness, but it causes herself and others troubles. Same for other ranch workers. Crooks is a black worker. Because of his skin colour, he has to live elsewhere and cannot join others to play cards. He would get fury when others go into his dwelling place. Candy is an aged man with only a dog as friend, but it gets killed by another ranch leader for it was “old and useless.” When he learns about the plans for Lennie and George, he participates in the discussion with strong interest and hopes to contribute for the farmland, and more importantly, a place where they can safely call home. They are all lonely people, either trying to connect to the world by their own means, or repel company in fear of re-encoutering loneliness having get used to friendships. Except Lennie and George. Although alienated from the world as migrant workers, they are not lonely souls like other ranch workers, because they got each other. However, this all ends when George kills Lennie.

Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.

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22 thoughts on ““Nobody never gets to heaven… It’s just in their head.” – Book Review on Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

  1. This is a book i never dare to read though i often ask myself what was in it. I tend to avoid drama. But thank to u now i know the story. You write beautifully. Could be next time i come across this book, i’ll give it a try.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Stellar review, Subitolove, capturing many of the nuances in “Of Mice and Men.” John Steinbeck could be really downbeat, but life is often downbeat. And his writing is almost always compelling, whether in his shorter novels (like the one you reviewed) or his longer ones (like “East of Eden”). Nice touch to include the Robert Burns excerpt from which Steinbeck got his title!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much Dave! This is actually my first literature review and such kinds words from you encourage me to keep reading and posting : ) Glad I stumbled across your blog on wordpress. I love you posts and those you wrote for Huffington Post! Enjoy your humour a lot hahaha ; D

      Liked by 1 person

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