Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

'Of Mice and Men' is a slim book, 105 pages long.But it tells a story so disturbing that it haunts you for a long time after you read it. Some of the scenes and characters are unforgettable. Published in 1937, Stenbeck's novel has been made into three movies and a Broadway play.The story is simple and stark. But where it hits you is the way it engages a load of human emotions that are stretched to the limit.

Two friends George Milton and Lennie Small arrive in rather mysterious circumstances at a farm to work as farm hands. George is the smarter of the two (and much smaller) while Lennie is a giant with amazing strength, but the brains of a little child. George looks out for Lennie who does not know his own strength and has the kindest and gentlest of demeanours. He is happiest when he is stroking rabbits, small pups, mice or anything small, vulnerable and soft. George repeats all his instructions to Lennie several times to get it across to him and answers for him as well.

The two are running away from a situation where Lennie, easily susceptible to small, pretty things, caresses a young woman's dress, and when she complains holds on in his terror to her dress. Those are the times of depression and the two friends have a dream of saving enough money to buy some land and grow their own produce. Lennie is enamoured with the idea of having rabbits on the farm and makes George repeat that story again and again. At the new farm they find their boss and their supervisor Slim who seems to understand this rare friendship. Slim even gives one of his dog's new pups to Lennie (who promptly breaks its neck with his excessive stroking).

Enter the boss's son Curley who hates Lennie and his strength and is constantly challenging him. Now Curley also has a wife who has many desires and she keeps provoking the men out of sheer boredom. One day the suspicious and insecure Curley challenges Lennie and hits him upon which George asks Lennie to hit back. Lennie crushes Curley's hand into pulp. Curley's wife is now impressed with Lennie's strength and starts hitting on him. Lennie is obviously too naive to handle her.

When another farm hand Candy buys into their farm idea and wishes to invest the dream takes shape. But then Curley's wife cannot keep her boredom out and pushes her luck with Lennie. When she realises the gentle man's strength as he holds her she panics. Lennie freezes and the obvious happens. Curley is now looking for revenge as Lennie is missing and his girl dead, neck broken. George finds his friend Lennie who is hiding in their secret rendezvous and gives him the easy exit out. Lennie's gentleness and innocence have no place in this world and George gives up after doing the best to protect the gentle man.

The scene where Candy's old dog is shot by one of the farm hands to put it out of its misery, Candy's response to it, Lennie's crushing of Curley's hand to pulp, Lennie stroking his little pup out of his overwhelming affection and suffocating it to death and Lennie's terror struck clasp on a panicking Curley's wife make your blood go cold. Lennie reminded me of the death row prisoner with healing powers in 'The Green Mile' (one of my favorite movies) and the gentle giant portrayed by Michael Clarke Duncan. It's sad that Michael is no more - I saw his obituary in the Oscars yesterday. Anyway reading this book was so disturbing that I got nightmares that night of frail bodies jerking without control having their necks broken.

Never once does the book do anything but tell the story of its characters honestly. Steinbeck is a master.       

1 comment:

Rajendra said...

Another author I have yet to discover.