Of Mice and men. John Steinbeck. 1937

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After letting it rest on our (overcrowded) bookshelves for a very long time, we finally managed to read Of Mice and men by John Steinbeck. Thanks to a very successful book exchange on Bookmooch, we read it in a vintage Bompiani edition. Probably it was for the yellowed pages, with that unmistakable fragrance of old paper, or was the emotion of finally knowing such an impressive author, through the translation of Cesare Pavese, or maybe was just the simplicity with which Steinbeck tells us the story of George and Lennie, but we immensely loved this book!

Reality, imagination and solitude

John Steinbeck is one of the most famous American writers of the last century. Author of several novels and short stories, he won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1962. Of Mice and men is his sixth book, inspired by a story that occurred in 1920 in a Californian ranch. A short novel, full of dialogues, that strikes you for its simplicity, for the alternation between real and imagined and for the irony that accompanies the sensitivity with which society is analysed. It’s when a writer has such a disruptive visual energy, like that of Steinbeck, that real magic happens.

In this novel, the perception that the characters have of their destiny is profoundly negative, each page exudes a palpable feeling of loneliness. Even the smallest hope of happiness and justice fades inexorably. It therefore does not seem a coincidence that this story is set in “a few miles south of Soledad”. The origin of the title is also significant, based on the poem To a Mouse written in 1785 by Robert Burns. In the passage from which the title of Steinbeck‘s novel is taken, we find the profound message of this book: the mystery of existence and the cruel unpredictability of the forces that govern it.

“But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,/ In proving foresight may be vain:/The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,/Gang aft agley,/En’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,/For promis’d joy!”

The fatta the lan’(The fat of the Land)

Of Mice and men gave us the feeling of being a timeless book, in which the facts perfectly describe every place and every time period. This is a simple story, where the two main characters, George and Lennie, are nothing more than two of the many seasonal labourers who made their living roaming the country from one farm to another. But if we see George and Lennie in the social context of the time, we immediately realise that they are an anomaly: they travel in pairs and they are friends, as if they want to make a mockery of evil destiny, which would want them alone and alienated. Regardless of their surroundings they dream of having a farm of their own one day and thus being able to live off the fat of the land. 

“We’ll have a big vegetable patch and a rabbit hutch and chickens. And when it rains in the winter, we’ll just say the hell with goin’ to work, and we’ll build up a fire in the stove and set around it an’ listen to the rain comin’ down on the roof – Nuts!”

While reading this story, we perceive on our skin all the pain of being human, and we realise how behind the apparent hardness, unawareness and cruelty that sometimes distinguish us as people, we are actually all naked, desperate and clumsy when facing the great and incomprehensible design of life. Fear, despair and uncertainty are the great enemies of all of humanity.

Reading Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and men is a novel that hides, behind a simple, fluid and intense style, a series of important and profound themes. Reading this work by Steinbeck we realised how his unmistakable style has been taken up by several authors in the history of contemporary literature, one of which is our beloved Kent Haruf. In the latter’s works we find the simplicity of a writing that actually communicates strong, deep and often dramatic themes, without ever falling into banality and flattening of thought. These are the most beautiful stories for us, those where writing has to communicate in a clear and accessible way a whole universe of emotions, ideas and adventures that lead us to reflect, leaving us an indelible sign.

We strongly advise anyone to read this extraordinary book!