In the spirit of Banned Books Week 2014, I decided to review, for the month of September, John Steinbeck’s classic literary masterpiece Of Mice and Men. From the introduction alone, you can probably guess how I’d rate this book. Five of five stars, baby! So, why do I think this book is so great? Is it because of the story? The characters? The writing? All of the above.
Many of us were forced to read this novel in high school. I myself taught this novel to my American Lit students back in my teaching days. But for those of you who didn’t crack the spine or who, for shame, were not allowed to read this book because it is on the banned books list, here is a summary of the story: Two migrant workers, George and Lennie, share a dream of buying their own land, farming it, and living off the fat of the land. Sadly, they lack the resources to achieve said dream, and take work on a California ranch. From there, things only go sour for the two men as they struggle to maintain their dream in the presence of weak-minded men and women who would gain power by oppressing others. Because of the actions of said people, the story ends in tragedy, and the dream is lost.
It’s a relatively short story, (a novella actually) but it makes a huge statement about strength and weakness, the power of friendship, and the impossibility of the American Dream. These themes are successfully carried out, not hammered in, and are relevant to readers today. As a teacher, I enjoyed teaching this novel because of how it relates so easily with high school students; after all, it is not always the powerful authorities who hold kids back, but their weak-minded peers who dismiss their dreams.
Without question, the writing is superb. There is not enough that can be said for Steinbeck’s style and wit, not to mention its readability. As a high school teacher, that was a huge plus.
What impressed me the most about the novel were the characters: George, Lennie, and the other migrant workers were all real to me. They had their own dreams, prejudices, and character traits. They were flawed, selfish, and cynical, while maintaining hope. One trait all of the characters shared was a deep feeling of isolation and loneliness that made each character identifiable.
So, why is this book on the banned books list? Mostly language. Considering the novel centers on the roughest and toughest, it only makes sense. There is also some mature content and racial slurs, but I did not think it took away from the story. To me, Steinbeck captured the gritty environment in which these characters lived, making his work more authentic. As a teacher, I was upfront about these things, and my students handled it with a lot of maturity.
If you are thinking of reading a banned book this week, please consider Of Mice and Men. Of all the banned books, this one is probably my favorite. I promise you will not be disappointed, and you might come away feeling enlightened, albeit depressed.
Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you enjoyed this year’s Banned Books Week!