Critical Context Evaluation Of Mice and Men Essay
John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is one of the most widely recognized modern stories of its time because of the major issues it raises in its context. The book has been appreciated for its use of foreshadowing and recurrent images by both old and young alike. Steinbeck’s skill as he intertwines the underlying themes of loneliness and friendship is evident as he gives each of his characters a certain amount of dignity (especially Lennie and Crooks). His writing directs our attention to a group of drifters as they go through a period of isolation that may appear to be quite insurmountable at times.
By putting a group of seemingly inferior individuals up against a series of situations that they believe impossible to overcome or in some cases, to even understand, the story raises some very important issues that we all face. This method explores how life’s circumstances can have a major impact on whether or not it’s possible for any of us to realize our dreams.
Ironically, this was not his original goal when he began writing Of Mice and Men. His original intent was actually to write a children’s book that would demonstrate that events can often take on their own momentum without the need of a higher power exacting punishment for our actions.(1) This is possibly the reason he choose to retitle the book based on Robert Burn’s poem, “To a Mouse,” a line of which “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley,” has become one of the most quoted lines in literature today.
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Through the pages of this book, Steinbeck gives us a personal insight into his compassion for the little guy and his struggle to survive. Set in the Salinas Valley in California, he gives us a vivid picture of the life of a migrant worker’s world where he himself once lived, and a vision of their search for independence.
With characters like Lennie who is in perpetual pursuit of a dream for a plot of land that he can call his own, he lets us see how he truly feels about American materialism and his perception of the land and the people who populate it.
Even so, Of Mice and Men does not have a political agenda – it is not motivated by a revealing of the flaws of society as a whole. What it does strive to do, however, is to show how our society is not independent as many of us would believe but is in fact, interdependent on each other. So, the goal of his characters, George and Lennie, in their attempts to possess that independence (the best laid plans) can quickly go awry. Therefore, everyone’s struggle to achieve that goal makes up the core of the story and is the underlying impetus behind his characters and their actions.
In essence, he is saying that they are all doomed to failure because our efforts go against the natural order of things and they are incapable of affecting a permanent level of success. But, as the characters do not realize this inevitability, their naiveté propels them forward in the belief that it is possible with enough effort and initiative.
Lennie, however, is far more innocent than George but without his innocence, George would never pursue his own set of goals to chase that American dream. Instead, he would be like many other men under the same circumstances, spending his money on women and drink and drifting about from job to job without any direction in his life.(2)
Steinbeck carefully uses these two characters to create a metaphor that we can all relate to. In short, He teaches us that in order to attain to those dreams one must have the innocence that Lennie demonstrated throughout the story and George’s fortitude to maintain it in spite of the insensitivity found in the world. For many, that innocence is found in all of us from the very beginning of our lives but is slowly whittled away by life’s experiences and eventually destroyed for in Steinbeck’s world, innocence cannot survive.