Probably because I had been recently writing about regionalism (Wood, Stueart Curry and Hart-Benton) and about the Great Depression, I watched a DVD I hadn’t watched in quite a while the other night. ‘Of Mice and Men’ is a novel by John Steinbeck, set in the Great Depression. It tells the sad story of two wanderers Lennie Small and George Milton who are travelling around California looking for work.
“Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place. . . . With us it ain’t like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don’t have to sit in no bar room blowin’ in our jack jus’ because we got no place else to go. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn. But not us.”
– John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men, Ch. 1
Steinbeck wrote the book in 1937. The DVD I watched was first shown on film in 1992 and starred John Malkovich as Lennie Small and Gary Sinise as George Milton. In the film it is known that these two are cousins, but I thought they were brothers in the book. It’s so long ago since I read it, that I can’t remember. When the two finally obtain work (after being manhunted out of their last job due to an unfortunate incident involving Lennie and a girl) all seems rosy. George has to look after the huge Lennie who has the mental abilities of a child and he is tough, but compassionate and played very well by Gary Sinise – the part of Lennie is a hard act to follow, but Sinise is admirable.
Lennie played by Malkovich magnificently, just wants to touch things – rabbits especially. he just want to stroke them and cuddle them. But he doesn’t know his own strength and always ends up killing the poor animals that come his way. George tries to protect him, especially from the ranch owners son – who keeps picking on him.
Curley (the rancher’s son) has a wife – known only as Curley’s wife. She is young and bored and desperate for attention, and Curley is jealous of anyone she speaks to.
A lot of the plot features Lennie and Georges dream. When they have enough money, they plan to settle down on their very own ranch. The main attraction for Lennie of owning a ranch of their own is all the rabbits they will have. This dream keeps Lennie going and he is always requesting this same story from George. Another ranch hand hears about it and he also wants to throw his money and his lot in with the men.
One of the saddest scenes in the film is when the old ranch hand’s dog gets shot. One of the other men convinces him that the dog is too old and decrepid and needs putting down. This ultimately is what happens in the end with poor Lennie. Up to his neck in trouble once again (this time murder), George shoots him in the back of the head rather than let the lynch mob deal with him.
I really must read this book again – and soon! the other book I have read by Steinbeck is ‘Cannery Row’ . The Great Depression seems such an interesting time, though it brought sorrow and hardship. Steinbeck lived through a lot of it and this shows in some of his novels – which do have that ring of truth.