Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937)
Of Mice and Men directed by Gary Sinise (1992)
I love John Steinbeck and have a book vs movie for The Red Pony and The Grapes of Wrath. I have also read his short story collection The Long Valley, and I don’t have a book vs movie for it, but I have read East of Eden and loved it. Even though I love his writing, I hadn’t been in a hurry to read Of Mice and Men. It is a common one to read in schools and I think because it’s one you hear so much about; I just had no interest in reading it. But I was in the mood for Steinbeck and this is also a short book, around 100 pages, so it seemed like the right time to read it.
I posted a youtube poll between two novellas, this and The Time Machine and this one won! Make sure you subscribe to my channel so you can take part in future polls! I also have pateron exclusive polls so if you become a patreon at the $6 tier or higher, you can patriciate in those as well!
On to the book review, like I said this is a short read and it took my about two hours to read it. I knew it was possible to finish this in one sitting, but when I opened it, I was just like, well we’ll see how it goes. I should have known better! Steinbeck is such a great writer and I flew through this book! He writes such great characters and his books are such a sharp, unflinching look at life. He doesn’t write happy books, and I think that’s one of the things I love about him. I have nothing against happy books, but there is something about the sad ones that I am drawn to.
And it isn’t just some sad story, he gives such a deep, poignant look into the difficult things in life in such a beautiful way. The characters are always so well written and you feel like you know them.
There is a lot of think about with this book with the various characters and the symbolism in this book so I can see why it is read in school. I have read about multiple people reading this in school though and they really disliked it. But you can’t please all the kids right so no matter what book is chosen to read for class, there will be kids who don’t like it.
Steinbeck is such a poetic writer though and I absolutely love his books. You can tell he puts so much thought and care into what he writes.
The movie is very close to the book, on IMDb it says there are only fifteen changes from book to movie lol. Some of those fifteen must be pretty small though because this movie stays so close to the book.
We have Gary Sinise both directing and in the lead role of George, and John Malkovich as Lennie. I thought the two stand out performances though were Ray Walston as Candy and Sherilyn Fenn as Curley’s wife.
George and Lennie are migrant workers who stick together. Lennie has a mental disability and sometimes this causes him to get in trouble and the two of them have to go on the run. He loves soft things, and when something catches his eye, he wants to touch it. But when he gets too focused and tunnel vision, or when he is startles, he just holds on harder and won’t let go of things.
They arrive in Soledad from further north after getting in trouble and get a new job on a farm.
Curley is the name of the owner’s son and has an inferiority complex of sorts. His wife lives on the farm as well but is lonely and will try to talk to the men. The men say she is a flirt and nothing but trouble and often refer to her as a tart.
A guy on the farm has puppies and tells Lennie he can have one. Lennie will go to the barn and play with the puppy but one day his strength gets the best of his and he accidently kills the puppy.
He doesn’t want George to find out because they have plans to get a place of their own and Lennie is excited about getting rabbits. George said Lennie can tend to the rabbits, but only if he behaves himself.
As he is covering the puppy with hay, Curley’s wife walks in. They two of them are talking and it’s going well, and he tells her how he likes soft things. She says that her hair is soft and says he can touch it. He starts petting her hair, and when she asks him to stop, he won’t. She gets upset, and he tries to quiet her by grabbing her and covering her mouth. He doesn’t George to hear her yell because George will get mad at him. In his effort to get her to stop yelling, he accidently breaks her neck.
He runs off and hides and when the body is found George goes to find Lenny and shoots him in the back of the head to prevent something worse from happening to him when the others catch him.
There’s a lot to get into here, but I will begin with Curley’s wife.
Right away George doesn’t trust her and says she is trouble. The other men call her a tart and say she has the eye, meaning she has a sultry way of looking at men, I guess. Her husband is very dislikable and at one point starts picking on Lennie, only to have Lennie break his hand. He is the boss’s son, but at this point doesn’t have any real power. He is also small and is a former boxer and likes to try and prove himself by fighting bigger guys.
He isn’t a good husband either because he keeps his wife on this farm with no one to talk to and he will go goes to town with the guys to hit up a cathouse, leaving her alone.
She is lonely and regrets marrying Curley and tells Lennie how she could have been an actress.
The movie has more scenes with her (just like a couple more) and really shows how lonely she is. She isn’t a bad person; she is just depressed and wants someone to talk to. She is flirtatious, but it is out of lonlieness that she seeks attention in whatever way she can get it. This theme of loneliness and wanting someone to talk to comes up a lot with multiple characters.
I was glad Steinbeck gave us some scenes with her showing that she isn’t some one-dimensional siren trying to tempt the men. That is how the men see her, but we the reader see there is so much more to her.
She doesn’t have a name though and I was wondering why he made that choice. Was it to show how unsubstantial the characters in the story view her? They see her has the property of her husbands and nothing more? She also says how she could have been an actress and someone famous. The fact that her character doesn’t even have a name considering she thinks how she could have been famous seems ironic.
When she is killed, Candy is mad at her. Lennie killing her has ruined their dreams of getting their own place and he blames it on her. We also know that Lennie didn’t do it on purpose and we therefore feel bad for him and his fate.
I don’t think Steinbeck wants his readers to also blame her, because she didn’t do anything wrong. I have also read other Steinbeck works and know that he writes great, strong female characters so it isn’t like he himself felt women were just tempters and inherently evil or less than men. But the book does seem to want you to feel bad for Lennie more than her I would say.
It made me think too about how if she had been unattractive and wanting to talk to the guys, they may not have thought of her as a temptress. Just because she is attractive and wants to talk, she is a threat in their eyes. Her looks aren’t even something she chose, yet they hold it against her.
The stigma then and now against women, and in this case attractive women, is so annoying. The tagline for the 1930’s movie is, “She was made for love…and tragedy.” Ugh I hate it. No women is “made for love” aka sex. A woman’s body isn’t here just as a sexual object and every woman is made for so much more!!
Another character I want to talk about is the black man who also works on the farm. They call him Crooks because his back is crooked from when he was kicked by a horse. The n word is used a number of times by the other men in references to Crooks. I thought he would be a background character that was never more fleshed out then the black guy with a crooked back that has a separate room from the other men.
Another reason I love Steinbeck is that even though he was living in a very racist and sexist time, he wrote women and people of color just as well as he wrote about white men. When the men are in town, Lennie goes to Crooks room because he sees the light is on. With their heartbreaking conversation we hear Crooks say how he has no one to talk to because he isn’t allowed in the bunk house with the other men. He has books to read, but books don’t compare to having someone you can actually talk to. Lennie doesn’t process all that Crooks says, but Crooks sees how having Lennie around is still enough and understands why George would stick with him.
Just thinking of the scene right now makes me heart break while at the same time feeling such anger at the world and the racism within it. Just like the anger I feel when reading how the men think of Curley’s wife.
Steinbeck humanizes women and people of color, and today it seems so obvious like of course they are fellow humans with emotions and dreams and thoughts and opinions that matter. But in 1933 so many people didn’t think that way at all. I know I am praising a white man here, but I do love how he wrote books that showed minorities as something more. Even the fact that he includes them in his stories, how many books by white men are about a bunch of white men, right?
There is so much nuance to all of the characters and we see how society sees them and treats them, and how they have their dreams, or lack of dreams and just accept things, in order to continue on.
Speaking of Crooks though, a scene that isn’t in the movie is when Curley’s wife walks in while Lennie and Crooks are speaking and she is very mean and racist towards Crooks. So that scene in the book did not show her in a positive light at all. But again, she is looked down on by the men, so in an effort to feel superior, she therefore talks down to Crooks as a way to feel in control of something in her life.
The first night George and Lennie arrive, another worker says Candy should shoot his dog because he is old and useless and he stinks the place up. Candy, who is also old and is missing a hand, says he’s had the dog since it was a pup and doesn’t want to shoot it. But the guy in charge has puppies and tells Candy he can have one of the pups.
The other worker offers to take the dog and shoot it, which is what happens. The bunkhouse is quiet, as they hear the shot in the distance and Candy curls up in bed facing the wall.
This is foreshadowing Lennie’s eventual “mercy kill”, but it also reflects how Candy feels. He is getting old, just like the dog, and isn’t seen as being of much use.
George and Lennie start talking about the farm they are going to get and turns out Candy was in the room and overheard. The fact they thought they were alone also showing how “unimportant” Candy was to the men.
But he offers up all of his savings so they can get this farm. They plan on getting it at the end of the month and this dream the three of them share is what keeps their spirits high. Candy saying, he could hardly sleep because he was so excited just thinking about it.
These workers are men who live lonely, solitary lives-going from ranch to ranch looking for work. They don’t have their own land and instead take care of another man’s property. The thought of having their own land equals freedom. A line I liked is when George is talking to Lennie and Candy about what it will be like when they have their own place we read, “An’ it’d be our own, an’ nobody could can us. If we don’t like a guy we can say, ‘Get the hell out,’ and by God he’s got to do it. An’ if a fren’ come along, why we’d have an extra bunk, an’ we’d say, ‘Why don’t you spen’ the night? ‘ an’ by God he would.”
When Lennie kills the woman though, this dream is dashed.
Book and movie ending
As far as George having to kill Lennie, I wanted to share this quote from Sparknotes,
“Lennie’s death conclusively demonstrates one of the novella’s central ideas: according to the rules of the American economy, the weak and vulnerable cannot survive. At the end of Of Mice and Men, George spares Lennie from Curley’s wrath by shooting Lennie in the back of the head after reciting their shared dream of owning a farm one final time. Because George is forced to kill his friend himself, Lennie’s death is not only the death of a single vulnerable person, but also the destruction of a rare and idealized friendship. Throughout the novella, George and Lennie have viewed themselves as special and lucky because they have their friendship with one another, but in the end, all this means is that George must be the person to kill Lennie. This conclusion suggests that for the poorest and most isolated people, lasting friendship is a dream as cruelly unattainable as land ownership.”
The title of the book comes from the poem by Robert Burns called To a Mouse. A verse of the poem reads,
“The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!”
This of course fits with the plan to get the farm, but all of the characters have plans and dreams which seem to come to nothing.
In the movie there is the scene when Lennie gets in trouble for bringing the puppy into the bunkhouse. Later, he has the puppy in his overalls and George gets onto him only for Lennie to reveal he doesn’t have the puppy and was playing a joke on George. I don’t remember this in the book, but I thought it was a great scene in the movie.
There is also a scene in the book that isn’t in the movie after Lennie runs off and is hiding, he imagines his aunt getting mad at him for always messing things up. Then he sees a rabbit come out of the brush and the rabbit talks to him about how he can’t look after rabbits and again how he just messes things up. I knew the talking rabbit wouldn’t make it into the movie, but I did like that part in the book.
Book vs Movie
The movie is a very accurate adaptation, and the acting isn’t bad but I do think the character of George could have been better done. Sinise just didn’t pack as much of an emotional punch as his character should have had. Malkovich is the same, he isn’t bad, but I was never lost in his performance. It’s tough to play someone with a mental disability well, but when I think of DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, I was lost in that performance and DiCaprio was just incredible. Malkovich’s performance just wasn’t as seamless as I would have liked.