John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men is a parable about what it means to be human. Steinbeck's story of George and Lennie's ambition of owning their own ranch, and the obstacles that stand in the way of that ambition, reveal the nature of dreams, dignity, loneliness, and sacrifice. Ultimately, Lennie, the mentally handicapped giant who makes George's dream of owning his own ranch worthwhile, ironically becomes the greatest obstacle to achieving that dream.
Written by: John Steinbeck
Type of Work: novel
Genres: parable; Great Depression
First Published: 1937
Setting: a ranch
Main Characters: George Milton; Lennie Small; Candy; Curley; Curley's wife; Slim; Crooks
Major Thematic Topics: nature of dreams; barriers; powerlessness; fate; Christian influences; classical influences; natural influences; loss of paradise; my brother's keeper; ephemeral nature of life
Motifs: nature; loneliness; animalism versus humanity
Major Symbols: characters; locations; animal imagery; George's card game; hands
The three most important aspects of Of Mice and Men:
- Of Mice and Men takes place during America's Great Depression, which lasted from the Stock Market Crash of October 1929 until 12 years later when World War II began. One result of the Depression was a lack of steady jobs, which resulted in an increase in the number of itinerant workers. For the most part, these itinerant workers were men who traveled from town to town seeking short-term employment.
- Of Mice and Men is one of the only published novels written from an obscure point of view called the objective third-person. In contrast to the omniscient third-person perspective, from which the author, and thus the reader, can read the minds of all the characters, the objective point of view doesn't allow readers direct access to any of the characters' thoughts and feelings. We can deduce those thoughts and feelings only by means of what the characters do and say. Though unusual for a novel, this approach is typical of plays and film, which helps explain why Of Mice and Men was easily adapted for the Broadway stage and as a Hollywood movie.
- The novel's title comes from a poem by the Scottish poet Robert Burns called "To a Mouse." Originally written in a Scottish dialect, the poem contains lines that translates as "The best-laid schemes Of Mice and Men often go awry." This is appropriate, in that Of Mice and Men contains Lenny and George's scheme that goes tragically awry — that is, off track.