When I was studying for my GCSEs I was, to put it mildly, a bit of an idiot. I had breezed through English Literature for much of my school life, studying The Ghost of Thomas Kempe by Penelope Lively and a beautiful text called Flight by Dorris Lessing which will always remind me of Frangipani trees and verandas.
In my final year at school however, much to my horror, we were to study the following: A Winter’s Tale by Shakespeare, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Despite a thoroughly half-hearted attempt I could get to grips with neither A Winter’s Tale nor Gulliver’s Travels and thus convinced myself and my teacher I would fail my GCSEs if he insisted on me writing coursework on either of these texts.
Thankfully, I was blessed with an incredible teacher, Mr Parsons, to whom I am forever indebted for instilling in me such a love of reading. Rather then force me to get my act together and quit moaning, he allowed me to chose a different Shakespeare play (Othello) and a different text to study (my memory fails me which one), on the condition that I did one hell of a lot of independent studying, which I obliged to do.
Consequently, I studied just one of the three assigned texts in my final year at school and it was Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Published in 1937, the title came from a poem by Robert Burns’ entitled ‘To A Mouse’ which read: “The best laid scheme o’ mice and men/Gang aft agley”, meaning “The best laid schemes of mice and men/go often askew.”
Set amidst the Great Depression, Of Mice and Men tells the story of migrant field workers Lennie and George who are in search of The American Dream. Not dissimilar to JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Steinbeck’s novel was the victim of censorship due to what was perceived as frequent vulgar language.
Steeped in tragedy, Of Mice and Men explores themes of friendship and loneliness, of aspirations and of dreams. Lennie, whose character is physically strong but mentally childlike, shares George’s dream of owning a patch of land on which they can settle down. His disability, however, is a habitual burden on them both and we see George take on the role of father figure. Depicting a tender yet dependent friendship between the two protagonists, Of Mice and Men is a beautifully constructed story with intimately drawn characters who weave the story together.
The ending is both evocative and tragic, and is the final illustration of George’s love for Lennie. A truly heartbreaking book.
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