Critical Context and Evaluation
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Of Mice and Men is one of the most widely assigned modern novels in high schools because of both its form and the issues that it raises. John Steinbeck’s reliance on dialogue, as opposed to contextual description, makes the work accessible to young readers, as does his use of foreshadowing and recurrent images. Equally important is the way in which he intertwines the themes of loneliness and friendship and gives dignity to those characters, especially Lennie and Crooks, who are clearly different from their peers. By focusing on a group of lonely drifters, Steinbeck highlights the perceived isolation and sense of ...view middle of the document...
Steinbeck was critical of what he perceived as the United States’ materialism, and his work echoes his convictions about the land and its people. Like the characters in his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939), Of Mice and Men’s George and Lennie dream of a piece of land to call their own.
Published in 1937, Of Mice and Men was Steinbeck’s first major success. Unlike later novels, Of Mice and Men is not a politically motivated protest novel. It does, however, reflect Steinbeck’s belief in the interdependence of society, a theme he continues to explore in the body of his work. For Steinbeck’s characters, the dream of land represents independence and dignity: the American Dream. George and Lennie embody the ordinary person’s struggle to grasp the dream, which consists of “a little bit of land, not much. Jus’ som’thin that was his.” This is one of the central themes that propels the novel’s characters and their actions.
As the title suggests, the best laid plans of mice and men can, and do, go awry. They are doomed from the start because of Lennie’s fatal flaw—he is developmentally disabled and therefore incapable of bringing the dream to fruition—but his naïveté also allows both him and George to pursue the dream. Lennie’s innocence permits George to believe that the dream might be attainable: “George said softly, ’I think I knowed we’d never do her. He usta like to hear about it so much I got to thinking maybe we would.’” Lennie is the keeper of the dream; he does not question its inevitable fulfillment, he simply believes. Without this innocence, George would be like all the other ranch hands, wasting his money on whiskey and women, drifting aimlessly from one job to the next.
George and Lennie are juxtaposed against a group of isolated misfits, to show not only that they...