Book Review: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (+ Banned Books Week)

John SteinbeckTitle: Of Mice and Men
Author: John Steinbeck
Series: None
Published: 1937
Genres: Fiction > Literary Fiction > Classic
My Rating: ★★★★★
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An unlikely pair, George and Lennie, two migrant workers in California during the Great Depression, grasp for their American Dream. They hustle work when they can, living a hand-to-mouth existence. For George and Lennie have a plan: to own an acre of land and a shack they can call their own. When they land jobs on a ranch in the Salinas Valley, the fulfillment of their dream seems to be within their grasp. But even George cannot guard Lennie from the provocations, nor predict the consequences of Lennie’s unswerving obedience to the things George taught him.

Two men, George and Lennie, are traveling through California looking for work as ranch hands. The relationship between the two men is not clear except for the fact that George has become a sort of caretaker for Lennie because the latter is not the brightest and gets himself into trouble frequently.  The two were forced to leave their last job due to an incident regarding Lennie’s behavior. They find work at a ranch in Soledad, California and meet several characters there: Candy, Crooks, Curley, and Curley’s flirtatious, new bride (what’s with all the C names?).

Curley immediately targets Lennie because of his extreme size, strength, and slowness, but George and Lennie stay positive because they have a plan. They want to own their own farm one day where they will “live off the fat of the land.” They don’t have enough money saved up yet but plan to spend as little of their wages as possible until they can afford to leave and chase the American Dream. Candy opts to share his wages in exchange for a chance to start over at their farm. Then on one fateful night after one deadly mistake, their plans are thrown off course.

I think that this story was ultimately a commentary on two things: chasing the elusive American Dream and the complexity of morality.

George and Lennie have a dream of owning their own farm one day but several of the other ranch hands mention how this is a dream that they have shared at one time or another but that it never came true. I think this is a commentary on how the American Dream is unreachable and how we are always searching for more — more money, more success, and more happiness — but that it rarely ever happens.

The other major aspect of this book is the complexity of morality. As humans, we adhere to a code of morals and a set of laws to keep us civilized and in line.  Steinbeck brings up an interesting — and obviously controversial — topic when he discusses euthanasia, or, mercy killing. Is this wrong? Should we be allowed to make this decision for another living thing? Does this make us more or less moral?

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and encourage everyone to at least give it a try.

Banned Books Week

“A book is a loaded gun.” – Ray Bradbury

This week (September 24-30) is Banned Books Week and to celebrate our right to read, I decided to read Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, one of the most frequently banned books of all time. Believe it or not, this was my first time reading it, and I loved it. It was such a quick read but was still so impactful.

A History of Book Banning

In 1791, the U.S. Congress adopted the First Amendment, which allows us the freedom of speech and of the press. However, in 1873, obscene literature (literature that contains offensive content and has no literary value) was stated to not be protected by the First Amendment, which theoretically means that it could be banned from the public. Books that are deemed “inappropriate” for one reason or another (usually due to profanity, racism, sexism, etc.) have been banned.

However, in 1982, a case against the Board of Education determined the fact that banned books could not be banned unless they were “pervasively vulgar,” and that banned books could not be removed from public libraries.

What is Banned Books Week?

The Banned Books Week Coalition was founded in 1982 by Judith Krug in order to bring awareness to the countless books that had been banned that year. It is supported by the American Library Association (ALA), and it celebrates our freedom to read whatever we’d like. People all over the country participate in Banned Books Week in order to create awareness of how wrong and unfair censorship is.

Read more here, here, here, and here.

Why Was Of Mice and Men Banned?

Of Mice and Men was published in 1937 and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 for its themes of harsh realism. However, since then, it has been banned many times. The first ban was in 1983 and the most recent ban was in 2016.  It’s been banned nine times just in the last fifteen years! There are many reasons why this book has been forbidden in the classroom, including racism, profanity, blasphemy, violence, sexism, negativity, the demonstration of nontraditional values, and the support of euthanasia.

I can see why this book has been repeatedly banned, mainly because of the language and the racial slurs; however, I don’t necessarily agree that it should be challenged as much as it has been. This book is an extremely realistic narrative of two men trying to make it in America during the Great Depression. Some say that this book is too negative, but I don’t think that’s a reason that it should be avoided. No, it doesn’t have a happy ending but that’s the way it was during that time period, which is something that I think people of all ages should know about.

In today’s society, we have become hypersensitive to racism and gender equality, which makes this book very shocking. However, that’s the way it was at the time and, right or wrong by today’s standards, the past can’t be changed and shouldn’t be ignored.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (+ Banned Books Week)

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