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The John Steinbeck Connection "Of Mice and Men"

Literature is an important part of society. Literature, as a useful instrument, aids in the reflection of dynamics and systems within a specific community. “Of Mice and Men” is regarded as one of the most profound works of fiction ever written. The novel, written by John Steinbeck, chronicles the adventures of two nomadic laborers who were forced to wander throughout California in pursuit of a better life. The story, set during the Great Depression, shows the numerous vices that George Milton and Lennie Small were obliged to ignore in their pursuit of improved working conditions and compensation (Kopecky 82). The two are primarily motivated by the potential of land ownership. Overall, the two share an interdependence that serves to further solidify and intertwine their relationship. In their quest for better life, the two are exposed to various challenges. Despite their commitment to the realization of their dream, they are forced to abandon the quest after Lennie unintentionally murders Curley’s wife. In writing the novel, Steinbeck borrowed greatly from his own experiences. The structuring of the setting, characters and themes in the novels gives insight into Steinbeck’s lived experiences.

First, like George and Lennie, John Steinbeck was born and raised in California. The region is the center of the story as both characters oversee their experiences within the confines of the region. At the time, farming provided the main source of income and sustenance for majority families in the region (Goldhurst 126). Like George and Lennie, Steinbeck grew up in ranches where immigrant workers oversaw the farming initiatives presided by his family. Such interactions shaped his view regarding the experiences of the farmers. In reflecting on his Californian origins, the author repeatedly mentioned his home setting within the novel. For instance, in the first paragraph of the novel, Steinbeck contends that “a few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green. The water is warm too, for it has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight before reaching the narrow pool” (Steinbeck 2). The statement infers on the immediate surrounding that the author was exposed to in his younger and adult life. In describing the experiences of Steinbeck since birth, the text “Conversations with John Steinbeck” reveals that the character was born Salinas. Deriving its contention from the article “Country History: Writer to Chronicle Changes Since 1900” which was drafted in 1948, the book traces the author’s life back to the affluent and reputable family in California. Thus, “he was born Feb. 27, 1902 in Salinas, heart of the rich lettuce growing, cattle raising Salinas valley. He is the son of John Ernst Steinbeck, one-time county treasurer” (Hollimon 49.). As a comparative feature, the experiences of George and Lennie, like John Steinbeck, began in California.

One of the major themes in the novel is the theme of farming. As a predominant activity in California, Steinbeck witnessed the life of migrant farmers who oversaw the management of the family’s ranches. Accordingly, George and Lennie are a reflection of Steinbeck’s view of the itinerant farmers on his family’s ranches. Written in the Great depression period, “Of Mice and Men” captivatingly highlights the various challenges that farmers were compelled to contend with in the execution of their duties (Carpenter 460). He was interested in reflecting the plight of the itinerant farmers who were forced to survive on minimum remuneration from the owners of the ranches in California. Working alongside the labor hands, Steinbeck witnessed the social imbalance that served to relegate the former to the bottom layer of the society. In reflecting the author’s appreciation of the experiences of the farmers as the underlying motivation behind the compilation of the narrative, Shillinglaw et al. argue that Steinbeck’s experiences open him up to the political and social concerns that afflicted the migrant worker (22). From such interactions, the desire to develop characters who would successfully embody the characteristics of the general itinerant worker in the Californian ranches was born. George and Lennie, through their struggle with poverty and abuse, represent the ultimate goal of the author in reflecting social and political injustice through the theme of farming. For instance, as a result of his reduced mental capability, Lennie is often the subject of derision and manipulation by individuals who are empowered. Notably, Curley embraces a dislike for Lennie simply because he is larger. He uses his privileged position as the son of The Boss to frustrate Lennie’s existence on the farm. Such experiences were also borne by Steinbeck during his employment as a migrant farm worker at the Spreckels farm in the great depression (Dickstein 121). Overall, farming is a focal point of convergence between the novel and the lived experiences of the author. The shaping of the narrative around farming is a culmination of the desire to constantly reflect the relationship between John Steinbeck and the characters in the novel.

Alternatively, the fondness between George and Lennie can be interpreted to reflect the affinity that existed between John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts. George felt that he was obligated to Lennie and thus endeavored to protect him against social abuse (Schultz 27). Through the relationship, both characters are able to grow as the interactions reinforce their belief in the ultimate dream they had hoped to achieve. In a similar manner Ed Ricketts, who was a marine ecologist, endeared to introduce and lead Steinbeck towards a more appreciative approach in the reflection of nature and the human beings around them. Still, such an allusion provides a contentious issue the text “Reflections of Doc” argues that Ed Ricketts was represented by the character Slim in “Of Mice and Men”. In response to the question on whether Ricketts was represented in the novel, Fensch indicates that “the answer us that Ed Ricketts appears In Of Mice and Men as both a single character and through Rickett’s point of view. In the middle of the book, we see him in the character Slim, the ‘Jerkline driver’” (108). Still, the duality of the characters reflects the duality witnessed in Steinbeck and his friend Rickett. While the latter involved himself to political and biological initiatives, Steinbeck had committed himself to literary causes. Such disparities are manifested in the characters George and Lennie whereas the latter is shown to be mentally challenged. In direct contrast, George is shown to be ingenuous and resourceful. Through their interactions they are able to forge a dream which is aimed at facilitating them with their own land for ownership purposes. Overall, “Of Mice and Men” is a reflection of Steinbeck’s life as it captures his relationships with individuals in his life (Owens 333). The friendship between George and Lennie is a reflection of the stability of his friendship with the marine biologist Ed Ricketts.

Conclusively, the structuring of the setting, characters and themes in the novels gives insight into Steinbeck’s lived experiences. From the narration, the audience is able to infer on the relatedness of the farm experiences in the novel and in the author’s lived experiences. The narration reveals that Steinbeck had a first hand insight on some of the tribulations that underlined the life of itinerant farm workers (Hart 32). George and Lennie represent his perspective of the experiences that the workers had. Alternatively, the novel reveals the intensity and mutuality of the relationship between Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts. The interdependence shared by the two characters reflects the importance of their interactions in the subject community. While Lennie gained from George through the latter’s ingenuity, the latter was the beneficiary of the security borne out of Lennie’s body structure. Lastly, the setting in the novel also reveals a sense of congruence between the content in the novel and the lived experiences of the author. Like the novel, Steinbeck begun his life in Salinas. Born and raised in the setting, the author had his first contact with migrant workers in the Salinas. Likewise, the story of George and Lennie begun in Salinas as they were moving in search for better work across the California.

Works Cited

Carpenter, Frederic I. "John Steinbeck: American Dreamer." Southwest Review, vol. 26, no. 4, 1941, pp. 454-467.

Dickstein, Morris. "Steinbeck and the Great Depression." The South Atlantic Quarterly, vol. 103, no. 1, 2004, pp. 111-131.

Fensch, Thomas. “Reflections of Doc.” John Steinbeck: The Years of Greatness, 1936-1939. Ed. Hayashi, Tetsumaro. University of Alabama, 2002. pp. 106-110.

Goldhurst, William. "Of Mice and Men: John Steinbeck's Parable of the Curse of Cain." Western American Literature, vol. 6, no. 2, 1971, pp. 123-136.

Hart, Richard E. "Moral experience in Of Mice and Men: Challenges and reflection." The Steinbeck Review, vol. 1, no. 2, 2004, pp. 31-44.

Hollimon, Jack. “Country History: Writer to Chronicle Changes Since 1900.” Conversations with John Steinbeck. Steinbeck, John. University Press of Mississippi, 1988. pp. 49-50.

Kopecký, Petr. "The story of John Steinbeck in communist Czechoslovakia." Steinbeck studies, vol. 16, no. 1, 2005, 80-90.

Owens, Louis. "Deadly Kids, Stinking Dogs, and Heroes: The Best Laid Plans in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men." Western American Literature, vol. 37, no. 3, 2002, pp. 319-333.

Schultz, Jeffrey D., and Luchen Li. Critical Companion to John Steinbeck: a literary reference to his life and work. Infobase Publishing, 2005.

Shillinglaw, Susan, Lorelei Cederstrom, Kevin Hearle, John D. Seelye, Gavin Cologne-Brookes, and James C. Kelley. Beyond Boundaries: Rereading John Steinbeck. The University of Alabama Press, 2002.

Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. Penguin Books, 1993.

October 07, 2021

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