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Barron's Booknotes-Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck
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George and Lennie have two different stories that they share and repeat throughout the book. One involves the vision of the farm; the other is George's mock attack on Lennie as someone who ruins the "good life" he could have. Now Lennie wants to hear the second story. It would convince him that George still wants him around. George starts the attack, but he can't carry it off. He knows that soon Lennie won't be around and he will be forced to live that not-so-good life. So George begins telling the first story instead. Lennie doesn't seem to notice. He just joins in where he always does.

Meanwhile George is placing Carlson's Luger behind Lennie's ear, just where Carlson said he would shoot Curley's dog. George hesitates to pull the trigger. He tells Lennie to look across the river where he can "almost see" the farm. That's how close the vision seemed to him just a day ago. When the voices of the other men sound close by, George shoots.

George has one more act to carry out before the story ends. He lies about Lennie's death, saying that his friend was going to shoot him. Why does George lie? The most logical reason is that George is a survivor. If he admitted that he had stolen Carlson's Luger, he would have been suspect around the ranch from now on. If he admitted that he shot Lennie in cold blood, he would have been labeled a murderer by some. George chooses to go on living with his own feelings. Do you think he feels guilty about killing Lennie? Probably not. Instead, he just feels empty.



The last words in the book are left to Slim and Carlson, the two opposite poles of humanity on the ranch. Slim compassionately says, "You hadda, George." Carlson coldly comments, "Now what the hell ya suppose is eatin' them two guys?" That Steinbeck chooses to leave us with Carlson's message instead of Slim's shows us that he sees the world as a cold, lonely place.

This entire last part is not included in the play version of Of Mice and Men. The play ends with Lennie's death. The play ending is moving and a little sentimental. The novel ending is pretty cynical. Which version do you think is more satisfying? Your answer may depend on whether you are sitting in an audience or reading a book. A playwright wants to get a huge round of applause after a performance. A novelist wants to leave the audience in a thoughtful mood. With his two versions of Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck was able to try out both methods.

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Barron's Booknotes-Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck
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