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

THE CRITICS

Here are some brief excerpts taken from the writings of several major literary critics. The excerpts deal with aspects of Steinbeck's style, purpose, themes, and characterization in Of Mice and Men. The comments may help you develop some new ideas about the book. You might want to use them when you write your own themes.

ON THEME

What gives the book solidity in the reader's mind and real stature among Steinbeck's works is the empathy created by George and Lennie in their striving to overcome essential human loneliness. The story is set, in the first words of the book, 'A few miles south of Soledad,' an actual place in California whose Spanish name means both loneliness and a lonely place. Peter Lisca, John Steinbeck, Nature and Myth, 1978

ON GEORGE

George could, of course, have killed Lennie simply to protect the giant brute from the mob; but, since Lennie doesn't know what is going on anyway, it is easy to over-sentimentalize George's motives. Actually he has reasons of his own for pulling the trigger. Steinbeck makes it clear that George has tremendous difficulty bringing himself to destroy Lennie, although Lennie will not even know what has happened. What George is actually trying to kill is not Lennie, who is only a shell and a doomed one at that, but something in himself. Warren French, John Steinbeck, 1961

ON FORM AND STRUCTURE

The climax is doubled, a pairing of opposites.... The climax pairs an exploration of the ambiguity of love in the
rigid contrast between the motives that activate Curley's wife and George. Curley's wife wants to use Lennie to show her hatred for Curley; George shoots Lennie out of real affection for him. The attempted seduction balances the knowing murder, both are disastrous expressions of love. Lennie is the unknowing center of design in both halves of this climax. Steinbeck's control is all too evident. There is not much sense of dramatic illumination because the quality of the paired climax is that of a mechanical problem of joining two parallels. Lennie's necessary passivity enforces the quality of a mechanical design. He is only the man to whom things happen. Being so limited, he is incapable of providing that sudden widening insight which alone justifies an artist's extreme dependence on a rigid design. Therefore, in general, Of Mice and Men remains a simple anecdote. Howard Levant, The Novels of John Steinbeck: A Critical Study, 1974



ON STEINBECK'S DIALOGUE

There is a curious thing that has always seemed to run through John's writing. This is his fondness for spontaneous human expression, as, for instance, when someone gets in a jam and says something, and you think, 'Well, that's a hell of a thing to say.' In many cases, say at the end of The Red Pony and throughout In Dubious Battle, John relies on the truth of spontaneous human reaction in speech. Critics might contend that he made up these passages, but a good many times I think he took them right from what people told him, because when you talked to John, you were conscious that he knew you a great deal better than you would ever know him. Webster Street, in Steinbeck: The Man and His Work, 1971

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