Written in 1937, Of Mice and Men, by John Adolf Steinbeck Jr., American author and Pulitzer Prize winner, follows the lives of downtrodden farmhands, George and Lennie. As with many of Steinbeck's books, the themes in Of Mice and Men include his favored themes of class warfare and oppression of the working class. Steinbeck also focuses his literature on the power of friendship and the corrupt nature of mankind. In 1993, Professor Thomas Scarseth wrote a critical analysis of the novella analyzing many aspects of Steinbeck’s work including the presentation, themes, and writing style. In his essay, Scarseth explains the key themes of the Novella. He noted that the corrupted nature of man, ...view middle of the document...
“The little man jerked down the brim of his hat and scowled over at Lennie. ‘So you forgot that awready, did you? I gotta tell you again, do I? Jesus Christ, you're a crazy bastard!’” (902) While readers may find such language offensive, it is reflective of the migrant worker culture during the Dustbowl. When the reader is first introduced to Curley’s wife, she is shown to be sexually suggestive. “She had full, rouged lips, and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up. Her fingernails were red. . . She smiled archly and twitched her body. . . ‘Jesus, what a tramp. . . So that’s what Curley picks for a wife. . . I never seen a piece of jailbait worse than her. You leave her be.’” (915) While the crassness of the characters in Of Mice and Men may offend readers, the character depictions serve as an effective vehicle for Steinbeck's theme of the fallen character and nature of man.
Of Mice and Men also provides a window into John Steinbeck's harsh view of society, and the injustice of life. This view is shared by Scarseth in his analysis, and is summarized in his essay.
“From a world in which we—all of us some of the time and some of us all the time—are doomed to disappointment. The tragic dilemma is that for our basic humanity, for the goodness of our aims, we all deserve better than we get. But because of our human limitations, by our weaknesses of character, none of us is ever good enough to earn what we deserve. “
Social injustice and the injustice of life are recurring themes in many of Steinbeck’s books. Scarseth’s assessment of the injustice of life in Of Mice and Men is correct and the theme is reinforced repeatedly in the story.
“I seen hundreds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches, with their bundles on their back an’ that same damn thing in their heads . . . every damn one of ’em’s got a little piece of land in his head. An’ never a God damn one of ’em ever gets it. Just like heaven. Ever’body wants a little piece of lan’. I read plenty of books out here. Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land.” (935)
Crook’s reply to Lennie’s grand plan to purchase a farm with George is bleak and implies that no matter what George and Lennie attempt, they will not achieve their dream. This prediction is eventually proven accurate at the conclusion of the story. While Scarseth’s assessment of Steinbeck’s writing is correct, the overall premise that “we all deserve better than what we get” is extremely pessimistic. However, one can better understand Steinbeck’s bleak view on life if we understand Steinbeck’s upbringing and socialist political views. As a young man growing up in Monterey County California, Steinbeck worked summers on a ranch with migrant workers. Early on, he saw firsthand, the plight of the worker which ingrained in him a compassion for the poor. His early adult life was spent during the depression which also contributed to his empathy for the mistreated and downtrodden. This empathy was soon transformed during...