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Similarities Between Burns' Poem, To A Mouse, And Steinbeck's Of Mice And Men

1396 words - 6 pages

The word “original” is often used to describe paintings that have been manufactured by hand, but it is not clear whether hand-made copies of work are still considered so. When an artist copies another’s art, is his own art original now that it has been tainted by the thoughts’ of others? The poem “To A Mouse” by Robert Burns served as inspiration for John Steinbeck when writing the famed tragedy “Of Mice and Men.” Steinbeck, a Nobel prize-winning author, set many of his books during the Great Depression or the California Dustbowl, times when the future seemed bleak. In Of Mice and Men, man-child Lennie and his “father figure” George form an unsuspecting friendship, and set off into the world with their dreams of one day buying land and settling down. The characteristics of these protagonists are directly taken from the Burns’ poem, which describes similar characters. Is such a close emulation detrimental to the value of originality in the work? Steinbeck believed that “only through imitation do we develop toward originality,” a motif seen in Of Mice and Men. Inspiration is necessary for all art, but by exploiting Burns’ poem, Steinbeck bastardizes the innocence of originality.
The affection the narrator displays for the mouse in Burns’ poem mirrors the affection George displays for his friend Lennie in Of Mice and Men. The narrator starts by convincing the mouse that he is not an enemy, and that he will do the mouse no harm. “Wee, sleekit, cow'rin', tim'rous beastie, O what a panic's in thy breastie! Thou need na start awa sae hasty…I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee” (lines 1-5). In this portion of the poem, the narrator attempts to establish a rapport between himself and the mouse. By the same token, in Of Mice and Men, George gains Lennie’s trust and regards him similarly to a mouse. George sees Lennie’s naivety, and does not wish for the treacherous world to inflict misery upon him. In the following stanza of the poem, the narrator apologizes for the behavior of mankind upon the mouse. George sympathizes with Lennie, as George sees the many obstacles that Lennie must face, and how he is helpless to avoid them. George wants to lessen the burden that society brings upon Lennie, but is often frustrated with Lennie’s lack of gratitude. “Whatever we ain't got, that's what you want...” (page 11). In the poem, Burns amplifies the similarities between the narrator and the mouse, as they are both creatures of the same earth (“Which makes thee startle, At me, thy poor, earth born companion, An' fellow mortal!” [lines 10-12]). Although George and Lennie are the foil of each other, they both are “loners” who have no one else besides one another. ‘“An’ I got you. We got each other, that’s what, that gives a hoot in hell about us,’ Lennie cried in triumph.’”(page 104). This dependence on each other showcases both characters weaknesses, and the delicacy of their relationship. In both the poem and the novel, the relationship between the two...

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