Of Mice and Men- John Steinbeck and the Universality of his Metaphors

Of mice and men_wl (2)

The one thing that stands out about John Steinbeck (1902-68) is his relentless drive to write. He contributed avidly to newsletters and publications while still in school. On his ninth birthday, he was gifted a copy of Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory. The semantic style of the book, and its archaic use of old English words fascinated Steinbeck to no end. It inspired him to research the legends of King Arthur in preparation of an upcoming work based on these legends, and though he never completed the work in his lifetime, The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights was published posthumously in 1976. Steinbeck’s eagerness to write made him work late nights in a small attic in his house in Salinas, and send out stories to magazines under a false name. Though he enrolled at Stanford University to pursue a major in English and continue writing, he never attained his degree.

Like most of his other works, Of Mice and Men, published in 1937, is set in California. What sets this play-novella apart is the fact that unlike the rest of Steinbeck’s works, this is not a political statement. The characters may seem to be rooted in a particular cultural receptacle, but they are universal metaphors which symbolize the bleakness and cruelty of human life. Lennie is a character of paradoxes- a man of monstrous physical proportions but childlike innocence and delicacy. The fact that Lennie is destroyed his by his closest and most beloved friend George is also reflective of the belief that the raw innocence that Lennie stands for can never survive in a Hobbesian world of cruelty and human selfishness. The story is not one-dimensional. The episode of George destroying Lennie is not just a fact of betrayal. It is a multi-faceted act, born out of love and friendship that collide with hopelessness and necessity. The novel explores themes of isolation and desolation, and the transience of innocence that seems uncharacteristic of human life, set in the broader backdrop of friendship and a tenderness born out of understanding.

The first film adaptation of the novel in 1939 was nominated for four Oscars. After that it has been adapted several times for the television. The first stage adaption opened in the Music Box Theatre in Broadway on November 23, 1937 and ran for 207 performances. The most recent stage adaption opened on Broadway at The Longacre Theater on March 19, 2014 starring James Franco, Chris O’Dowd, Leighton Meester and Jim Norton.

Ashmita Chatterjee

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