This popular high school or college required reading written by Steinbeck was one book I have never read. Neither have I watched the movie (1940) or newer versions (1981, 1992). What intrigues me is Amer Library Association has listed the novel as top sixth 100 banned books during 1990-1999. How can popular novels written by a famous author who earned a Presidential Metal of Freedom in 1964 received banned and challenged review years after initial publication? Perhaps it was a typo until I confirmed:
· "Of Mice and Men" was banned:
Syracuse, Indiana, 1974;
Oil City, Pennsylvania, 1977;
Grand Blanc, Michigan, 1979;
Continental, Ohio, 1980
Skyline High School, Scottsboro, Alabama, 1983.
· The book was challenged:
Greenville, South Carolina, 1977;
Vernon-Verona-Sherill, NY, School District, 1980;
St. David, Arizona, 1981;
Telly City, Indiana, 1982;
Knoxville, Tennessee, School Board, 1984
Steinbeck wrote the novel at his house in Los Gatos, Ca back in 1937. It was an era of depression; migrant workers and poverty persisted in the US. Steinbeck had dropped out of Stanford earlier to work on the Sprechels Sugar Ranch in this area as a farm hand. He observed the workers behavior and wrote about them. They represented low education and economically poorly people who would do anything to survive. He accurately described the way things were with no flowerily words.
The plot of the novel was quite straight forward.
George Mitton (witty, small) and Lennie Small (big man with small brain) both dreamed of acquiring a little land of their own someday. They also were in need of each other's company. This was in the middle of the depression years among many poor migrant workers searched for work. As low social class they got no respect in the society. Steinbeck showed his sympathy and concern for the down trodden the way we are concerned with homeless and jobless today.
Paired with both accusations and past accidents these two went to work at a Ranch. It was there the readers were introduced to some interesting characters, all seemed to evolve around rancher's son Curley. Curley is the bully, always ready to pick on those weaker people, but was an unsequired person and a disaster. He failed to be a respected boss #2, husband, and a man. His wife (name never mentioned) knew what was missing in life. She tried to get Lannie's attention in taking her. It led to her accidental death. The end of the novel was worth contemplation and debate. Lennie Small hid in the brush and awaited his frightful punishment. George Mitton had to make a decision; he took matters into his own hands by ending Small's life. The tragic ending could have been averted. Some writers sometimes believe the ending of a novel to provide vicarious happy endings especially targeted for youth. Steinbeck ended it as a tragedy.
Could in the novel George Mitton run away in the novel from the crime scene with the woman? Would George have waited for justice to be meted out by a bunch of gun carrying migrant workers who were ready to shoot Lennie? To some readers true literary tragedy is distasteful. This may be one of the reasons that the novel was challenged by many parents if not banned?
I thought Steinbeck experimented with novel structured like a play. To satirize its silliness, to attack its injustices, to stigmatize its faults. He achieved this goal remarkably well in this novel. In fact, the book was in the form of a play (1937) and ended as an opera (1970).
In retrospect, throughout the novel there were words or vernaculars of improper conduct, vulgar language, presentation of low social class characters which can be objectionable to YA or their parents. I list some examples found from the six chapters including but not limited to:
1.Live off the fatta the lan', 2. Bustin' a gut, 3. Cat house, 4. Health issues like pants rabbits, 5. Shove out of here, 6. What the hell's he got on his shoulder, 7. Crack and flop, 8. Goo-goos.
The urge to control other's lives and restrict what they can read appears to be just below the surface. People may deny that they want to censor books and mouth platitudes about appropriate reading material, but the end results are challenges to books in schools and libraries.
I would hesitate recommending this book at junior high or grade school. As for YA a novel teaches more than the mechanics of reading, the vernaculars used actually helps to stimulate critical thinking skills. As teenagers they are old enough to discuss and debate the meanings of the vulgar language as it applies today. For college age patrons, they are old enough to vote and fight for America they should be allowed to read as they please.
This is a good book to read and to comtemplate.