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The book that GCSE students love to hate,
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This review is from: Of Mice and Men (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
The introduction to this edition tells us that Of Mice and Men continues to be banned by school boards throughout the US, mainly because of the earthy, racist language used by the characters throughout. There are plenty of UK students who wish the same applied here. For some reason, Of Mice and Men occupies the same risible space in the minds of many english students as that other course staple To Kill a Mockingbird - that is, they hate it. A pity, because Of Mice and Men is superb, and touches on universal themes such as loneliness, poverty, friendship, jealousy and cruelty, which are part of its enduring relevance and appeal. It is a dream within a dream - the dream of two itinerant farm workers, Lenny and George, to scrape enough money together to buy a small farm of their own, become independent and 'live off the fat o' the lan'.
Susan Shillinglaw writes a revealing introduction to this edition, which also tells us that Steinbeck conceived a new narrative form - the 'playable novel' i.e. a story that could equally be read as a conventional narrative or seen in dramatic performance. The plot is staged as a play, with theatric scenes and a narrative that guides us carefully from one set piece to the next. It is clear from the outset that this will be a tragic 'play', and so it proves. The intro also tells us that Steinbeck saw with his own eyes a hired hand kill a ranch foreman with a pitchfork when working as a farm hand himself. This episode is reimagined as one of the pivotal points of the narrative, and leads to the tragic ending.
GCSE students may hate it, but Of Mice and Men has stood the test of time as an enduring, precautionary tale of what happens when man is pitched against fellow man in a society that has lost its true sense of morality. It is this universality and the razor-sharp tightness of Steinbeck's storytelling, that makes Of Mice and Men a profoundly moving and richly rewarding read.