“O.K. Someday – we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and –“
“An’ live off the fatta the lan’, “ Lennie shouted. “An’ have rabbits. Go on George! Tell about what we’re gonna have in the garden and about the rabbits in the cages…”
John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men, Penguin Books, 1994 Edition, page 16
George and Lennie are migrant ranch workers who dream of having land of their own. George acts as a de facto guardian for Lennie – a giant of a man who is intellectually disabled. Lennie is good-natured but he doesn’t know his own strength, and he wants to touch everything that he likes – a problematic proclivity that led to trouble at their last worksite. A new ranch brings with it a fresh start, and an opportunity to make their dream a reality. But other factors beyond their control threaten to scuttle their best laid plans.
Steinbeck had an ear for dialogue. The story is driven by raw verbal exchanges, with limited commentary by the narrator.
Steinbeck reminds us of how our self-defined burdens may not be burdens at all, but rather the very experiences by which we define our lives and our character.
Steinbeck also sensitizes us to the dangerous allure of simple pleasures, with their capacity to distract us from our long-term goals. The workers who squander their meagre pay each weekend are destined to a lifetime of drudgery. Another week repeats itself and no one is further ahead.
Steinbeck’s novella will be of interest for its focus on the plight of the disenfranchised. He reminds us that, like the dispossessed, transient workers escaping the ecological catastrophe of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, most of us want the same things:
To be treated with dignity and respect;
To exercise control over our lives;
To have companionship; and
To have a place to call home.