I’m going to tell you the moral of the story before even telling you the story: write stories that make you think. And I’m also warning you. I tell the ending in this post. So unless you like spoilers, you might want to refrain.
Of Mice and Men is considered one of John Steinbeck’s greatest works. It was published in 1937, but when I read it, I didn’t feel like it was written in a different time period. Not that it was poorly written, but Steinbeck took me back to the olden 1930 days and drew me in with the conflicts and dialogue and descriptions. It was very well written. Steinbeck described his characters of the story, the setting of the scene, and the emotion in the room. There was foreshadowing and fantastic themes. I felt like I was really there, and if I had had a choice, I don’t think I would have put it down until I had finished it.
It is a short book—six chapters. But they’re long chapters. Good chapters. Intriguing chapters. The book is about two men, George and Lenny, searching for work on a ranch. Lennie is mentally infirm. He likes to pet soft things—like puppies and rabbits. That’s his character; that’s what he loves. He loves his companion, George, who gets him out of every sticky situation they get into because of Lennie’s stupidity.
Poor Lennie doesn’t know any better, but no one understands that and Lennie doesn’t understand them either. George, Lennie’s caretaker, is the only one who seems to understand both sides.
George and Lennie have a dream to get land of their own one day. George is tired of always being on the run and looking for work. Lennie just wants land with rabbits to tend to. And it seems to be going their way…until Lennie pets the hair of the land lord’s daughter-in-law, she screams, he covers her mouth…and accidentally kills her since she couldn’t breathe.
“I’ve…I’ve done a bad thing,” he says.
When Lennie runs away, George and the other farm hands go looking for him. George finds Lennie and he tells him he’s not mad. He said he still wants to look after him. And Lennie looks off in the distance as George tells him about the rabbits he’ll tend one day. Lennie’s content, and George shoots him in the back of the head.
I thought this was friendship? It was. It truly was. And I still don’t understand this ending.
After I read the end of the book, (it ends very soon after the abrupt climax), I put it down and thought for a long time. I couldn’t understand it. It shocked me. I discussed it with other people who have read it before, and they gave me their take on it. Even though I’m still not sure about what to think about it, I’ll tell you my take on it at the moment. Subject to change.
Back in the 1930s, you didn’t have medicine for mental illnesses. You didn’t have ICAP or special schools for people like that, where they learn how to behave, how to act and respond and control. Back then…one didn’t have anything except for someone telling you how to act, behave, speak…
Lennie had gotten into trouble with females before. With their soft dresses and soft hair, it would be easy to think he wanted to rape and flirt. Did he? No! He likes to pet nice things! He only wanted to touch the soft hair.
“Didn’t hurt the girl none?” Slim said. (fellow farmhand)
George shook his head. “Hell naw, he just scared her.”
But was what he did worthy of death? Was George right to kill him? Lenny was being hunted for anyway. He was going to get put in jail for who knows how long? And the husband of the murdered wife wanted to kill him. So…was George right to kill him?
I’m undecided. I feel like I would have to think about it more. Everyone I’ve talked to has said yes, George was good to kill him. Not that Lenny needed to die or that he was worthy of death—it was a simple mistake that he couldn’t help. But, so I’ve been told, it was better for Lennie to be killed by George—a friend who loved him and cared for him and knew him better than anyone else—than to be murdered by a revenge-thirsty husband who could care less about Lennie himself.
I tend to lean towards this point of view, but I’m still not sure. Taking an innocent life is one of those things that really get to me—where I have to think twice, and maybe a third or tenth time, before I take a stance on it. This was one of those times. At first I thought it was a horrible ending and I hated the entire book. One girl I know said she wanted to slam it shut and throw it against the wall. So did I. But then I had to think. And I kept thinking. And I still haven’t stopped.
I’ve already told you the moral of the story. Of my story. Write stories that make you think. I finished this book three weeks ago. I’ve refrained from writing anything on it because I had to think about it so much. The ending was sharp, abrupt, and unexpected. Yet it got me to think.
You should want that. Steinbeck was genius. You almost want your readers to be forced to really think about the endings. I could list books with thoughtful endings. I won’t. But they are everywhere. Just read some classics and you’ll find them. I think it’s a major reason a classic becomes a classic: the unexpected, thoughtful endings.
I recommend the book and the movie as well. The abrupt ending in the film is brilliantly done in the movie. And the whole film coincides with the book very well. It awed me even more.
Go write stories that make you think!