The novella “Of Mice and Men” written by John Steinbeck in 1937 is undoubtedly one of the most famous pieces of literature from the 20th century. A handful of authors are remembered as well as Steinbeck, each of them for their own contributions. But unlike James Joyce, who was famous for his vivid descriptions and his avant garde modernism, or F. Scott Fitzgerald, who pulled the rug away under people with his flawless writing and new techniques, John Steinbeck hasn’t done anything extraordinary for writing as an art, but rather he owes his success to a never-before-seen ability, timelessly, to know his audience.
“Of Mice and Men” is well written, the story it tells captures and surprises its readers, but time and again, it has been proven that even these qualities, are not a surefire way to be remembered. So why exactly is it, that “Of Mice and Men” has acquired and maintained the status it has? The answer is simple: Relatability. This is not to say that every person who reads the book, can relate to a character or a series of actions. But every citizen of the US of A has been taught from their childhood to be able relate to the feelings the book portrays.
As the inhabitants of a relatively young country, the people of America have an easier time remembering and relating to their ancestors, than people around the world. If one were to ask a Dane whether they relate to their viking ancestors, the answer is likely to be “no”, but if you ask an American whether they relate to the settlers of early America, their answer is likely to be, at least in part, “yes”. It’s a part of American culture to put oneself in the shoes of the settlers. To seek out one’s own frontiers and success, overcoming obstacles and dreaming of bigger things. And that’s exactly the story “Of Mice and Men” tells on a level that everyone can understand it. Putting the dreams of every man, in the mouths of the characters in the book. One can, for instance, take a look at the protagonists George and Lenny. They’re both looking for the same thing: Happiness and success. But at the same time, these things means something different to each of them. George’s vision of happiness is self-sustainability and freedom, where Lenny’s vision of happiness is being with George and tending rabbits. This simple fact is true for every person, the definition of happiness might differ, but happiness is and will be the goal.
This is sadly also where the title comes into play. The title refers to the poem “To a Mouse, On Turning Her Up in Her Nest With a Plough” (or just “To a Mouse”) written by Robert Burns in 1785. The poem shortly tells the story of a young man who overturns soil with a plough and, in the process, accidentally destroys a mouse’s nest. More specifically, the title of Steinbeck’s book refers to a stanza in the poem that goes “The best laid schemes of mice and men / Go often askew”, which is the second grand message in Steinbeck’s novella. No matter how close one gets, how many plans one makes, and how much one wants something, it’s a possibility that everything will go awry. This, too, is a fact of life and the lesson is to not be stopped by it. Even though all of one’s best laid plans crumble, one should find new ways to push the frontier. One should continue imperturbably and aim for happiness, despite this calling for drastic actions. In the end, one should put one’s happiness before others, in order to achieve the American Dream.
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