John Steinbeck said his book Of Mice and Men was "nothing but a trial Horse--a copybook exercise...I wrote it simply to develop a form...of a play"(Fensch 7). Indeed, his book does read much like a play, with constant poignant dialogue and scene descrip
tions that form a clear picture in the reader's mind: "On one side of the river the golden foothill slopes curve up to the strong and rocky Gabilan Mountains, but on the valley side the water is lined with trees"(Steinbeck 1). This description clearly r
esembles a scene description in a play. The story was performed directly from the book by a San Francisco Labor-theatre group, which led Steinbeck to declare "The book Of Mice and Men was an experiment and, in what it set out to do, it was a failure"(Lis
ca 132). In order to gain merit for Of Mice and Men as a dramatic production, he had to rewrite it in the form of a play "holding the essential spirit of the book"(James, Brown 931). The production of Of Mice and Men in two different forms was perhaps t
he most beneficial route to take: The novel was distributed by the book-of-the-month club, marking the author's first financial success, and the play won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award (Fensch xviii).
While the original play seems to have faded in popularity, there have been two movies made called Of Mice and Men based on Steinbeck's story. Two of these have been very recent: 1993 by Metro Goldwyn Mayer and 1997 by image entertainment. These show t
hat Steinbeck's concept of his story in a performance medium has endured.
The story in its book form continues to be popular as well. The copy that I read was in its 85th printing of its 13th edition., most of which had multiple printings themselves. Interestingly, the title page of this edition says "this edition contains t
he complete text of the original hardcover edition: not one word has been omitted"(Steinbeck, title page). The writers of this oath seem to have forgotten that the original hardcover edition contained the words "and only moved because the heavy hands wer
e pendula" on page nine (Goldstone, Payne). These words did not appear in subsequent printings, including the edition that I have in my possession, so the editors of my edition are incorrect in saying "not one word has been omitted". Clearly nine words h
ave been overlooked.
The book has remained popular over the years due to its many qualities which have been praised by reviewers since its debut. In 1937, the Saturday Review of Literature said "The story is simple but superb in its understatements, its realisms which are u
sed not to illustrate behavior, but for character and situation."(James, Brown 931). The very simplicity of this story, which was originally titled "Something that Happened"(Lisca 140), is what has made it so popular with readers as well as critics. It i
s easy to read, uses very simple language, yet still manages to be very moving.
The readers who enjoyed it in 1937 had suffered through the depression, and probably found Lenny and George, two guys who are struggling economically as well as mentally and socially very easy to relate to. The dependence that Lenny and George have on e
ach other was probably similar to the way some readers had to lean on their closest friends and family members during the depression. The story that George tells Lenny about the farm they will have with rabbits and how they will "live off the fatta the l
an'"(Steinbeck 15) is reminiscent of the stories of a more hopeful future that kept families going during the Depression. It is the books moving simplicity and easy relatability that made it so popular then and makes it continue to appear on many favori
te book lists today.
Johns Steinbeck had a reputation as a man very protective of his privacy. The New York World Telegram called him "the shy Californian"(Fensch 7). Steinbeck told Lewis Gannett of the New York Herald Tribune in 1938 "I am no neurotic about personal publi
city, I just think it is foolish"(Gannett 5). The very fact that Steinbeck felt the need to defend himself shows that many people did indeed perceive his desire for privacy to be "neurotic". As Gannett says, Steinbeck's philosophy was "The book's the th
ing; why bother about the author?"(Gannett 5).
Of Mice and Men is compared to the book that Steinbeck wrote directly before it, In Dubious Battle. Of Mice and Men is "a more abstract treatment of the two forces of In Dubious Battle"(Lisca 139). In Of Mice and Men "Steinbeck is dramatizing the nonte
leological philosophy which had such a great part in shaping In Dubious Battle"(Lisca 139). This comparison seems to say that Of Mice and Men was, in many ways, a better, more developed and writerly version of In Dubious Battle.
Of Mice and Men remains an incredible book. Its simplicity makes it easily accessible: I read it for the first time as a sixth-grader. Its depth makes it worthwhile and enduring: I read it again as a college senior and loved it even more. In Of Mice
and Men, John Steinbeck has created a book that is popular both with consumers and critics, young and old.
1) Benson, Jackson L. The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer. Viking Press. New York.1984.
2) Steinbeck, Elaine & Wallston, Robert. Steinbeck: A Life in Letters. Viking Press. New York. 1984.
3) Noble, Donald R. The Steinbeck Question: New Essays in Criticism. Whitston Publishing Company. Troy, New York. 1993.
4) French, Warren. John Steinbeck. Twayne Publishers. Boston, Massachusetts. 1975.
5) Prabhakar, Dr. S.S. John Steinbeck a study (Motifs of Dream and Disillusionment). Academic Publishers.Vidya Nagar, Hyderabad. 1976.
6)Lisca, Peter. The Wide World of John Steinbeck. Rutgers University Press. New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1958.
7)Gannett, Lewis. John Steinbeck: Personal and Bibliographical Notes. Viking Press. New York. 1939.
8)Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. Bantam Books. New York. 1975.
9) Fensch, Thomas. Conversations with John Steinbeck. University Press of Mississippi. Jackson. 1988.
10) James, Mertice M. & Brown, Dorothy. Book Review Digest 1937. H.W. Wilson Company. New York. 1938.
11) Goldstone, Adrian H. and Payne, John R. John Steinbeck a bibliographical catalogue of the Adrian H. Goldstone collection. Humanities research center, The University of Texas at Austin. 1974.