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"Of Mice and Men" – Interpretation and Public Perception (Steinbeck) 06:11 min

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Transkript "Of Mice and Men" – Interpretation and Public Perception (Steinbeck)

Of Mice and Men: Interpretation. John Steinbeck’s novel ‚Of Mice and Men‘ is about loneliness, friendship and the failure of the American Dream. After it was published in 1937, the novel caused a lot of discussion that even led to its ban in schools. Curious? You should be! This video will explore possible interpretations of the two major aspects of the novel. It will also explain how the novel was publicly perceived and why this led to the ban. Two of the main themes of ‚Of Mice and Men‘ are the ‚loneliness‘ of the different characters and the failure of the ‚American Dream‘. Let’s start by looking at the first theme, loneliness. Most of the characters express their loneliness or a feeling of isolation in some way. Candy, for example, looks for a person to relate to after his dog had been killed, and hopes to find this with George and Lennie. Crooks tells Lennie that everybody needs somebody to talk to. Curley’s wife admits that she doesn’t love her husband. You can see that she’s lonely when she flirts with the ranch staff. Curley himself is also lonely, constantly looking for his wife. Interestingly, the novel is set in a place a few miles south of Soledad, which in Spanish means ‚loneliness‘. The loneliness impacts on the characters by leading them to be cruel to each other. They experience a sense of helplessness in their isolation. The stronger characters try to destroy the seemingly weaker ones. For example, Crooks criticises Lennie for his childish dream of the farm. But Crooks himself is vulnerable and, due to his skin colour, has to sleep separately from the others. His vulnerability therefore outweighs Lennie’s weakness. Another example is Curley’s wife who feels most powerful when she threatens to have Crooks lynched. Curley himself appears to have a complex because he’s so small, which can be seen by his aggression towards Lennie. Loneliness is even part of the unusual friendship between George and Lennie. This becomes clear when George admits that he would be better off alone. He does, however, recognise that if he didn’t have Lennie he would have no one. Furthermore, the bond between George and Lennie has a special meaning for both of them: George once saved Lennie’s life and cares for him and Lennie’s innocence keeps their mutual dream alive and even attracts other people. Nonetheless, George’s and Lennie’s friendship cannot survive in the brutal world. George has only one option: He himself must kill his friend, saving him from the lynch mob. With this action he can prevent Lennie from experiencing the fate of Candy’s dog, who was killed by a stranger. This is why George cares for Lennie even to the point of his death. Lennie’s death destroys both their friendship and their mutual dream. The unusual quality of their friendship is illustrated by the fact that Carlson and Curley do not seem to understand the tragedy of the loss – they just watch Slim lead George away from the scene. Slim is the only character who appears to understand the value of George’s and Lennie’s relationship and thus consoles George. The second main theme running throughout the novel is the failure of the ‚American Dream‘. Most of the characters dream of a happy life. George and Lennie dream of their farm. Candy dreams of being useful and not too old. Crooks fantasizes that he has his own space on Lennie’s farm one day. Curley’s wife once dreamt of becoming a movie star. Lennie and George’s dream is particularly American because they wish to sustain themselves and be protected from the unwelcoming world. This criticism of the American Dream is one of several reasons why the novel used to be banned in the US. The novel was also accused of promoting euthanasia, - which is the practice of killing without pain a person. This was shown by George killing Lennie. Critics said that ‘Of Mice and Men’ was offensive and racist. But today, it remains a compulsary reading within the literature curriculum in American high schools. ‘Of Mice and Men’ is a classic novel which has been greatly admired by some and highly criticised by others.

As you have seen, the main themes are loneliness and friendship and the failure of the American Dream. The society’s reaction to Steinbeck’s novel reveals a lot about the fears and hopes of that time. Today, one might say that similar fears and hopes still exist in our society. So what do you think about the novel? It may be hard to imagine, but the banning of ‘Of Mice and Men’ shows how strongly people wanted to believe in the American Dream.