The scene takes place in a clearing, close to the Salinas river, "a few miles South of Soledad", at dusk. Two men come (the two main characters), one following the other. The first one is George and the second one Lennie. They are ranch workers who travel together from a ranch to another to find job. Whereas George is a clever average-sized man, Lennie is a very big and very "dumb" one. We understand that they have been fired of their last job for Lennie has done a "bad thing". The whole chapter aims to present the opposite behaviours of the characters, one commanding all the time, the other obeying as a child. We have to note that Lennie is in fond of petting animals. In that chapter he's got a dead mouse that George forbids him to pet and throws away. Moreover this first chapter reveals the dream both characters share: "to get a little house, a couple of acres, animals (among which rabbits which Lennie likes a lot), and live off the fatta the lan'". Lennie is told, in case he gets in trouble in the ranch, to go hide in the brush close to the river where George would meet him. But if it happened, he would be punished by not being allowed "to tend the rabbits".
[...] She stays anyway and tells him the story of her sad life and of her failed marriage. Lennie just talks about rabbits”. And being asked what gets him mad about rabbits, he answers: like to pet nice things”. Understanding, she proposes to him to touch her hair, which she says is soft and nice. A bad idea: Lennie holds the hair so strong that the girl starts screaming. Lennie panics and, to make her shut up, shakes her so much that he breaks her neck. [...]
[...] That's why besides the two great strike novels he wrote in the 1930's, In Dubious Battle and The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck wrote during the same years a trilogy about agricultural labor in California, composed by Paradise Lost, Of Mice and Men, and The Battle Hymn of the Republic. But whereas In Dubious Battle and The Grapes of Wrath, written while strikes were taking a never-seen-before importance and the communist movement developing, dealt with topical problems, the action of Of Mice and Men, written in 1936, is situated at a time when California's corps were harvested by itinerant workers (mostly single men and often feeble-minded), which clearly doesn't correspond to the 1930's. [...]
[...] And even the pup “wasn't big enough”, as Lennie, who despite his being nice fella” couldn't fit the harsh world of the ranches. The sad truth Steinbeck reveals to us in his novel is the very existence of weakness in the world, this way of being that can only lead to an imminent death. But there is another important aspect in human existence Steinbeck points at: the need of man to be with somebody else. “Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. [...]
[...] “Look across the river, Lennie, an' I'll tell you so you can almost see answers George, and he points a pistol at his friend's neck, and shoots him, and kills him. Finally, George stays sat on the bank close to his dead friend, quiet, waiting for the men to come Context of the writing: (from the information given in the introduction of Susan Shillinglaw for the Penguin Classics edition) Born in Salinas 1902, John Steinbeck grew in one of the richest agricultural valleys of California. In high school and college he used to work in the fields and by the occasion listened to the speeches of the workers. [...]
[...] All the human life seems to be constructed that way, like a common promise to know happiness one day, passed by mice and men. However, as we said the world is cruel, and the endless happiness is nothing but a dream. The stable buck used to say it in these words: “I've seen hundreds of men come by the road an' on the ranches. [ ] Ever' damn one of them got a little piece of land in his head. [...]
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