John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice And Men” is a text book study of the writing maxim, “Show don’t tell”. There is very little description of the characters that Steinbeck engages in, letting the characters be revealed through the situations and dialogues.
The book narrates the story of two migrant laborers, George and Lennie, who arrive at a farm to start a new job. They have apparently run away from an earlier job due to some unpleasant incident related to Lennie’s behavior. George is street-smart and loves Lennie like a brother. It emerges that Lennie is a simpleton who does not understand the ways of the world. That combined with Lennie’s extraordinary strength makes him dangerous to people around him. George tries to protect Lennie by trying to avoid any interactions between him and other people, trying to reply on behalf of Lennie, trying to keep him humored by portraying a positive picture of the future. One of the common images of the future that he paints to Lennie is owning a farm when they earn enough money. At the new farm, they build new relationships, some good some bad, and the story takes some interesting turns with the peculiarities of the two.
Steinbeck is a master storyteller, and this book is a lesson in minimalism in terms of spoon-feeding the readers. The way the characters emerge out of the dialogues is beautiful. The way situations build suspense is masterful. Over the course of the small book, the characters become people you know, and the anticipation of the unavoidable tragedy keeps one hooked to the book. I tried to read the book as an author, and I was successful in doing that many times, but invariably I got sucked into the narrative and became a reader.
Besides the characterization, Steinbeck masterfully creates the era in front of your eyes. The environment at farms, the lazy and laid-back life, the desire of the workers to break free of the slave-life life and the day dreaming that everyone enjoys, Steinbeck creates a concrete picture of each of these things, and makes it universal at the same time. The quirkiness of the supporting characters, especially Curley and his wife, makes the narrative unusual and interesting. The climax is expected and haunting at the same time.
The language is very simple and functional. Steinbeck avoids ornamental use of language. The simplicity adds to the tone of the story. It becomes the part of the narrative. I am sure this kind of simplicity requires a lot of deliberation and rework.
The morality of the book is at once clear and ambiguous. Is an action without intention morally binding on the agent? Steinbeck does not give an answer of his own. The answer from the perspective of the society is absolutely clear. Was George right in doing what he did? Again, Steinbeck is ambiguous in terms of his position. In that way, again, Steinbeck prefers “Show” vs “Tell”. The reader is left with himself to form an opinion about the actions of the agents and what they mean from a moral standpoint.
In short, it is a great book and deserves a perfect 5/5. It is a must for authors, reading to understand the craft. Your writing will change for better if you read and re-read this book.