My 15-year-old son, Indie, is reading John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (1937) in his Grade 10 English class. I decided to read it too (so we could talk about it). It’s the first time I’ve read it since high school. I’d forgotten how short it is. It’s really just a long short story. The audiobook version is 3 hours and 11 minutes long, the length of a typical episode of the Joe Rogan podcast.
Steinbeck captures the intense loneliness and desperation of itinerant life in Depression Era America. He captures some of its horror too. That scene wherein a white woman wins an argument with a black man by threatening to falsely accuse him of rape is deeply disturbing: “I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny.”
Curley, the scrappy little prick with a chip on his shoulder, is the story’s least likeable character. He’s also pretty much every online bully I’ve met in the last decade: “Curley’s like a lot of little guys. He hates big guys. He’s alla time picking scraps with big guys. Kind of like he’s mad at ’em because he ain’t a big guy. You seen little guys like that, ain’t you? Always scrappy? . . . . Never did seem right to me. S’pose Curley jumps a big guy an’ licks him. Ever’body says what a game guy Curley is. And s’pose he does the same thing and gets licked. Then ever’body says the big guy oughtta pick somebody his own size, and maybe they gang up on the big guy. Never did seem right to me. Seems like Curley ain’t givin’ nobody a chance.”
I now realize the extent to which Stephen King’s The Green Mile (1996) is a kind of tribute to Of Mice and Men. John Coffey is basically a black Lennie Small with magical powers. Paul Edgecombe is a whole lot like Steinbeck’s compassionate cowboy, Slim. And, of course, sadistic Percy Wetmore is Curley. I applaud King’s taste. Some classics are classics because they really are great. Of Mice and Men is one of them.
—John Faithful Hamer