Book: Of Mice and Men (1937)
Author: John Steinbeck (1902-1968)
Connection with ABC-TV’s LOST: The official LOST website is not currently maintaining their LOST Book Club entries. However, an excellent fan site, Lostpedia, has been keeping up with the books on the show. You can find the entry for this book here. The title is from two lines in Robert Burn’s poem “To a Mouse”: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley,” more commonly quoted, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
Sawyer is seen reading the book in prison in a Flashback sequence in episode 304: “Every Man for Himself.” Ben quotes from the book after he shows Sawyer they are isolated on a smaller island. “A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. It don’t make any difference who the guy is, so long as he’s with you. I tell ya… I tell ya, a guy gets too lonely, and he gets sick.”
Both the book and the TV series explore the theme of loneliness and isolation. The life of Sawyer and Juliet in the Dharma Compound, which is cut short in Season 5, also seems to be similar to the dream of George and Lennie having a place of their own together.
In episode 604, “The Substitute,” Sawyer mentions the ending of the book to The Man in Black.
Review of the Book
My first associations with this book (although I did not know it at the time) are characters in Looney Tunes Cartoons. Lennie and George were parodied repeatedly by Warner Brothers. I remember best the two dogs hunting Bugs Bunny, but there was also Benny the Cat, who kept calling Sylvester “George,” and the Abominable Snowman who thought Daffy Duck was a rabbit, saying, “I will name him George, and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him.”
Of Mice and Men is certainly not a comedy. It a cynical look at trying to achieve your dreams. George, who promised Lennie’s aunt that he would look after the mentally challenged giant with the strength of an ox, has a dream of owning a few acres of his own. He promises Lennie that he can care for rabbits and feed them alfalfa from their own field when their dream is realized.
The pair have been traveling as bindlestiffs (the word implies someone who carries all he owns on his back) from ranch to ranch for work. At the present ranch they meet Slim, who gives an interesting assessment of Lennie, and people in general.
He’s a nice fella… Guy don’t need no sense to be a nice fella. Seems to me sometimes it jus’ works the other way around. Take a real smart guy and he ain’t hardly ever a nice fella.
The problem is that Lennie gets into trouble wherever they go. He has a gentle spirit, but the combination of his great strength and tiny intellect easily get him into circumstances that are misunderstood by the people around him.
George hopes this new ranch will work out differently, and that they will be able to work long enough to save up a “stake” and buy their own place. Candy, who keeps up the bunkhouse, hears about their plan and volunteers to go in with them. It looks like their dreams may just come true after all.
Crooks, the stable keeper, hears about the plan and ridicules them. He has heard many other traveling workers with similar plans, but they always end up spending their money on liquor and women. He compares their dreams to those who talk about going to heaven someday.
Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land. It’s just in their head. They’re all the time talkin’ about it, but it’s just in their head.
Crooks is apparently reflecting Steinbeck’s own views of the afterlife: there is none.
The scene at the end of the book is foreshadowed earlier. It leaves the reader with the feeling that people are no different than animals, and that there is little hope of seeing dreams become a reality. Is there any hope?
Yes, there is. Some do get their own land. Steinbeck was at one point dirt poor and a bindlestiff himself. But someone recognized his talent, and his writing sold. He got his land.
Sometimes dreams do come true. And, although Steinbeck didn’t believe it, there is a real Heaven, too.