Of Death and Suffering: A Look at John Steinbeck's, "Of Mice and Men"
The ending to the classic Jon Steinbeck novel, Of Mice and Men, can be argued as both reinforcement to an important value and ruin to a perfectly good story. The book finishes with Lennie Small, a large, lovable, and slightly mental challenged character, getting shot in the head by his only friend in the world, George Milton. Although there were numerous reasons behind this action, one would, not so unreasonably, question the author’s reasons behind such a violent resolution. Many people have very different ideas about life, loneliness, and suffering.
The ending of Of Mice and Men and its relation to the mood reflects Jon Steinbeck’s cynical outlook on life. To a mind like his, this book could have no other ending or logical alternative. Above all else Steinbeck consonantly strives for an edge of harsh reality in his works. If anything else had happened it would seem, to him, nothing more than simply a happy, little fairy tale. Steinbeck wants his work to be real and so, to give it reality he instills a sense of suffering to the story line. To reinforce his illusion of reality he gives his character real, wholesome human emotion and actions. Loneliness, hatred, and disrespect are as a part of this book, if not more than, friendship, love, and trust. Steinbeck paints a picture of life as he sees it. He must have had endured much suffering and many hardships to feel it necessary to include in his characters such a violet nature. This violent nature is reflected in the mood of the novel. Death is brought up fairly often during the 6 chapters. It is first brought to the reader’s attention on pages 5 and 9 when it talks about the dead mouse that Lennie took of the road to pet in his pocket. George knows he could get sick from having the dead mouse in his pocket so he makes Lennie give it to him and throws it away. The second mention of death in the novel is of Candy’s dog. On page 45 Carlson say, “Look. Candy. This ol’ dog jus’ suffers hisself all the time. If you was to take him out and shoot him right in the back of the head…why’d he’d never know what hit him.” There is a connection between Carlson and Candy with the dog and George and Lennie with the mouse. George, like Carlson is the one who really pushes to have his way and get rid of something that would be better off away from its current location. Candy and Lennie are the characters with the more selfish, childish mindsets. Candy is very old and wants to keep the dog for security. It’s something he knows and loves, along as being one of his only possessions. Lennie feels the same way about the dead mouse, but in the end both Lennie and Candy succumb to their friend’s wishes. The third thing that dies in the book is the puppy. When George finds Lennie in his bunk with the puppy he tells him, “You get right up an’ take this pup back to the nest. He’s gotta sleep with his mother. You want to kill him? Just born last night an’ you take him out of the nest. You take him back or I’ll tell Slim not to let you have him.” (Pg. 43) Lennie reluctantly puts the puppy back, but later he kills it in the barn. He told Curley’s wife, “ He was so little. I was jus’ playin’ with him…an’ he made like he’s gonna bite me… an’ I made like I was gonna smack him…an’…an’ I done it. An’ then he was dead.”(Pg.87) The next death that happens is when Lennie kills Curley’s wife. Lennie kills Curley’s wife in a moment of confusion and desperation. On page 91 it says, “ And she continued to struggle, and her eyes were wild with terror. He shook her then, and he was angry with her. “Don’t you go yellin’,” he and, and he shook her; and her body flopped like a fish. And then she was still, for Lennie had broken her neck.” The last death in this sad novel is that of Lennie. He runs to the river and hides in the brush just like George told him and then George comes and finds him there. George knows that Curley will torture Lennie if he finds him and he wants to save Lennie from suffering. George shoots Lennie in the back of the head just like Carlson shot Candy’s dog. Lennie seems to have a draw towards death. Not so much in the way that he likes it, but in the way that he is present and/or involved with each death that occurs. Unlike Lennie, George is the one who has an antipathy towards death. He makes Lennie get rid of the mouse. He also scolds him for taking the pup out of its nest. The ending of the book is ironic because George, who has been keeping away from death ends up killing someone and Lennie who has been killing things ends up dying at the hands of his very best friend.
Although I think the ending is filled perhaps too much with pain and sorrow I do not think that it ruins the book. When you read the works of Jon Steinbeck you have to prepare yourself for anything that might happen. Steinbeck’s book have a very real, believable feel to them because they don’t always go the way you want them or expect them to. Personally, I think that George should have run off with Lennie. They could have run away from the ranch just like how they ran away from town when Lennie grabbed the girl. However, George did not do this because he was sick and tired of Lennie screwing up and messing everything up in his life. He confesses to Slim that, “Lennie’s a God dang nuisance most of the time…he gets in trouble alla the time cus he’s so God dang dumb”(Pg. 41). He also tells Slim the story about how Lennie grabbed the dress of a girl. He says, “Well that girl rabbits in an’ tells the law she been raped. The guys in Weed start a party out to lynch Lennie. So we sit in an irrigation ditch under water all the rest of that day Got on’y out heads ticking out from the side of the ditch. An’ that night we scrammed outta there.” (Pg. 42) Lennie and George’s story is one of anguish and pain that you can only hope gives meaning to something in this world.
The ending, although not a happy one, is a reflection of Jon Steinbeck’s perspective on life and accurately upholds the mood and theme presented throughout the novel. Although I think the ending to be both violent and cruel I cannot pretend to believe it unnecessary to the book. I feel that if the story had had a happier ending it would have defeated the purpose of the theme and lived down Steinbeck’s striking ability to influence an audience by stressing an important mood or value through his novels.