When I was a little girl, my mother told me not to wear a bikini because it was too “sexy”.
I was completely shocked when hearing this. All I saw was a cute flower-patterned piece of swimwear. Why would that have anything to do with sex? All the boys could walk around with bare chests, but for a girl to show her stomach was apparently the equivalent to having the word “SLUT” written on her forehead. No wonder I still feel insecure about showing my skin, all these years afterwards. Some years later, I started to hear sexist comments in the school corridor. Boys, who were no older than 12 years old, were bragging about their made-up sexual experiences they’d had with girls. They made fun of our body shapes and how we looked. The girls just stood there, giggling shyly and made mental notes to put on heavier makeup the next day so that they could meet up to the guys’ expectations. And nobody found the courage to actually speak up.
In the novel Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck, the most important female character is the wife of the boss’ son. She despises her husband Curley, whom she had to marry against her will. When Lennie had injured Curley badly in a fight, his wife responds with: “I’m glad you bust out Curley a bit. He got it comin’ to him. Sometimes I’d like to bust him myself” (page 79). I completely understand her. She dreamt of becoming a famous actress, but was exploited over and over again by unrespectful men before getting trapped on a farm packed with even more men who didn’t see her as anything more than an object to make fun of. Even though this story takes place almost a hundred years ago, many women today can still relate to her struggle. From an early age, girls learn that it’ll be much more difficult for them to have a successful career just because of what is between their legs. Their dreams get crushed and stomped on by the patriarchal society, that tells them that their only purpose in life is to be a good wife and mother.
Curley’s wife gets called names such as “tramp”, “bitch” and “poison”, just because she likes to dress up in nice clothes. Still, nowadays, girls just like myself are made fun of if they don’t fit into the stereotypes of what the perfect girl should look like. If they try to change, they just receive more hate for trying too hard. The men working on the farm feel the need to put Curley’s wife into place and tries to break down her self-confidence into pieces by shaming her for her seductive clothing. At the same time, they shamelessly hire prostitutes without feeling any guilt whatsoever. I think eight-years-old me, would relate to the unfair sexualization of women described in this book.
“I’ve seen ‘em poison before, but I’ve never seen no piece of jail bait worse than her.”
- George (page 31)
Of Mice and Men is a realistic tragedy that explains the unfair life as a lower-class American during the Great Depression in the 1930’s. The author himself, John Steinbeck came from a quite wealthy family, but he spent a lot of time travelling through California and working on farms similar to the one where this book takes place. He was therefore familiar with the experience of being a poor migrant worker. Throughout his life, he published over 30 novels, all dealing with social and economic issues (kiwi, 2009). Of Mice and Men is a novella, or in other words a very short book, however, it uses a somewhat advanced language. It also contains a lot of slang phrases and swears words that can be difficult to understand unless you happened to live in California during the 30’s.
In this novella, we get to follow the journey of George and Lennie, two travelling workers who struggle to get out of their unprivileged lives and follow their dreams. They are looking for a way to earn a living, and get employed as wheat buckers on a farm where they get food and bunk beds to sleep in. Even though the working conditions could be better, they would still live an adequate life if it wasn’t for the fact that Lennie is disabled. If anyone found out about their secret, it could cost them their job, and consequently their lives. Lennie is a kind soul, but sometimes he hurt people by accident when he tries to be nice. He is an insecure little child trapped in a strong man’s body, and all he wants is to live on his own farm and take care of furry little rabbits. George convinces him that his dream will come true, as long as he doesn’t do anything wrong.
“I won’t get in no trouble, George. I ain’t gonna say a word.” (page 15)
Many of the workers on the farm start getting suspicious, as they notice that something about Lennie isn’t quite right. They enjoy messing with his mind and manipulating him into believing in things that aren’t true. The only ones who support him are Slim, the “prince of the ranch”, the old man Candy and the black stable buck Crooks, whom no one other than Lennie wants to talk to. George and Lennie make plans with old Candy to save up money to buy a farm together, something all of them have been dreaming about for years. Even though George repeatedly complains about how Lennie is acting stupid and revealing their plans, he loves him like a brother and defends him whenever someone is being mean.
“He ain’t no cuckoo!” (page 38)
Slim lets Lennie have one of his newborn puppies, which makes him over the moon with joy. He picks it up and pets it, despite being told not to. He doesn’t realize how strong he is and accidentally kills the poor animal. He’s completely weighed down with sorrow and guilt.
The boss’s son Curley’s wife is one of the few people who actually talk to Lennie without the objective of hurting his feelings. He explains to her what’d happened when he tried to pet the puppy, and in return, she tells him the story of how she ended up in on a farm with a man whom she despised. She’d grown up in Salinas, in a wicked old lady’s house. She’d been deceived over and over again by men who promised her a career as an actress and then disappeared for good. In the end, she had no other option than to get married to Curley, a stranger she had met the very same night as the wedding. Lennie is the only person she feels confident to trust with her story.
The girl lets Lennie stroke her hair, but he misunderstands her and starts pulling it. She starts screaming hysterically. In a panicked attempt to keep her quiet, he unintentionally chokes the girl to death. He is completely shocked about what he’s done.
“I shouldn’t of did that … George’ll be mad …” (page 88).
It doesn’t take long until George and old Candy finds out. Thankfully, they’re very forgiving. George knows his friend well and knows that he is a pure soul who would never kill a person intentionally. Lennie runs away from the farm, as he obviously isn’t safe to stay there anymore. George and Lennie arrange a plan on how to make it look like Lennie had nothing to do with the murder. But when the other men find the corpse, they immediately suspect that Lennie was the one who did it. They all agree they’ll try their best to find him and shoot him to death. Will Lennie be able to flee before it’s too late?
Our world is filled with injustice and inequality. Unless you’re a well-educated, white, heterosexual man, there is going to be some part of society that is discriminating towards you. Of Mice and Men include many examples of prejudicial behavior, such as ableism (bigotry towards people with disabilities). When I was younger, I went to the same school as many people who suffered from various mental disabilities. They were often made fun of by the other children, just for being different. People pointed and laughed at them, assuming they weren’t intelligent enough to take offense. These disabled children must’ve felt just as misunderstood and unfairly treated as Lennie did. The same thing goes for Curley’s wife, who is the only woman on a farm full of males.
Of course, the other people on the farm are completely unable of understanding how humiliating it is to be enslaved by a patriarchal society. They have never walked in her shoes. As a consequence of their ignorance, she is very lonely and despairing. We don’t even get to know her actual name, as she is seen as nothing more than an object. Just like the other people on the farm, she had dreams and aspirations. The difference is that her dreams didn’t seem to matter, as she was just a stupid girl who should “stay the hell where she belongs” (page 60).
Even though society has made progress since the 30’s, most women will still relate to the struggles that Curley’s wife faces. What woman hasn’t heard men making sexist comments behind her back? This book was a real eye-opener to the critical issues in our society that most of us chose to turn a blind eye to. The way we joke about and oppress women creates a malign jargon which we get so used to that we don’t even notice it. If we claim that we already are completely equal and use this as an excuse not to stand up for ourselves, women will keep suffering in silence. We need to listen to the stories of women like Curley’s wife, and make a difference.
I think everyone would benefit from reading this book, although I would mainly recommend this to anyone who is interested in American history and human rights. Not only does it have interesting, unique but simultaneously relatable characters, but it also teaches a valuable lesson about life. Having knowledge about our history is crucial in order to understand the present and ensure a successful future. I especially like the detailed nature descriptions that makes this book very unique, as well as the complex and interesting characters. However, I wish there was a sequel, as it feels like it didn’t get a proper ending. Some events in the book lacks explanation, so a few questions have to be answered with your own imagination. This might be annoying for the reader, but it also makes the book more intriguing. It’s a very emotional book that’ll leave you crying and wanting to throw the book against the wall out of pure anger – which I am sure is just what Steinbeck intended with his story. Reading this novel has been an experience that I’ll never forget.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck teaches us the moral lesson of not judging people too harshly if you haven’t worn their shoes. As William Hazlitt once said, “prejudice is the child of ignorance” (Smith, A W 2014). Without awareness about the parts of society that are facing discrimination, we can never fully understand and respect them. This book is not only entertaining, but also informative about subjects that many people fear to speak about, especially at the time it was written. It’s not exactly humoristic, but rather very sad and depressing. My favourite part of the book must be when Lennie and Curley’s wife bond over their loneliness and self doubt and talk to each other like equals, despite that they seem to be so different from each other. It shows that an equal society where everyone can cooperate regardless of their gender, intelligence and ethnicity is entirely possible.
“kiwi” 2009, What inspired John Steinbeck to write Of Mice and Men? Was it an experience he went through?
Smith, A W 2014, Prejudice Is The Child of Ignorance
http://www.authorsden.com/visit/viewArticle.asp?id=71856, accessed 30 May 2018
Vorick, R 2010, Feminism 101: What is Ableism?
https://femmagazine.com/feminism-101-what-is-ableism/, accessed 23 May 2018