Of Mice and Men Questions and Answers
by John Steinbeck

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To what extent do you think Robert Burns (To a Mouse) is a realist writer and how does his message compare to that of John Steinbeck (Of Mice and Men)?

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Robert Burns, the national songwriter and poet of Scotland, is not a Realist. Rather, his tender reflection on the plight of the mouse exhibits the sensitivity of a Romanticist who perceives the evil that men do. Burns's writings are concerned with the men and manners of his time. Likewise, John Steinbeck wrote of the plight of the common man, often a victim of man's cruelty much like the mouse.

Considered a pre-Romantic, who anticipated Wordsworth, Robert Burns made use of literary forms and legends of folk culture. Writing in the language of the common people, his songs are especially appealing to this day in his native Scotland. The son of a farmer, Burns knew of the dangers that field mice faced when the field in which they have made their winter home is mowed. His poem "To a Mouse" extrapolates this imminent danger to situations for man himself. Indeed, George and Lennie are much like the mouse, who has no permanent home, and whose future is tenuous, at best, despite their plans to one day own a farm. In another parallel to the mouse, their plans go awry as Lennie inadvertently kills Curley's wife and, out of George's mercy to prevent retribution against Lennie, he is killed himself.

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Robert Burns' poem, "To a Mouse," is the source of the famous quotation: "The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men / Gang aft agley" ("often go awry"). And, indeed, Of Mice and Men features two men with a scheme - to escape their lives of menial, temporary employment - that goes awry. Beyond this simple plot similarity, the two works both consider the relationship between the human and animal worlds. Burns poem, in which a field worker offers philosophical reflections after upsetting a mouse's nest, mirrors Steinbeck's work, in which Lennie unintentionally destroys the lives of small, furry animals (including, at the novel's opening, a mouse, which is a clear wink at the Burns poem).