What are some strengths and weaknesses of John Steinbeck's book Of Mice and Men?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John Steinbeck is widely recognized as one of the great American writers of the 20th century, the others being Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner. Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men shows several qualities that made him an outstanding writer. He could write beautiful, moving prose in simple American vernacular. Here is an example from Chapter 5 where the body of Curley's wife is discovered in the barn:

Curley's wife lay with a half-covering of yellow hay. And the meanness and the plannings and the discontent and the ache for attention were all gone from her face. She was very pretty and simple, and her face was sweet and young. Now her rouged cheeks and her reddned lips made her seem alive and sleeping very lightly. The curls, tiny little sausages, were spread on the hay behind her head, and her lips were parted.

Steinbeck was also gifted in his use of dialogue and dialect. He has been compared with two other American writers in this respect. They were Ernest Hemingway and Dashiell Hammett. The characters reveal themselves in the way they speak, and often their dialect and speech patterns can be quite interesting and almost poetic. This is especially noticeable in the dialogue of Candy, Crooks, and Lennie.

Another remarkable strength of John Steinbeck is his compassion for people. He feels pity for these oppressed, exploited farm workers and would like to tell their story to the whole world in hope that something could be done to help them. A really good writer must have strong feelings for his subject matter, which always includes people. Examples of writers who share Steinbeck's compassion for all kinds of human beings are Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Victor Hugo, William Faulkner, and Theodore Dreiser.

Those are three of the strengths of the book. The book's most striking weakness is its brevity. Steinbeck is proposing to write a story about the men who work in the California fields to produce the food we all depend upon, yet he never shows the men and horses toiling in the outdoors in the California farmlands with the majestic mountains in the background. His story is confined mainly to two indoor settings, a bunkhouse and a barn. Even when the men are pitching horseshoes the game is played out of signt, and only the sounds of the shoes hitting the metal stake are described. The same is true of the horses. They are not shown but only represented by sounds of their stomping and shaking their harnesses.

George's shooting Lennie was tragic, but it was also a quick and easy way to terminate a story which, for some reason, Steinbeck did not want to develop into a full-length novel. The Introduction in the eNotes Study Guide states that Steinbeck was anxious to convert his novella into a stage play and that he did so the same year the book came out. (Please refer to reference link below.) This fact would explain a lot about the book. It would explain why so much of the exposition is in dialogue rather than prose, why there are mostly very simple indoor settings, and why the book is so short. It is just long enough to be converted into a play, and the dialogue makes the adaptation very easy.

Steinbeck was a young regional writer with no great reputation. He may not have felt competent to write the panoramic novel his theme seems to call for. A couple of years later, with the confidence instilled by the success of his book and the play, he wrote his epic masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath.