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CAUTION: SPOILERS (Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck)

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So Kevin, my fourteen-year old, finished Of Mice and Men a few days ago.  It was required reading for his ninth grade English class, and the class was instructed not to read ahead; they were assigned a chapter every couple of days, and would discuss each chapter in class as they went.  I started the book after Kevin did, but finished it long before he finished it, and I kept wondering how he would react to the ending, because it is disturbing.

Well, he was disturbed, and didn’t see that scenario coming.  I felt kind of bad for him, but I have to say how very, very cool it is that my teenage son is now starting to read some grown-up literature that he and I can discuss!  He’s been a voracious reader since he learned to read, but his tastes generally run to much different genres than mine, and given that he’s a kid and a boy to boot, I guess that makes sense.

Anyhow, he had to answer some discussion questions about the book for his English class, and here’s the result:

“Of Mice and Men” Discussion Questions

 Who’s really to blame for Curley’s wife’s death? Is it just Lennie? Or are there others, too? Think about all the characters who share some culpability and responsibility in the events that take place in Chapter Five.

Three characters that share responsibility for Curley’s wife’s death are George, Curley, and herself. George is responsible because even though he knew Lennie was dangerous, he left him unattended. He warned Lennie not to talk to Curley’s wife, and he even said that she would “get [them] in a fix.” George probably knew that something like this was possible. However, he was not watchful enough of Lennie. Curley is responsible simply because he controls her, and doesn’t let her do anything or talk to anybody. If she had more freedom, she may not have sought the company of Lennie. Lastly, Curley’s wife herself is responsible for her own death. She ran away from home, married the first man who would take her, and moved to a place where she had no freedom. Had she had more common sense and been less naïve and rash, this never would have happened.

How do George’s actions at the end of the novel exemplify his love for Lennie?

It is true that George killed Lennie. At first glance, this seems like a cruel, monstrous, back-stabbing thing to do. However, when we look below the surface, we come to realize that George acted out of kindness, love, and mercy. For Lennie, there was no way out of this one. He was either to be locked up and miserable, or lynched by an angry Curley, and eager Carlson, and perhaps a half-hearted Slim. This was really the best possible outcome for Lennie. Had he been chased down and lynched or locked up, he would have been terrified, and George would have no choice but to take part. However, because of George’s love, Lennie dies believing that nothing is wrong, everything will be alright, and that the rabbits are just across the river.

Should George stand trial for murder? Why or why not?

Yes, George committed murder. However, it was not out of hatred or revenge, but love and mercy. To kill out of love? What a strange idea. Yet this is exactly what George has done. So the question is, should he stand trial? Some would say no, because he killed out of mercy. Others would say yes, because it is the cold, hard, unchanging fact that he killed a man. Still others would say no, because he killed a possible threat to society.  However, I would say that he should not be convicted of murder. But the question is not really whether he should stand trial – it’s whether or not the law can be bent in his favor.

What is John Steinbeck’s message in Of Mice and Men?

I believe that the message in Of Mice and Men could be many different things. It could be related to love, loneliness, or even death. I think that that message from Steinbeck is this: One will always need the companionship of others, even during their final breaths. This message mostly relates to love and loneliness. Lennie and George always needed each other. Even in Lennie’s final moments, he unknowingly needed George to spare him a terrible fate. And George needed Lennie. It does seem as though George was always mad at Lennie, and he did kill him. However, Lennie was George’s only companion, and his friend. If George hadn’t wanted Lennie, he could have gotten rid of him. But he didn’t, because of their need for each other.

Pretty thoughtful, huh?

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So now that I finished off Little Women, the last selection of the year for my book club (we skip December and have a holiday shindig instead of a book discussion), I have to admit that I feel a little liberated.  I adore my book club, and it’s definitely encouraged me to read a lot of things I probably wouldn’t otherwise choose, but I have oodles of books of my own waiting to be read, and sometimes it’s hard to find the time to read non-book club stuff.  I am free until January to read whatever my little heart desires 🙂

Right now, I’m working my way through The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian.  It’s a ghost story and shaping up to be very eerie – perfect for upcoming Halloween.  Next on my list is Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick; this was given to me by a friend last year and I’ve been saving it to read around Thanksgiving time.  If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll be able to squeeze in another book or two before the end of the year, too!

 

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