Of Mice and Men

A look at the romanticization of the rural and ‘primitive’ characters in John Steinbeck’s novel.

John Steinbeck is a model example of the modern American nostalgia for the primitive. His rural heroes, illiterate and often weak-minded, are nevertheless essentially noble; they are poeticized rustics. His region is the Salinas Valley in Central California and the nearby Monterey coast. Here live his poetic Mexicans, his sentimental cannery workers, his eccentric and colorful fisherman; here his rural tragedies unfold in the atmosphere of the naturalistic novel mixed with that of the Greek pastoral. Steinbeck admires the foreign elements in the American population; and like most regionalists he believes the elemental life of the country infinitely superior to that of the city (Astro, 199). When Steinbeck’s characters are established securely on the land they are hard-working and good-hearted, if somewhat inclined to drink and argumentation. When their agricultural activities are dislocated — when the Joads are driven from Oklahoma, or when a seductive woman intrudes her way into the agrarian dream of Lennie and George in “Of Mice and Men” — tragedy and misfortune result.