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W I L L I A M G O L D H U R S T University of Florida O f M ice and Men: John Steinbeck’s Parable Of The Curse Of Cain Critical opinion on John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is sur­ prisingly varied, miscellaneous, and contradictory. One critic calls the novella a dark comedy and says that it descends from myths of King Arthur. Other critics think of it as a tragedy and at least one advances the idea that it has no mythic background at all. A few commentators feel very definitely that Of Mice and Men is political in its drift, that it illustrates “tensions created by the capitalistic system” or dramatizes “the role of the radical organizer attempting to lead the masses towards a workmen’s utopia.” Others contend that it has little or no political content but rather stresses sociological points such as our unenlightened treatment of old people and the mentally retarded. Several other critics have ob­ served that Steinbeck’s story emphasizes a simple thesis, variously identified as (1) each man kills the thing he loves, (2) our pleasures often oppose and thwart our schemes, and (3) the non-morality of Nature. Basic differences of opinion may be illustrated by the com­ ments of two well known literary historians who sum up their re­ actions to the story in almost antithetical terms: Joseph Warren Beach stressed “the tone of humanity and beauty with which Stein­ beck invests his tragic episode . . . without the use of sentimental phrase or direct statement,” while Alfred Kazin speaks of “the cal­ culated sentimentality of Of Mice and Men” which makes Stein­ beck’s fable “meretricious in its pathos, a moment’s gulp.”1 ^Frederick I. Carpenter, along with several others, calls Of Mice and Men a tragedy. See “John Steinbeck: American Dreamer," in Steinbeck and His Critics, ed. E. W. Tedlock, Jr. and C. V. Wicker (Albuquerque, New Mexico), 1957, p. 76. This volume will be referred to hereafter as Tedlock and Wicker. Warren French calls Of Mice and Men a “ dark comedy” in John Steinbeck (New York, 1961), p. 76. French also pushes the thesis of the novella’s descent from Arthurian legend; see p. 73. Joseph Fontenrose says: “ Of Mice and Men has no recognizable mythical pattern," in John Steinbeck, An Introduction and Interpretation (New York, 1963), p. 59. The political theories of Of Mice and Men are quoted from Edwin Berry Burgum. and Stanley Edgar Hymen, pp. 109 and 159 respectively in Tedlock and Wicker. Sociological points are stressed by Frecnh in John Steinbeck, p. 77. Freeman Champney says Of Mice and Men is “little other” than the theme of “ every man 124 Western American Literature Perhaps this diversity reflects the sort of critical individualism which Steinbeck had in mind when he said that many critics fall under the heading of “special pleaders (who) use my work as a dis­ torted echo chamber for their own ideas.”2 Two significant points do emerge, in any case, from a consideration of this body of critical comment. First it affirms and reaffirms the inherent fertility of Steinbeck’s novella; already Of Mice and Men has furnished two generations of readers with material for intellectual sustenance. Secondly, and perhaps this is a bit unforeseen, no one of the critics, as I see it, has penetrated to the essential meaning which luxuriates under the surface of Steinbeck’s story. The present study offers for consideration what seems to me a more basic and accurate inter­ pretation than is currently available. I ought to say at the outset that my emphasis is on the religious sources of Of Alice and Men and its mythic-allegorical implications. Of Mice and Men is a short novel in six scenes presented in description-dialogue-action form that approximates stage drama in its effect (about this fact there is no critical disagreement). The time scheme runs from Thursday evening through Sunday evening— exactly three days in sequence, a matter of some importance, as we shall see presently. The setting is the Salinas Valley in California, and most of the characters are unskilled migratory workers who drift about the villages and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 123-136
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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