This historical fiction presents the timeless story of the sacrifices of true friendship set against the backdrop of the Great Depression. Lenny, a huge mentally deficient man with enormous physical strength, is paired with George, a smaller intelligent man. Between the two, they have the strength and brains necessary for surviving. The two depend upon each other to forge their survival working as “bindle stiffs” from one ranch to the next. Lenny usually gets the pair into some kind of trouble due to his childish, fetish-like desires to “touch soft things” and look at pretty girls. He is really a huge, harmless man with childlike qualities that eventually turn deadly, but more so out of an oblivious innocence rather than any sort of malice. The realization of his wrong doings are usually accompanied by his dull sense of knowing that George will be mad rather than any kind of sense of the awareness between right and wrong.
With the theme of The Great American Dream set against the backdrop of The Great Depression, the shared goal is to keep Lenny out of trouble long enough to save the money required to purchase their dream – a piece of land to call their own, farm, raise animals (especially rabbits for Lenny) and glean an independent existence during the worst of economic times. The depression sets the story in motion, expertly crafted to gently draw the reader into the time frame without disrupting the story line which is an integral cog in the wheel of the far reaching plot that leaves the reader in total sympathy for the actions George must take to protect his friend.
Where can one even begin to respond to such a classic? The themes within this novel literally leap from the pages. True friendship is usually defined as the willingness to lay down your life for those you love. What about the opposite? Without spoiling the plot for any of you who have not yet read this brilliant story, some questions to ask yourself might include the following:
Just how far would you go to protect your best friend?
*Is it ever acceptable to break the law of the land, as well as God’s law, if it is broken out of pure love?
*What should be done with people who commit crimes, yet due to mentally incapacity do not understand the implication of their actions?
*On another level, is the American Dream really attainable for every American or is it just propaganda introduced to sell America, the land of the free – home of the brave, as the land of opportunity?
Study guides abound for this classic. Usually introduced in the English classroom, it could be used in a variety of additional formats. It could be a great fiction to use alongside the teaching of the Great Depression. It could be used in psychology classes to present a study of the mentally handicapped as well as the study of co-dependent relationships. I see its use in government classes as well in which the study of crimes committed by the “innocent” can be examined. The 112 pages of this book are jammed full of themes, meaning, and the haunting story never to be forgotten once read. This is a must-read book for most readers, YA, adult, or perhaps mature preteens.
Steinbeck, the master, is one of my all-time favorite authors. I don’t have enough thumbs to rate this book. Two simply are not enough.