For your banned book club: Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck

This book has been challenged or banned by people who object to its offensive language and sexually explicit, emotionally disturbing scenes, including violence and murder. We think that in the past, it was also challenged when people in power did not like Steinbeck’s political message. As recently as 2003, it was challenged in the Normal, Illinois Community High Schools for “racial slurs, profanity, violence, and [because it] does not represent traditional values.” Though Steinbeck’s The Pearl, was offered as a reading alternative, it was rejected by the challenging family.

“. . . the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man’s proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit—for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation. I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication, nor any membership in literature.”

John Steinbeck

Who is this John Steinbeck?

  • Born in 1902 in Salinas, California, the setting for much of his fiction, including Of Mice and Men.
  • As teenager, spent summers working as hired hand on neighboring ranches, where he was seriously influenced by rural California and its people.
  • In 1919, enrolled at Stanford University, studying off and on for six years before leaving without degree.
  • For next five years, worked as reporter while completing first novel, Cup of Gold, published in 1929.
  • First critical and commercial success came with Tortilla Flat, published in 1935.
  • In Dubious Battle published 1936.
  • Of Mice and Men published 1937.
  • The Grapes of Wrath won 1940 Pulitzer Prize, becoming Steinbeck’s most famous novel.
  • Continued writing throughout the 1940s and 1950s.
  • Went to Europe during World War II, then worked in Hollywood as filmmaker and scriptwriter.
  • Important later works include East of Eden (1952) and Travels with Charley (1962).
  • Died in New York City in 1968.
  • Though Steinbeck was not locally supported during life, Salinas citizens recently established an important museum in his honor.
  • Of Mice and Men challenged and banned in school districts from time of publication until present.

What do you think about Of Mice And Men?

  1. Why do Lennie and George first stop at roadside hobo camp, rather than going straight to their new jobsite? Why do Lennie and George describe the dream they share here?  Where do they seem to feel safe and at ease?  Where do they seem insecure?  Why?
  2. Several characters are identified by their hands and what they do with their hands. Where does this happen? What do you think it means to Steinbeck?  What does it mean now, in the world you live in? Can you judge people by their hands?
  3. For Lennie, what is the relationship between mice, puppies and women?  Does it represent any other relationships in the novel?
  4. Why doesn’t Curley’s Wife have a name? How do the men in the story feel about her?
  5. Does your impression of her change after she tells Lennie about her history?
  6. What do Lennie and George need from each other?
  7. Who has power in this story?  Who does not?  What does Steinbeck want us to understand about power and weakness?
  8. Did George have to kill Lennie? Why or why not?  Why does he do it? What has he decided?
  9. Is Lennie and George’s dream possible? Why does the dream attract other workers who learn about it?  What does Steinbeck think any person wants?  Why is it so difficult to get?  Is it still difficult to attain this goal?  Why or why not?
  10. How would you argue in favor of banning this book?  What are its biggest dangers?  How would you argue against it?

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