Gang aft agley [go oft awry]
And leave us nought but grief and pain
For promised joy!
by Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759 – 96)
John Steinbeck’s classic novel, Of Mice and Men, is one of three novels he wrote exploring the California agricultural labor phenomenon of the 1930s (the other two were The Grapes of Wrath and In Dubious Battle). In this novel, Steinbeck focuses on the friendship between two men – George and Lennie – and their shared dream of owning land and a home of their own. The story is simple and occurs over the span of three short days on a Salinas Valley ranch where the two men have found work as farm hands. Thematically, Steinbeck explores the idea of dreams and how plans may go awry through forces beyond one’s control. Given the time in which the novel was written, his handling of the mentally handicapped Lennie is tender and compassionate. Steinbeck describes setting beautifully, and wraps it around the characters whose personalities emerge through their dialogue and relationships with each other. There is enough foreshadowing to predict the novel’s tragic end.