What should I tell you about the rabbits, dear reader? It's all about the rabbits, at least it is if your name is Lennie Small, one of the principle characters in John Steinbeck’s gripping tale of two oddly paired friends: Of Mice and Men.
George Milton and Lennie Small are filled with dreams—big dreams of one
day owning a farm, so they can stop the backbreaking labour that comes with
being mere farm hands and finally own some rabbits of their own. What’s all
this about rabbits, you ask? What you ex-back-row students missed out on
all those years ago when you were asked to read this book in grade nine or
ten is essentially one of the best stories in all of literature. It’s about two very opposite men—one thin and intelligent, one large and…well…(is calling one of them fatally stupid going to come off sounding mean?) let’s just say that Lennie’s box of crayons is missing a few colours...
The two immediately get work on a California farm. This is the Depression era, so they’re lucky to have jobs—and this section of the book is full of hope and promise. Lennie and George are saving to buy a farm so George won’t have to work so hard anymore and Lennie can finally realize his dream of owning his very own bury of rabbits. (Yes, apparently for rabbits the word is bury—personally my favourite is a murder of crows).
The book makes a point of demonstrating George’s tolerance of Lennie, who
would be hopeless without his friend and almost certainly would have met his
fate years earlier had he not met up with George—who’s generally painted as
a big softie, even when he has to be rough on Lennie (for the latter’s own
Eventually, things go bad on the farm (the reader gets the impression this
isn’t the first time they’ve had trouble due to Lennie’s condition), and this souring sets up what has got to be the biggest tragedy in all of literature. Seriously, it’s a tear-jerker, and anyone who doesn’t shed a few drops is heartless—laughing-at-the-end-of-Old-Yeller heartless, and that’s a serious charge.
The only trouble with reading this book comes from an old Loonie Toons cartoon. You know, the one when the abominable snow monster gets hold of
Daffy and begins to spank the infamous duck on his tail feathers, saying
things like, “I like to pet the bunny,” and “...and I will love him and pet him and name him George” and other such things in that impossibly moronic voice. You can’t get the vocal out of your head, and thus Lennie’s voice becomes that of the abominable snow monster instead of whatever Steinbeck intended it to sound like way back in 1937 when he wrote it.
If you skimmed through this one in high school, I’d recommend giving it another chance. It really is a fantastic introduction to the man who brought us The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden.
Now, sit up straight in that chair and start reading. And I seriously hope, for your sake, that you brought enough gum for the rest of us!