I finished reading Of Mice and Men late the other night. It was by far one of the best books I read all summer. The intensity of Steinbeck’s writing and his ability to make you sympathize with a whole host of characters emotionally draws the reader in his perfectly woven story.
The morning after finishing the book, still reeling in amazement, my husband and I discussed the book’s themes over breakfast. It is story of two men traveling together, working together and dreaming of a life, a home, and security together with deep friendship. George, the smaller but more able minded companion watches after his strong but somewhat confused pal Lennie. Although compassionate at heart, Lennie doesn’t realize his own strength, killing innocent beings and ruining the working reputation of him and his friend George. Although never successful at building a small savings for their dream home with rabbits and a nice stove, George continually soothes his friend with whimsical narrations about their future life of hope. It is in the moments of forecasting dreams, Steinbeck tells of the power of friendship and the dignity of hope.
Other characters like Candy the aging ranch hand and Crooks the African American servant, listen to the men’s tale of a future home and ask to join in their pursuit. The images of freedom and companionship entice all to enter into the collective vision. All, the aging, the mentally disabled and the abused are looking for a place to call home, to feel welcomed. Candy demonstrates his anticipation through devastation once he realizes George must kill Lennie and their home will never be a reality.
Lennie, soft spoke with brutal strength, kills an innocent puppy and then a wild-eyed young girl. All of his killings are done in a panic to protect the other; however, without the knowledge of his own power, Lennie eventually ends life for all those around him. As the other ranch hands sniff out for revenge on the oversized, mentally disabled man, George steals another man’s gun in order to “defend his friend.”
In the end, George kills Lennie out of honor. The ranch hands, angered by the death of a young woman, will kill Lennie, possibly torture him. Under their jurisdiction, Lennie would die in fear. Instead, George attempts to give his friend a sense of peace, a vision of utopia at the moment of his death. Sitting by his side along the banks of a lake, George tells the story of bunnies, horses, food to eat and a warm stove for the winter which neither man will see to actualization. But with that image of beauty, Lennie dies without fear from his best friend’s bullet. In a strange way, George provides Lennie with an honorable death.
In my recent endeavors as a minister, I experienced the importance of honor and dignity in death. Oftentimes death is sudden and frightening. The pain is jarring and causes all-consuming grief. Even in these frightful moments the dignity of death should be honored. For others death lingers in the shadows, ever looming but seemingly out of reach. The fear of the unknown or the inevitable drives people mad. Even in those straining moments of life the peace of death should be honored. Those on whom others pass judgment, the poor, the homeless or the addicted, still deserve dignity and honor in death. Those whom others dislike or those who cause harm (the murders, the felons, the mean, the coldhearted) deserve the honor of peace in death. Therefore, as people of God, we represent the peace of God in the hope of life and the fear of death. Just as Steinbeck eloquently and horrifically narrates, we usher others into the sacred moment of death with peace.