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John Steinbeck, a Nobel laureate for literature, is widely considered as one of the most influential and important American writer of the 20th century. As a prolific writer, Steinbeck had written many works in his life. Of Mice and Men is one of these great masterpieces. It is regarded as a "novella-play". Steinbeck had won the 1937 New York Drama Critics Award for his play Of Mice and Men, which was honored for "handling a theme genuinely rooted in American life". Of Mice and Men is a represented Steinbeck-style masterpiece won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 for it "can be classified as social novels dealing with the economic problems of rural labor, but there is also a streak of worship of the soil in his books, which does not always agree with his matter-of-fact sociological approach" (Horst Frenz, 1969, p.1).This research is going to deeply analyze the racism in this play and probe into the truth behind racism. The body of literature review mainly includes three parts: the first part will be a general introduction of John Steinbeck; then there follows the interpretations of the play; the last part is an analyses of racism in the play and a review.
The general background of John Steinbeck
During the early life of Steinbeck, he had been a manual work in picking fruit and fishing. The early forty years of his life in the valley by the sea coast had greatly contributed to the creation of his works. The natural beauty, farms and pastures helped Steinbeck nurture a love for nature and became the wellspring of his creativity. Steinbeck was familiar with lives of laborers at the lowest level of the social ladders and wrote his novels based on the real life to animadvert the society. Tian Junwu evaluated that one of the typical features in Steinbeck's writing style is poetic prose (2004). Poetic prose is an effective way to heighten the realism of naturalistic writing, to relive and brighten the subjects, and to soften the miserable situations of the characters. Steinbeck also pursued structural innovation in his works. According to Guerin (2010), the use of interchapter and "loose" structure can be seen in the other works of Steinbeck. The most typical feature of Steinbeck's writing style is the use of symbolic themes based on the research of Liu Guozhi and Hu Xuefei (2004), which is widely applied in the play Of Mice and Men.
Interpretations of Of Mice and Men
The title of the play originated from a poem by Robert Burns named To a Mouse. It implies that human are as weak as a mouse by metaphor. People have no power to fight for their lives and cannot escape their destiny of loneliness and misery. According to Yangli (2011), Steinbeck's land complex made his characters in his novels tightly connected to the land. Owens (1985) agreed that this play described characters' strong desire for land to present their substance anxiety and the impossibility of realizing their dreams. The characters always pursue their dreams on the land, suffer difficulties during the process and finally reach for hopelessness. Steinbeck revealed that the source of the difficulties came from the land by describing the hardships of characters in their work and lives. Ultimately, Lennie, who was very firm and persistent for the longing for land, was killed by George and Goodman (1984) thought it implied the failure of their dreams and made them give up their efforts and preserve the horrible situation (p.1). In Wang Huiying's research (2006), the themes of the novel had a profound meaning by metaphor: human and mice share common experience and endings. First, human are too weak to confront the helpless destiny. Second, the constant loneliness and alienation of the human. Third, the disillusionment of dreams. The scene that mice and puppy were squeezed to death by Lennie's sinewy hand implies that the destiny of people at the bottom of society is just like mice in Lennie's hand: vulnerable, easy to be destroyed and disable to fight. Bloom (2008) presented that the characters in this play had distinctive characteristics and represented different destinies. Lennie was born with great physical power but low-grade intelligence. He had to live under George's care and protection. Lennie persisted in pursuing his dream of taking care of rabbits but he kept making troubles unconsciously because of his great power. Finally, Lennie crushed in a hopeless situation and became a mouse in destiny because he strangled the farmer's daughter-in-law. George was smart and protected Lennie from people's insults. George was regarded by Wyatt (2002) as a sign of redemption for the people in despair (p.400). However, he had to take Lennie's life by himself at last and broke his belief in dream.
An analysis of racism in Of Mice and Men
Wang Minling (2010) tried to explore the truth behind the racism in the play. Similarly with Morris's opinion (2004), the 1930s Depression caused a horrible situation in American society: conflicts all-widely broke out, thousands of workers lost jobs, people not only suffered physical poverty but also stomached the spiritual barrenness. Lawrence et al. (2003) deemed that the context of depression became the general background of the novel. Tian Zhiwen (2010) indicated that there were many marginalized characters in the play, such as Gander with a broken hand, black groom Crooks, the farmer's daughter-in-law. They were alienated because of physical disability, race and gender. Other people in the society of the farm considered them as "the other" and exploited their basic rights to talk and even to survive. The old handyman Gander broke his arm in a working time accident so that he became a useless man and the only companion was an old dog. His dog was too old and the farmhand shot it to death. Maurene (2008) pointed out the death of the dog implied the tragic fate of Gander: though his injury was work-related, he would be driven out like the dog.
The materials listed above provide author sufficient information to better understand the play Of Mice and Men By knowing the general background of John Steinbeck, the author can generally understand the context of the play. By understanding the characteristics of the characters, the structure of the play and the use of symbolic and metaphorical way, the author is able to make further discussion on the racism and the truth behind the racism in the play. All these above can support my study of racism in Of Mice and Men well.