Of Mice and Men Play

Instructor: Sharon Powell
This lesson is a compare and contrast of the novel and theater versions of John Steinbeck's 'Of Mice and Men'. In this lesson, the various differences between the Broadway play and Steinbeck's novel will be explored.

Of Mice and Men: Play and Novel

Of Mice and Men, written by American author John Steinbeck, follows two unlikely friends, George and Lennie. While numerous stage productions were developed based upon Steinbeck's novel, in this lesson we'll compare and contrast Steinbeck's novel to the recent Broadway adaptation, starring James Franco as George Milton and Chris O'Dowd as Lennie Small. There are similarities and differences in the two versions of Of Mice and Men, including theme and character portrayal. This lesson addresses these topics as well as how the tone of the text has been altered for different audiences.

Themes

In the novel, Steinbeck explores various themes, including loneliness and friendship. Let's look at how these themes are reflected in the novel and play.

Friendship

We meet George and Lennie as they are fleeing from a town by the name of Weed, in southern California, to the town of Soledad. The two are migrant workers, who --by definition --do not stay in one place for an extended period.

George and Lennie share a dream; they dream of buying their own piece of land, growing their own food, and raising rabbits. This dream steers the two men to a ranch because they are in need of steady work in order to save money to buy their land. The theme of friendship is solidified through this shared dream of a home, which is a common goal for the men to work toward. The friendship between the two men is the main focus in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, and this theme of friendship is recurrent in the stage version too.

As if to solidify the idea of Lennie and George's bond in the imagination of the audience, both the novel and the stage production feature the repeated utterance of how unusual it is for two men to travel together. This repeated declaration conveys a strong sense of the brotherly bond that Lennie and George share; this adds an additional layer of angst for the audience to experience at Lennie's tragic end, both in the novel and the Broadway adaptation.

Loneliness

In Steinbeck's novel, the theme of loneliness holds a prominent position in the story. Lennie and George are isolated from the outside world as a result of Lennie's behavior and mental disability. They only have one another.

This theme recurs with other characters, as well. On the ranch, Candy's dog has been his only true companion for a long time. After the other ranchers shoot the dog, Candy is alone. He then expresses the desire to share in George and Lennie's dream of purchasing a parcel of land and becoming self-sufficient. Curley's wife--who is never given a name--also suffers loneliness. She is unaccustomed to life as a rancher's wife and has been forbidden by her husband to speak with any of the workers on the ranch.

Thus, the theme of loneliness in Steinbeck's novel is all encompassing: from the ranch setting, where everyone is essentially isolated from the outside world, to the characters themselves. This theme also leads to tragedy, as Curley's wife is killed as a result of her attempts to connect with the ranchers, Lennie in particular.

In the stage production, the set-up of the stage itself conveys to the audience the feeling of loneliness and isolation. This is accomplished by allowing the audience to experience what is going on in the background, beyond the audience's line of vision. For instance, in the play the audience hears the sound of Candy's dog howling as it is about to be shot, while the ranch hands sit around and play cards at center stage. This theme is approached similarly in both the novel and the stage production and sets the tone for the tragic ending of the story.

Character Portrayal

Another aspect we'll explore is how characters are portrayed in the novel versus how they come across on the stage.

Lennie

In the novel, the character of Lennie is misunderstood; he is a giant of a man with an intellectual disability. He is distracted by soft things, including small mice, women with soft dresses, and rabbits. His hulking size and mental disability are enough to invoke fear and mistrust in people; his affinity for childlike curiosities causes anger and violence in those who are unaccustomed to Lennie's nature.

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