Of Mice and Men & the Poem To a Mouse by Robert Burns

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  • 0:00 When The Best Plans…
  • 0:59 Burns' 'To A Mouse'
  • 1:35 Failed Plans And…
  • 4:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kayla Beggarly

Kayla has taught secondary English and has a bachelor's degree in English Education.

This lesson will discuss the relationship between Robert Burns' 1785 poem, 'To a Mouse (on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough)' and John Steinbeck's 1937 novella, 'Of Mice and Men'.

When the Best of Plans Don't Work Out

Your bags are packed and your itinerary is scheduled. You're clutching your plane tickets tightly in your hand. Today is the day you leave for your long-awaited tour of Europe! You arrive at the airport excitedly waiting to board your flight. You smile at the desk receptionist. She smiles back, looks at your ticket, and says, 'We're very sorry. This flight has been cancelled due to a mechanical malfunction on the plane.'

Despite all your planning, the vacation days you took off from work, and all the fun activities you signed up for, this trip isn't going to happen.

Robert Burns and John Steinbeck are two authors who brilliantly capture the disappointment that follows failed plans.

Robert Burns' poem, 'To a Mouse' was the inspiration for the title behind John Steinbeck's 1937 novella, Of Mice and Men. Set in the 1930s during the Great Depression, Steinbeck plays on Burns' idea of shattered dreams and failed plans through the characters of this classic work.

Burns' 'To a Mouse'

In Robert Burns' 1785 poem, the narrator, a farmer, discusses the guilt he feels for accidentally destroying the home of a small, unsuspecting mouse in the midst of ploughing his field. In this, the narrator realizes his inability to control his own fate despite how well he prepares himself and his farm.

The lines of specific interest to Steinbeck were the following:

'The best laid schemes of mice and men

Go often askew,

And leave us nothing but grief and pain,

For promised joy!'

These lines reveal that even the best, well thought-out plans can fail.

Failed Plans and Shattered Dreams

Set in California during the Great Depression, George Milton and Lennie Small are two ranch workers bouncing from job to job in hopes of saving up enough money to purchase their own land and farm. As events transpire in the novel, George, Lennie, and other secondary characters reveal how their own hopes and dreams 'go askew.' Many of the characters in Steinbeck's novel are the victims of unfortunate and untimely circumstances, similar to Burns' poem. Let's look at this in more detail.

George and Lennie

George has a dream to own his own farm and land. A place he can call his own where he does not have to answer to a boss. George has a desire for stability and permanence. He's tired of going from ranch to ranch and keeping Lennie out of trouble. As a result, George is saving his money to buy his own place away from town to look after Lennie and himself.

Lennie is a character who doesn't realize his own strength, and he often crushes the little mice he loves to pet so much. Like Burns' poem, the mouse turned out of her nest is just a victim of unfortunate circumstances, much like the mice are to Lennie.

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