I finished reading Of Mice and Men last night, and I have to say, the ending was not what I expected. The only other Steinbeck book I’ve read is Grapes of Wrath, and I was anticipating a similar ending. I won’t go into too many details on that front, for the sake of avoiding spoilers, but I will say that Grapes of Wrath ends in a much more… ecclesiastical way, so to speak, while Of Mice and Men is somewhat more definitive.
In general, I think I’ve come to the opinion that Steinbeck writes pretty much the best endings of any author I’ve read. Both of the books I’ve mentioned end with an incredible mix of emotion and contemplation: I was led to feel many different things, and I had to sit and think about what I had read so that I could assimilate the whole scenario and really come to grips with it.
This is, to me, the definition of meaningful fiction. The role of art is not to send a message to the reader or the viewer. The point is not to make a thematic statement. Rather, the point is to ask a thematic question, and lead the reader or viewer to answer the question for themselves. In a sense, good art says more about the viewer than it does about the artist.
The central question in Of Mice and Men, the way I read it, has to do with the role of intent in moral actions. Essentially, Steinbeck seems to be asking, What is wrong? Why is it wrong? Steinbeck had his own opinions, I’m sure, and you may have your own answers to those questions. You should. It doesn’t ultimately matter what Steinbeck thought: the point is to think about the question.
But an even more beautiful thing about this piece of art is that when you read it (and you absolutely should), you may very well ask yourself different questions, questions about delayed gratification, simple pleasures, the purpose of life, the meaning of friendship… And just as no answer to any one of these questions is a “wrong” interpretation of the book, neither is the asking of any of these questions a wrong interpretation of the author’s intent.
The last work of art to lead me to this line of thinking was Pan’s Labyrinth, which is possibly my favorite movie of all time. Where Of Mice and Men is largely related to criminality and morality, Pan’s Labyrinth deals with religion and spirituality. I highly recommend that you read/watch both. I’d love to talk about them with you!
What do you consider to be some notable works of art? What questions do they lead you to ponder?