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11. Extra Credit!

Of Mice and Men

John Steinbeck, 1937
Famous for: Bunnies, an “interesting” perspective on women, a horrible, tragic ending.

To Kill a Mockingbird tells its story with its title, like Of Mice and MenJohn Steinbeck clipped the title, Of Mice and Men, from a passage in the 18th-century poem, “To A Mouse. On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough” by Scottish poet Robert Burns.

Burns, a farmer, wrote “To A Mouse” after he’d disturbed a mouse’s hideaway while plowing his field in November of 1785.

Here’s the passage, from the poem’s seventh stanza, in the standard English version:

Robert Burns, Scottish poet who gave Steinbeck the title to "Of Mice and Men."

He was nice to mice: Robert Burns (1759 – 1796), the Scottish poet who gave John Steinbeck a title.

 

But Mouse, you are not alone, /
In proving foresight may be vain: /
The best laid schemes of mice and men /
Go often askew, /
And leaves us nothing but grief and pain, /
For promised joy!

If you’re a purist, here’s the same poem’s seventh stanza, from Robert Burns’ 1785 original:

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane, /
In proving foresight may be vain; /
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men /
Gang aft agley, /
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, /
For promis’d joy!

If you’re really a purist, you can read all eight stanzas here.


 

The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner is a perfect follow-up to Steinbeck.

Check out our 60second Book Review of
The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner

In Recap 3 (Plot: A Chapter Tells the Tale) I told you that if you want to know what happens in Of Mice and Men all you had to do is read the first chapter.

I lied.

If you want to know what happens in Of Mice and Men, all you have to do is read … the title.

I’m not kidding.

Well, you have to read the title and you have to know a tiny little bit about poetry. See, Steinbeck took the title of his book from a famous poem by Robert Burns, a Scottish poet.

It’s Burns’s poem, “To a Mouse,” and I bet you know at least one line from it. Here it is: “The best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry.” (Burns wrote “gang aft agley,” but it’s translated “go oft awry.”)

In other words, dreams are dashed, things don’t pan out the way we want them to, life isn’t predictable or safe or certain.

That’s exactly what the characters in Steinbeck’s story discover. George has to give up his dream. Lennie is killed. And there’s no golden future at the end of this story. But, as I said, you knew that already. Because you went to ALL the work of reading the title.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck | 60second Recap study guide resources

 

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