News & Articles
2008-2009, Volume 4
Letter from the Of Mice and Men Director
by Michael Patrick Thornton
“THE BEST LAID SCHEMES OF MICE AND MEN GO OFTEN ASKEW / AND LEAVES US NOTHING BUT GRIEF & PAIN”
--Robert Burns, “To A Mouse” (1785)
It’s a uniquely unfortunate, wonderful and scary privilege we have on our hands, presenting Steinbeck’s Depression-era Of Mice and Men as America trepidatiously peers over the edge of a recession into what could be a Second Great Depression. Americans have accomplished quite a bit since 1936; a handful of wars with increasingly impersonal accuracy, a man on the moon, the first African-American president and time-collapsing communication whereby friends are now made by adding them with a click of the mouse. We add and add in the hopes of reaching a certain number, a Destination that will finally let us be Who We Are.
We’ve accomplished much since 1936, but accomplishments and Identity are two different things.
In this Great Recession of 2009, life savings (futures) are decimated daily (present), and, stripped of property and status, people are facing a fundamental question: Who Am I? For some, this question has become too daunting and we read online that they’ve ended their lives and the lives of their families. For others, the question has become an invitation to self-discovery.
In Mice and Men, we encounter a nameless ranch starved of identity and function: the boss’ name is Boss, the men are mostly defined through nickname (Candy, Slim, Curley, Crooks), the woman is defined by her husband (Curley’s Wife), the swamper has one arm, the stable buck’s disabled and the erstwhile sheepherding mutt can no longer hunt. Enter George and Lennie, enduring hard times with a dream of their own ranch someday where they will be happy, themselves and free. For George and Lennie, it’s unclear how much their dream is actually something they’re pursuing or simply a comforting bedtime story of a better future that eases the pain of the present; we’ll see today it’s crucial to know the difference.
Steinbeck’s broken individuals often seesaw between the pain of the past and the imagined glory of the future. In the final act, future collapses into present and Lennie sees the dream in reality: “I can see it, George. I can see it!” He surely does, it having always been there: “The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you” (NIV, Luke 17. 20-22).
2009. In this Steppenwolf season dedicated to Imagination, I invite you to dream big. I was once a student sitting in these seats dreaming of working here; I assure you your dreams can come true. But allow me to caution you against basing your Identity on their fulfillment. Pursue them with all your heart and mind, believe in yourself when others won’t, but be okay when some don’t come true; Who You Are is more than what you want, have or lost.
So hold on tightly and lightly. Take it easy. We’ll get through this together. Make your plans but be ready to hit the curve.
We must not, in our acts of dreaming, forget to live.