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Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, November 18, 1999

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Jill Rolston,who plays Curley's wife, braces for a slap
from Alani Apio (who plays George). Mal Gillin, as
The Boss, stands in the doorway while Gemini
Burke, as Crooks, sits in back.

‘Mice’ themes of
hope, despair
span decades

By Tim Ryan


THE fantasy of owning some land, a home, living in peace and tranquility is universal, not confined to some "American Dream."

And perhaps nowhere in American literature is that dream more clearly played out than in John Steinbeck's classic "Of Mice and Men," the 62-year-old short novel that's been translated to television, stage, even opera.

Though "Of Mice and Men" has been called Steinbeck's "tableau of the oppressed in post-Depression American society," it might also be applied to contemporary Hawaii or any place where the economy is sour.

The tale of two itinerant farm workers in their struggle -- and ultimate failure -- to achieve their dreams is a portrait of outsiders struggling to understand their place in the world, said Robert Hughes, American literature professor at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa.

"The idea that we all have these great plans of a golden future of home and family and freedom is a universal theme still and certainly not gender specific, though the two main characters here are men," Hughes said. "Steinbeck tapped into the idea that all people now and forever want to better themselves.

" 'Of Mice and Men' portrays the tragedies and hopes of real (people) in real situations."

The pathetic figure of Lennie "seems to represent" all mankind in its search for love and happiness, and "a place to call their own," Hughes said. The two men, like any couple, cling to each other in their loneliness and alienation.

When George says, "We have a dream. Someday, we'll have a little house and a couple of acres. A place to call home," all people relate to that, Hughes said.

George utters another line symbolizing the alienation and disenfranchisement many people feel: "Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world ... They don't belong to no place."

While earlier eras' classic literature celebrated heroes and legends, and last century novels mirrored the educated middle classes who read them, Steinbeck's story celebrates the honesty, courage and dreams of ordinary people, Hughes said.

After George and Lennie come to work on a ranch in California's Salinas Valley their hopes, like "the best laid schemes o' mice an' men," -- from the Robert Burnes poem -- begin to go awry.

Men and women respond equally to the story, Hughes said.

"Maybe because George and Lennie are a kind of a couple and so domestic in their dreams," he said. "Each character has discernible male and female characteristics and readers respond to that coupling and the goals.

"We all have yearnings of career and family and home," Hughes said. "Lennie in his child-likeness seems to represent all human yearning not knowing what he really wants but knows something is out there for him somewhere."

On stage

Bullet What: "Of Mice and Men"
Bullet Where: Manoa Valley Theatre, 2833 East Manoa Road
Bullet When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 4 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 5 (no performance Thanksgiving Day)
Bullet Cost: $20; $10 for those under 25
Bullet Call: 988-6131

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