Thursday, April 3, 2014

Steinbeck Memorialized

            Among American writers, there is an exclusive clique that has managed, like water, to shape the rocky terrain of our culture through the timelessness of their work. This is an exclusive club. It's hard to get into. And you will never know, once you're in it, exactly how you got there.

            But we all know those authors who have made it beyond the velvet rope, because we are informed by the ripple effects of their words each and every day. The agoraphobia of mental illness will always rekindle the memory of The Glass Menagerie.

            John Steinbeck is a card carrying member of this clique, thanks to the creation of his dynamic duo. (Yet another cultural set of icons!) In George and Lenny, Steinbeck unwittingly facilitated the creation of the archetypal odd couple. It is from the seed Of Mice and Men that the world is served up the likes of Walter Mathau and Jack Lemmon, the two vultures of Merry Melodies fame and who could forget the father and son relationship in Bugs Bunny and the three bears, and the gangsters and their boss in Tortoise wins by a hare. In these Looney Tunes classics, we see the characterizations so deftly drawn by John Steinbeck, personified in another medium. George and Lenny no longer live solely on the novel's pages. Like Willie Loman and Stella, George and Lenny are now specters gracing the American artistic landscape, identifiable in art, cartoons, plays, sculpture and graphic novels.

            In the opening scene of Bugs Bunny and the Three Bears, Junior is noticeably larger than Papa Bear. When Junior states that he is hungry, Papa Bear loses his temper and wallops his mammoth child, screaming, “Shut up! Can't you see I'm thinking?” This scene is very reminiscent of George's constant speculation on what is best for him and Lenny.
            Likewise, in Tortoise wins by a Hare, gangsters take bets on the race on the rabbit to win. It is the smallest man who acts as the capo and to whom all the large dunces take their orders. Perhaps more poignant however is the character dynamic between Bugs Bunny and Cecil Turtle. Like George, Bugs Bunny is hot tempered and smart alecky. He thinks he knows all there is to know about racing. However it is the slower, more soft spoken turtle that really seems to understand what's actually going on. He wins through cunning. He gets what he wants despite the best efforts of Mr. Rabbit. Lenny too gets what he wants in the end. He dies seeing his dream before him, a dream none of the other characters would ever see.

            And so thanks are in order to Mr. Steinbeck for the creation of George and Lenny, without whom, there would be no Abbot and Costello, no Laurel and Hardy, no cartoon buzzards, and no enormous dopey bears. The archetypes of the small wiry smart guy and the big dumb idiot are etched in American art for all of time.


  1. I am a Steinbeck fan also. His writing is quick and to the point. George and Lenny are the focus of the story and you have captured the essence of the story. Of Mice and Men is just as good as his other works by which he has written. I like the comparison of the big guy to the little guy thing and the smart guy vs. dumb guy. You have summed it up very well.

  2. I agree with kswindles comment on this blog. The comparrisons are great and we get the idea she is trying to express.

  3. I don't know why, but reading the many examples of the big guy little guy companionship you've listed, got me thinking of another adaptation. The cartoon Two Stupid Dogs comes to mind, you have a little wiry dog paired with a big lumbering, slow talking dog. Although both stupid, the name explains that, Steinbeck's archetype is still followed and I though it was cool that some show I watched as a kid took references from actual literature.