Of Mice and Men is a classic novella by John Steinbeck, published in 1937. It’s set during the Great Depression and follows migrant farm workers George Milton and Lennie Small as they work to save enough money to own a farm someday. The book shows what life was like for ordinary Americans during the 1930s, and it also teaches many lessons. It’s about dreams — specifically the American Dream — and the dangers of following dreams, human fear, human nature, and more. There’s so much to learn from this book, and from other classic novels that share similar themes. The books I recommend are similar to Of Mice and Men, whether through plot, setting, or themes.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
This epic is set during the Great Depression, specifically the Dust Bowl migration. It centers around the Joads, an Oklahoma farm family forced out of their home and to California. Through their struggles, readers see the harsh realities of the U.S. at the time, such as those who have money, land, power, etc., and those who don’t. We see injustice, strength, and what life, equality, and justice were like during this horrific time.
This book shares more than just an author with Of Mice and Men. The books take place during the same time, and the main characters are farmers who are driven to California. The American Dream is featured in both, though it’s seen more negatively in Of Mice and Men. The Grapes of Wrath is a much longer, more in-depth novel, and it’s a great novel to read after reading Of Mice and Men.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
During a world war, a plane carrying schoolboys is shot down over a deserted island. There is no civilization, so the boys celebrate their unsupervised freedom. Two boys with opposite views are appointed leaders to guide them and help them get rescued. But, as the days go on, they hear strange howls at night and grow afraid. Their fear overtakes them, and these young boys discover the darkness that lurks inside every person.
The plot and characters are wildly different, but they have similar themes. Both explore the darkness of humanity and how easily we can commit evil acts. There is a lot of fear present as well, from the schoolboys fearing an unknown beast in the jungle to everyone in Of Mice and Men having their fears exposed, from fear of losing control to fear of death.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Mistreated and overworked farm animals take over their farm. Their idealism leads them to try and create an ideal society where there is equality and justice. But as their leaders argue, as the animals turn against each other, their idealistic utopia turns into an oppressive regime just as terrible as the one before it.
Both novels are about oppression. In Animal Farm, the animals were oppressed by the former farm owner, then later by the pigs who took over the farm and turned it into a totalitarian state. Of Mice and Men had various forms of oppression, including racism against Crooks, such as isolation from other workers, sexism against Curley’s wife, such as being seen as property, and intense control over the workers.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Holden Caulfield has been expelled from Pencey Prep around Christmas, and he can’t go home because he doesn’t want his parents to know. Instead, he wanders around New York City and has brief encounters with others, such as talking with strangers in dive hotels and wandering around Central Park alone. NYC is full of opposites: beauty and horror, loneliness and glamour, possibility and emptiness. As Holden explores, he is determined to find a life of meaning.
Holden experiences loneliness and isolation, as he feels that the only person who understands him is his younger sister, Phoebe. Despite being surrounded by people, he doesn’t feel any sense of connection to anyone. Most of the characters in Of Mice and Men, including Crooks and Curley’s wife, admit to feeling lonely and wanting to connect with others.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This is set during the Great Depression and follows Scout Finch, her brother Jem, and their father, Atticus Finch. Atticus is a prominent lawyer, and he teaches his children empathy, as seen when he tells them that killing a mockingbird is a sin because birds are innocent and defenseless. When Tom Robinson, a Black man, is accused of raping a white woman named Mayella Ewell, Atticus becomes his lawyer and faces threats from the community.
Both books are set during the same time, and they discuss similar themes, such as courage. Atticus takes on Tom’s case even though he knows he will lose, and he remains strong when facing threats from mobs. Several acts of courage are also shown in Of Mice and Men, such as Crooks standing up to Curley’s wife when she repeatedly violated his personal space, despite being a Black man and a white woman in a segregated society.
Classics have important lessons, so it’s imperative that we read them. We can learn so much, whether the books are about human nature, the time the book was set in, a life lesson, or something else.
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