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STEINBECK, John

Of Mice And Men
Death of Lenny

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The little evening breeze blew over the clearing and the leaves rustled and the wind waves flowed up the green pool. And the shouts of men sounded again, this time much closer than before.

George took off his hat. He said shakily, "Take off your hat, Lenny. The air feels fine."

Lennie removed his hat dutifully and laid it on the ground in front of him. The shadow in the valley was bluer, and the evening came fast. On the wind the sound of crashing in the brush came to them.

Lennie said, "Tell how it’s gonna be."

George had been listening to the distant sounds. For a moment he was business-like. "Look acrost the river, Lennie an’ I’ll tell you so you can almost see it."

Lennie turned his head and looked off across the pool and up the darkening slopes of the Gabilans. "We gonna het a little place," George began. He reached in his side pocket and brought out Carlson’s Luger; he snapped off the safety, and the hand and gun lay on the ground behind Lennie’s back. He looked at the back of Lennie’s head, at the place where the spine and skull were joined.

A man’s voice called from up the river, and another man answered.

"Go on," said Lennie.

George raised the gun and his hand shook, and he dropped his hand to the ground again.

"Go on," said Lennie. "How’s it gonna be. We gonna get a little place."

"We’ll have a cow," said George. "An’ we’ll have maybe a pig an’ chickens…an’ down the flat we’ll have a …little piece alfalfa—"

"For the rabbits," Lennie shouted.

"For the rabbits," George repeated.

"And I get to tend the rabbits."

"An’ you get to tend the rabbits"

Lennie giggled with happiness. "An’ live on the fatta the lan’."

"Yes."

Lennie turned his head.

"No, Lennie. Look down there acrost the river, like you can almost see the place."

Lennie obeyed him. George looked down at the gun.

There were crashing footsteps in the brush now. George turned and looked toward them.

"Go on, George. When we gonna do it?"

"Gonna fo it soon."

"Me an’ you."

"You…and me." Ever’body gonna be nice to you. Ain’t gonna be no more trouble. Nobody gonna hurt nobody nor steal from ‘em."

Lennie said, "I thought you was mad at me, George."

"No," said George. "No, Lennie. I ain’t mad. I never been mad, an’ I ain’t now. That’s a thing I want ya to know."

The voices came closer now. George raised the gun and listened to the voices.

Lennie begged, "Le’s do it now. Le’s get that place now."

"Sure, right now. I gotta. We gotta."

And George raised the gun and steadied it, and he brought the mussel of it close to the back of Lennie’s head. The hand shook violently, but his face set and his hand steadied. He pulled the trigger. The crash of the shot rolled up the hills and rolled down again. Lennie jarred, and then settled slowly forward to the sand, and he lay without quivering.

George shivered and looked at the gun, and then he threw it from him, back up the bank, near the pile of old ashes.

The brush seemed filled with cries and with the sound of running feet. Slim’s voice shouted, "George. Where you at, George?"

But George sat stiffly on the bank and looked at his right hand that had thrown the gun away. The group burst into the clearing, and Curley was ahead. He saw Lennie lying on the sand. "Got him, by God." He went over and looked down at Lennie, and then he looked back at George. "Right in the back of the head," He said softly.

Slim came directly to George and sat down beside him, sat very close to him. "Never you mind," said Slim. "A guy got to sometimes."

 But Carlson was standing over George. "How’d you do it?" he asked.

"I just done it," George said tiredly.

"Did he have my gun?"

"Yeah. Tha’s how." George’s voice was almost a whisper. He looked steadily at his right hand that had held the gun.

Slim twitched George’s elbow. "Come on, George. Me an’ you’ll go in an’ get a drink."

George let himself be helped to his feet. "Yeah, a drink."

Slim said, "You hadda, George. I swear you hadda. Come on with me." He led George into the entrance of the trail and up toward the highway.

Curley and Carlson looked after them. And Carlson said, "Now what the hell ya suppose is eatin’ them two guys?"


East of Eden


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And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about.

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I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?

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When a child first catches adults out -- when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not always have divine intelligence, that their judgments are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just -- his world falls into panic desolation. The gods are fallen and all safety gone. And there is one sure thing about the fall of gods: they do not fall a little; they crash and shatter or sink deeply into green muck. It is a tedious job to build them up again; they never quite shine. And the child's world is never quite whole again. It is an aching kind of growing.

Grapes of Wrath

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And while the Californians wanted many things, accumulation, social success, amusement, luxury, and a curious banking security, the new barbarians wanted only two things--land and food; and to them the two were one. And whereas the wants of the Californians were nebulous and undefined, the wants of the Okies were beside the roads, lying there to be seen and coveted: the good fields with water to be dug for, the good green fields, earth to crumble experimentally in the hand, grass to smell, oaten stalks to chew until the sharp sweetness was in the throat. A man might look at a fallow field and know, and see in his mind that his own bending back and his own straining arms would bring the cabbages into the light, and the golden eating corn, the turnips and carrots.

And a homeless hungry man, driving the roads with his wife beside him and his thin children in the back seat, could look at the fallow fields which might produce food but not profit and that man could know how a fallow field is a sin and the unused land a crime against the thin children. An such a man drove along the roads and knew temptation at every filed, and knew the lust to take these fields and make them grow strength for his children and a little comfort for his wife. The temptation was before him always. The fields goaded him, and the company ditches with good water flowing were a goad to him.

And in the south he saw the golden oranges hanging on the trees, the little golden oranges on the dark green trees; and guards with shotguns patrolling the lines so a man might not pick an orange for a thin child, oranges to be dumped if the price was low.

He drove his old car into a town. He scoured the farms for work. Where can we sleep the night?

Well, there’s a Hooverville on the edge of the river. There’s a whole raft of Okies there.

He drove his old car to Hooverville. He never asked again, for there was a Hooverville on the edge of every town.

The rag town lay close to water; and the houses were tents, and weed-thatched enclosures, paper houses, a great junk pile. The man drove his family in and became a citizen of Hooverville--always they were called Hooverville. The man put up his own tent as near to water as he could get; or if he had no tent, he went to the city dump and brought back cartons and built a house of corrugated paper. And when the rains came the house melted and washed away. He settled in Hooverville and he scoured the countryside for work, and the little money he had went for gasoline to look for work. In the evening the men gathered and talked of the land they had seen.

There’s thirty thousan’ acres, out west of here. Layin’ there. Jesus, what I could do with that, with five acres of that! Why, hell, I’d have ever’thing to eat.

Notice one thing? They ain’t no vegetables not chickens not pigs at the farms. They raise one thing--cotton, say, or peaches, or lettuce. ‘Nother place’ll be all chickens. They buy the stuff they could raise in the dooryard.

Jesus, what I could do with a couple pigs!

Well, it ain’t yourn, an’ it ain’t gonna be yourn.

What we gonna do? The kids can’t grow up this way.

In the camps the word would come whispering, There’s work at Shafter. And the cars would be loaded in the night, the highways crowded -- a gold rush for work. At Shafter the people would pile up, five times too many to do the work. A gold rush for work. They stole away in the night, frantic for work. And along the roads lay the temptations, the fields that could bear food.

That’s owned. That ain’t our’n.

Well, maybe we could get a little piece of her. Maybe--a little piece. Right down there - a patch. Jimson weed now. Christ, I could git enough potatoes off’n that little patch to feed my whole family!

It ain’t our’n. It got to have Jimson weeds.

Now and then a man tried; crept on the land and cleared a piece, trying like a thief to steal a little richness from the earth. Secret gardens hidden in the weeds. A package of carrot seeds and a few turnips. Planted potato skins, crept out in the evening secretly to hoe in the stolen earth.

Leave the weeds around the edge--then nobody can see what we’re a-doin’. Leave some weeds, big tall ones, in the middle.

Secret gardening in the evenings, and water carried in a rusty can.

And then one day a deputy sheriff: Well, what you think you’re doin'?

I ain’t doin'’ no harm.

I had my eye on you. This ain’t your land. You’re trespassing.

The land ain’t plowed, an’ I ain’t hurtin’ it none.

You goddamned squatters. Pretty soon you’d think you owned it. You’d be sore as hell. Think you owned it. Get off now.

And the little green carrot tops were kicked off and the turnip greens trampled. And then the Jimson weed moved back in. But the cop was right. A crop raised--why, that makes ownership. Land hoed and the carrots eaten--a man might fight for land he’s taken food from. Get him off quick! He’ll think he owns it. He might even die fighting for the little plot among the Jimson weeds.

Did ya see his face when we kicked them turnips out? Why, he’d kill a fella soon’s he’d look at him. We got to keep these here people down or they’ll take the country. They’ll take the country.

Outlanders, foreigners.

Sure, they talk the same language, but they ain't’ the same. Look how they live. Think any of us folks’d live like that? Hell, no!

In the evenings, squatting and talking. And an excited man: Whyn’t twenty of us take a piece of lan’? We got guns. Take it an’ say, “Put us off if you can.” Whyn’t we do that?

They’d jus’ shoot us like rats.

Well, which’d you ruther be,m dead or here? Under groun’ or in a house all made of gunny sacks? Which’d you ruther for your kids, dead now or dead in two years with what they call malnutrition? Know what we et all week? Milled nettles an’ fried dough! Know where we got the flour for the dough? Swep’ the floor of a boxcar.

Talking in the camps, and the deputies, fat-assed men with guns slung on fat hips, swaggering through the camps: Give ‘em somepin to think about. Got to keep ‘em in line or Christ only knows what they’ll do! If they ever get together there ain’t nothin’ that’ll stop ‘em.

Quote: In Lawrenceville a deputy sheriff evicted a squatter, and the squatter resisted, making it necessary for the officer to use force, The eleven-year-old son of the squatter shot and killed the deputy with a .22 rifle.

Rattlesnakes! Don’t take chances with ’em, an’ if they argue, shoot first. If a kid’ll kill a cop, what’ll the men do? Thing is, get tougher’n they are. Treat ‘em rough. Scare ‘em.

What if they won’t scare? What if they stand up and take it and shoot back? These men were armed when they were children. A gun is an extension of themselves. What if they won’t scare? What if some time an army of them marches on the land as the Lombards did in Italy, as the Germans did on Gaul and Turks did on Byzantium? They were land-hungry, ill-armed hordes took and the legions could not stop them. Slaughter and terror did not stop them. How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can’t scare him--he has known a feat beyond every other.

In Hooverville the men talking: Grampa took his lan’ from the Injuns.

Now, this ain’t right. We’re a-talkin’ here. This here you’re talkin’ about is stealin’. I ain’t no thief.

No? You stole a bottle of milk from a porch night before last. An’ you stole some copper wire and sold it for a piece of meat.

Yeah, but the kids was hungry.

It’s stealin’, though.

Know how the Fairfiel’ ranch was got? I’ll tell ya. It was all gov’ment lan’, an’ could be took up. Ol’ Fairfil’ kep’ ‘em in food an’ whisky, an’ then when they’d proved the lan’, ol’ Fairfil’ took it from ‘em. He used to day the lan’ cost him a pint of rotgut an acre. Would you say that was stealin’?

Well, it wan’t right, but he never went to jail for it.

No, he never went to jail for it. An’ the fella that put a boat in a wagon an’ his report like it was all under water ‘cause he went in a boat--he never went to jail neither. An’ the fellas that bribed congressmen and the legislatures never went to jail neither.

All over the state, jabbering in the Hoovervilles.

And then the raids--the swoop of armed deputies on the squatters’ camps. Get out. Department of Health orders. This camp is a menace to health.

Where we gonna go?

That’s none of our business. We got orders to get you out of here. In half an hour we set fire to the camp.

They’s typhoid down the line. You want ta spread it all over?

We got orders to get you out of here. Now get! In half an hour we burn the camp.

In half an hour the smoke of paper houses, of weed-thatched huts, rising to the sky, and the people in their cars rolling over the highways, looking for another Hooverville.

And in Kansas and Arkansas, in Oklahoma and Texas and New Mexico, the tractors moved in and pushed the tenants out.

Three hundred thousand in California and more coming. And in California the roads full of frantic people running like ants to pull, to push, to lift, to work. For every manload to lift, five pairs of arms extended to lift it; for every stomachful of food available, five mouths open.

And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed. The great owners ignored the three cries of history. The land fell into fewer hands, the number of the dispossessed increased, and every effort of the great owners was directed at repression. The money was spent for arms, for gas to protect the great holdings, and spies were sent to catch the murmuring of revolt so that it might be stamped out. The changing economy was ignored; and only means to destroy revolt were considered, while the causes of revolt went on.

The tractors which throw men out of work, the belt lines which carry loads, the machines which produce, all were increased; and more and more families scampered on the highways, looking for crumbs from the great holdings, lusting after the land beside the roads. The great owners formed associations for protection and they met to discuss ways to intimidate, to kill, to gas. And always they were in fear of a principal--three hundred thousand--if they ever move under a leader--the end. Three hundred thousand, hungry and miserable; if they ever know themselves, the land will be theirs and all the gas, all the rifles in the world won’t stop them. And the great owners, who had become through their holdings both more and less than men, ran to their destruction, and used every means that in the long run would destroy them. Every little means, every violence, every raid on a Hooverville, every deputy swaggering through a ragged camp put off the day a little and cemented the inevitability of the day.

The men squatted on their hams, sharpfaced men, lean from hunger and hard from resisting it, sullen eyes and hard jaw. And the rich land was around them.

D’ja hear about the kid in that fourth tent down?

No, I jus’ come in.

Well, that kid’s been a-cryin’ in his sleep an’ a-rollin’ in his sleep. Them folks thought he got worms. So they give him a blaster, an’ he died. It was what they call black-tongue the kid had. Comes from not gettin’ good things to eat.

Poor little fella.

Yeah, but them folks can’t bury him. Got to go to the county stone orchard.

Well, hell.

And hands went into pockets and little coins came out. In front of the tent a little heap of silver grew. And the family found it there.

Our people are good people; our people are kind people. Pray God someday kind people won’t all be poor. Pray God someday a kid can eat.

And the associations of owners knew that someday the praying would stop.

And there’s the end.

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