Of Mice and Men

“A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. It don’t make any difference who the guy is, so long as he’s with you. I tell ya…I tell ya, a guy gets too lonely, and he gets sick.” – Ben Linus to Sawyer in Every Man for Himself, quoting Of Mice and Men.

John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men appears in the season three episode Every Man for Himself. Sawyer is reading the book in prison while incarcerated for conning Cassidy out of $600,000. He befriends an inmate named Monson, who is in prison for stealing $10 million from the government. Eventually, he gains Monson’s trust, and he tells Sawyer where the money is hidden so Sawyer can help him move it. Sawyer promptly turns the information over to the warden in return for $1 million and a commutation of his remaining sentence. He leaves the money in a safe deposit box under the name of his and Cassidy’s daughter, Clementine Phillips.

Sawyer also references the book on the Island in the same episode. Ben Linus conned Sawyer into thinking that he installed a pacemaker in Sawyer’s heart that will explode if his pulse reaches 140. Ben takes Sawyer on a hike up a mountain and Sawyer comments that Ben would like Of Mice and Men because of the book has an infamous puppy-killing scene. Ben says that he has is not familiar with the book. However, when they reach the top of the mountain and Ben reveals to Sawyer that they are actually on Hydra Island, he quotes the above passage to Sawyer, showing that he has not only read the book, but knows it well enough to quote lines from it.

Sawyer again brings up the book in the season six episode The Substitute. Sawyer is following the Man in Black in the guise of John Locke. Sawyer doesn’t know who is controlling Locke, but is becoming aware that whatever is in Locke’s body is not actually Locke. As the two journey through the Island, Sawyer tells the Man in Black that Steinbeck is his favorite author. After the Man in Black says that Steinbeck was “a little after my time,” Sawyer describes the climatic scene of Of Mice and Men. In the scene, one of the main characters shoots the other in the head. Sawyer threatens to do the same, but can’t bring himself to pull the trigger when the Man in Black promises him answers to the Island’s mysteries.

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Of Mice and Men tells the story of George and Lennie, two farmhands in the Great Depression. They dream of eventually saving up enough money to own a farm of their own. Lennie does most of the work; he is incredibly strong but is also mentally challenged. George is smaller and spends much of his time taking care of Lennie. The two travel from place to place, usually leaving when they are run off after Lennie does something inappropriate. When we meet the two, they are on the run from their last farm after Lennie’s love of soft fabric caused him to touch a young girls’ dress and be accused of attempted rape.

George and Lennie wind up working at a farm where they keep saving their money. In the workers’ living quarters, they meet an old farmhand named Candy. Candy expects to be fired soon because of his age and reveals that he has a good chunk of money saved up. George gets Candy on board with his plan and they realize that they will only have to work for a couple more months before they have enough in savings to purchase land.

Trouble strikes when the boss’s son Curley picks a fight with Lennie. Curley has an inferiority complex and fights Lennie only because he knows that Lennie won’t fight back. Yet eventually Lennie grabs Curley’s hand to make him stop. Without realizing his own strength, Lennie breaks Curley’s hand in multiple places.

Curley tells his wife that he broke his hand in a machine, but she seems to sense that he broke it in a fight. A few days later, his wife goes to the farm and begins to flirt with Lennie to annoy Curley. Knowing that Lennie likes to touch soft things, she offers her hair for him to touch. Again, Lennie does not know his own strength and she begins to scream when he pulls her hair too hard. Lennie panics and accidentally strangles her to death. After killing her, he finally seems to know what he has done and runs away.

George is the first person back to the barn and immediately realizes that their dream has come to a crashing end. Curley rallies the workers into a lynch mob and George is forced to join or risk being killed himself. George is the first to find Lennie but the lynch mob is quickly approaching. Lennie asks George to again tell the story of their farm ownership plans. George does so one last time and the two walk away as the mob closes in. Lennie gets a few steps ahead and George shoots him in the back of the head, killing him but sparing him the torture that the mob would have inflicted upon him.

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Like Heart of Darkness, this was one of those books that everyone reads in high school except me. I was in Honors English, so we were assigned to read Grapes of Wrath as our one Steinbeck work. That whole longer means harder thing. I enjoyed this one quite a bit more than Heart of Darkness – the language and narrative were both more accessible, although it painted just as bleak of a picture of human nature.

On to Lost, this book is symbolic of Sawyer’s transition from his pre-Island life to his new life on the Island. Of Mice and Men portrays humans as heartless individuals only concerned for their own well-being. Because of this, people are lonely by nature. George only puts up with Lennie’s constant disruptions because Lennie is his only true companion. And a man needs one true friend in this dog-eat-dog world.

When Sawyer reads the book in prison, this message is lost on him. He will gladly lie and cheat his way out of prison and it doesn’t matter who he screws over. In the outside world, his acquaintances are a dime a dozen. Like everyone else in Of Mice and Men, he will use people indiscriminately. After all, there is plenty of other people out there to screw over.

On the Island, Sawyer cannot afford this same luxury. Ben quotes him the line about being lonely because he knows the effect that the Island is having on him – Ben speaks from his own experience, we later find out. Ben shows Sawyer that he’s stuck on Hydra Island. No longer can he use people and move on. Kate is the only person he has on Hydra Island and he needs her. If he were to lose her, there is no one left for him to move on to. Essentially, Ben forced Sawyer to confront the “live together, die alone” problem that Jack eloquently laid out two seasons previously.

In season six, Sawyer again quotes the book and we see just how much his personality has changed. He cannot bring himself to pull the trigger against the Man in Black (of course, we know that would have been a terrible idea). It’s hard to imagine that the guy who sold out a fellow inmate without thinking twice couldn’t pull the trigger on the Man in Black. Ironic that it took Sawyer a solid three years and a crash landing on a mysterious Island to finally learn the lessons of his own favorite book.

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