For Banned Books Week, we’ve asked our writers to pick a frequently challenged book and tell us how that book has affected them. Today, Edna Truong writes about John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
On reflection, I think I was most actively reading when I was in high school. I guess I was no stranger to controversial topics by that stage. I was an avid reader. Well, an avid fantasy reader, to be exact. I didn’t read much else back in those days, or even now, to my shame. The only exposure I had to other genres and writing formats was through the school curriculum. Though I never really showed much interest in the ones they chose for us. Not intentionally, anyway.
I had read Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck during the later years of high school. Analysed it to death and wrote essays on it. Everyone around me was quite worked up about the themes, particularly the darker ones, and they hated on the novella. Just mentioning the book title would bring upturned smiles and ugly grimaces with a sporadic twitching of the eye. Having low self-esteem and easily influenced by my peers, I outwardly agreed.
However, I was secretly in awe of the book. The characters, their interactions and personalities were so very vivid, it was like I was watching a movie play out in front of my eyes. Did I ever say I had a wild imagination? The characters came alive as I read, and they were quite remarkable and unforgettable despite their flaws. Perhaps they were more memorable because of their flaws. That too became an essay topic.
The themes, ultimately, were used to incite debate in the classroom. This ranged from euthanasia to capital punishment, racism, superiority, inferiority, murder versus mercy, law and justice–you name it, we touched it. I still remember the smiling teachers almost clapping their hands with glee as we discussed and debated, especially as our arguments got more and more heated. Fun times.
The book made us think. Made us criticise and question. Made us speak about the elephant in the room. Reading the book uncovered what may have been my own morals and values. When people are able to discover these things for themselves it builds the foundation of who they are and will be.
Still, should these adverse books and topics be introduced to the mind early in life or later? Because, let’s face it, they will eventually come around one day. Should we be exposed to them at all? Well, it’s just that the characters seem so believable that it feels like it could be a reflection of society in some way. Besides, isn’t it human nature to first frown when they don’t like what they see in the mirror? I think what makes people shy away from books like this is that the characters in them may be too good of a representation. Or perhaps it could it be that the books speak too much truth for us to accept?
All in all, people should decide whether or not they want to challenge their own values. As readers, most will know where they will draw the line and if they want to cross it. Sometimes they chance upon a gem under the dirt and are the richer for it.