“A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green. The water is warm too, for it has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight before reaching the narrow pool.”1
Published in 1937, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men takes place in Depression era California as two migrant workers find jobs on a ranch. George, a small but witty man, cares for his companion Lennie, a physically large but mentally slow man, as the pair travels the states looking for work. Through its seemingly simple plot the novella examines themes of loneliness and the pursuit of the American Dream. The story is bookended by scenes on the banks of the Salinas River.
Of Mice and Men has become a staple of American Literature but has also been banned in many educational settings. John Steinbeck (1902-68) is widely considered to be one of the great American authors. He was born in Salinas, California, and set many of his books in the Salinas Valley and Monterey region. Steinbeck pursued myriad jobs, including tour guide and mannequin maker, before focusing full time on writing in the late 1920s. His novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939), also about Depression era California farm workers, won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Other notable works include East of Eden, The Red Pony, and Cannery Row. In 1962 Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The 175 mile long Salinas River is one of the longest rivers in California and the largest in the Central Coast region of California. The river flows from San Luis Obispo County north toward Salinas Valley eventually emptying into Monterey Bay. A source of water to the farms and vineyards along its route, the Salinas River is also home to many animal and plant species. In 1973 the Salinas River Wildlife Refuge was established as a haven for migratory birds.
Soledad, California is located near the end of the Salinas River. It was founded in 1791 as a community for the nearby Spanish Franciscan mission. The area is rich in agricultural farmland. Soledad is Spanish for solitude (a major theme of Steinbeck’s story).
1 Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. 1937. Steinbeck Centennial Edition. New York, NY: Penguin, 2002. Print.
Ryan McKinley is from Honolulu, Hawai`i. He is currently a Master of Fine Arts Candidate in Fiction Writing at Saint Mary’s College of California. Ryan loves a good mystery, listening to the world around him, and writing detective fiction.
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