John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men made its appearance on Lost in “Every Man for Himself,” the episode in which Sawyer gets conned and the Others demonstrate the truth of Jack’s season one admonition to “live together or die alone.”
Considering I’ve read it many times, taught it, and the fact that there really isn’t any mystery as to why it was included, it seems to be relatively low hanging fruit for a blog post, and yet, I’m only now getting around to it several months after its appearance. So here it is, the latest addition to my Lost book club.
Of Mice and Men is about two Depression era migrant farmhands. George is small and smart; Lennie is huge, strong, and intellectually a child. They exist in an every-man-for-himself world where no one watches out for anyone and everyone is lonely. George and Lennie are different, though, because “they got each other” and they have a dream to earn enough to buy a small place and live “offa the fat of the land.” This is something that neither can do alone, but Lennie’s strength earns them money, and George’s concern for Lennie protects him. Things go bad when Lennie accidentally kills the boss’s daughter-in-law, leaving George to shoot Lennie, at that point the only merciful option left to him.
It’s a quick and grim read, a meditation on loneliness and the practical impossibility of achieving the American dream in a society that refuses to protect the weak. It’s also one of those books that kids will read willingly since it’s short, the writing is easy, and there’s lots of profanity. Good stuff.
On to Lost. We first see Of Mice and Men in Sawyer’s flashback. He’s shown reading it in prison, a lonely every-man-for-himself kind of place if ever there was one. The prison story plays out in such a way that Sawyer gets an early release and a bunch of money, which he asks to have put in an account for his daughter whom he’s never met and may not even exist. In a way Sawyer is setting her up so that she can find her dream unlike George and Lennie.
It’s referenced on the island as well. Sawyer refers to Ben’s bunny killing and says that he might like Of Mice and Men since a puppy gets killed. Ben feigns ignorance of the novel until they reach the summit of the island where Ben shows Sawyer that he is being held on a different island, that there’s nowhere to go, and that he does need Kate. Ben then throws Of Mice and Men back in Sawyer’s face with this quote:
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.
Sawyer doesn’t recognize the quote and Ben explains it to him, thus revealing that he has a better understanding of both literature and human nature than Sawyer, which is of course how he is able to so effectively con Sawyer throughout the episode.
Of Mice and Men doesn’t provide any clues to the great mysteries of Lost, but it serves as a nice literary allusion in an episode that revisits one of Lost’s central issues, namely the live together or die alone calculation.