Crucify him! Crucify him! The mob chanted, only one week after hailing Jesus of Nazareth as their King. Crack! The shot interrupts lonely silence in John Steinbeck’s classic, Of Mice and Men, as George shoots his only friend, Lennie. The novel, written in 1937, during the Great Depression, forces the reader to decide whether the decision George made was right or wrong. In both situations the Jewish Mob and George were only doing what they felt was right. Are the morals and values used in making these decisions that black and white? Steinbeck effectively employs elements of Christianity in his novel.
The manner in which Lennie dies is similar to the manner of Christ’s death; by crucifixion. Jesus is crucified although never having committed a sin. He is killed simply because of who he is. In Of Mice and Men, Lennie is killed, although he has never committed an intentional wrong. He is killed simply because of his mental disorder. The allusion portrayed shows Lennie and Christ are both spiritually innocent but are being punished for questionable reasons. The scene portraying Lennie’s death is prayer-like. “The deep green pool of the Salinas River was still late in the afternoon. Already the sun had left the valley to go climbing up the slopes of the Gabilan Mountains, and the hilltops were rosy in the sun. A far rush of wind sounded and a gust drove through the tops of the trees like a wave. As quickly as it had come, the wind died, and the clearing was quiet again. Suddenly Lennie appeared out of the brush, and came quickly to the pool’s edge. He knelt down and drank, barely touching his lips to the water (100).” Lennie’s attitude of penitence, confessions, deep faith, and the expectation of just punishment is exhibited. He confesses to George that he had killed Curley’s wife and felt penitent and sorrow for what he had done. Just punishment means fair or equitable punishment, and even though Lennie knew what he deserved, both his and Jesus’ were unjust punishments. Lennie kneeled as did Christ at the garden before his death; Lennie looks into the darkness of death across a river that seems ominous, just like the scene when Jesus died. The dark skies and storm that blew in just as Jesus took his last breath upon the cross. Lennie is suffering because he realized he did wrong, just as Christ suffered as he took on the sins of man. Lennie offers to leave his friend, George, if that is his will, just like Christ offers to do his Father’s will even though the outcome is repugnant to his human nature. George replies, “Where the hell would you go?” Lee Dacus suggests that anywhere Lennie goes without George would be hell (Dacus 82). Separated from his friends, mentor, and protector would be like hell, which by definition is permanent separation from God. Lennie’s perilous journey ends in the merciful hands of his guide and protector, just like Jesus’ journey with his passion, death and resurrection ending with him seated at the right hand of God the Father.
Catholics value life from conception until natural death. The essence of Christ’s teaching on morality is to love your neighbor as yourself. Whether intentional or not, John Steinbeck paints a knotted scenario that forces the reader to ponder if George’s actions are right or wrong, or how they might react in a similar situation. It shows that often the lines between right and wrong are blurry and more complicated than we would like. To Christians, Christ offers answers to all these matters. In the words of Professor Dr. Dennis Keenan:
George loved Lennie so much that he wanted to spare him a horrible death at the hands of Curley’s lynch mob. Was it right? Like most things in life, it’s complicated. The Catholic Church (and society at large) would condemn this act as murder and frown upon it. They would say, and I agree, that it’s wrong. But his murder is a sacrifice because at the moment he kills Lennie, he loves Lennie just like those who killed…