The Negative Impacts that Of Mice and Men Has on Students
Furious parents and students challenged Of Mice and Men a total of thirty two times across schools in the United States, and at one point Of Mice and Men was the “second most frequently banned book in the public school curriculum” (Sova). Of Mice and Men goes through the life of George Milton and Lennie Small, who are migrant workers, on a ranch during the Great Depression. Throughout the book Steinbeck flooded Of Mice and Men with profanity and racial slurs.
In spite of the banning of the book, Of Mice and Men is still being read in the high school curriculum because the book has “merit”. Specifically, Steinbeck’s novella earns “merit” because it is historically correct, but just because a book has historical meaning alone does not justify it being taught. Despite the historical accuracy in Of Mice and Men, this book should stay out of classrooms and high school curriculums because of how specific content on euthanasia, sexism, and racism affects students.
The extent of explicit content in Of Mice and Men caused controversy from the very beginning of its publication in 1937. The Vice President of the Parents’ Coalition in Hamilton, Ohio proclaimed that the novel contained 108 profanities and 12 racial slurs” (Sova). This vulgar language was the reason Ireland banned Steinbeck’s novella in 1953. Similarly, twenty years later in 1974, the United States also banned the novella for having vulgar language (Sova).
The banning of the book in Syracuse, Indiana started a chain reaction that spread across the United States, excluding the book from high school curriculums to this day (Sova). Most notably in 1991, parents complained to the school board that the novella had subjected their daughter to “psychological and emotional abuse" in the seventh grade (Sova). Later in 2008, a student from Kansas City, Missouri complained about the excessive use of the n-word in the book when asked to read aloud (Sova).
The first reason schools should not teach Of Mice and Men is because the book encourages euthanasia. One article written in 2010 by Emily Dings informs the reader that, “some critics attacked the novella . . . stat[ing] that it endorsed euthanasia” (1). In the book, two examples of encouraging death as an escape are when Candy’s old dog gets put down, and when George kills Lennie so Curley and the other rancher won’t torture him. The readers of this novella are typically around fifteen to nineteen years old and in high school. This brings up an area of concern with the Center For Disease Control because, “ Researchers looked at trends during the 15-year period by gender, age group and suicide method . . . The rates rose for 10- to 14-year-old females, 15- to 19-year-old females and 15- to 19-year-old males” (“Increase in Adolescence Suicide Rates” 1). These examples in the book encouraging euthanasia coupled with the increase of suicide rates could spell disaster. Some teenagers might be going through a tough time, and teenagers might think the only solution as seen many times in the book is to take the easy way out. High schools should forbid any book that talks about death in such a light manner.
Additionally, the book’s sexist nature against women is another reason why schools should not continue teaching Of Mice and Men. Throughout the book Curley’s wife just stays at home and waits for Curley to come back, and all the other ranchers refer to her as a “tart” (Steinbeck 38). This is just one example of how demeaning the ranchers are towards Curley’s wife. Later in the book the reader learns that Curley’s wife aspired to become an actress, but since she was a woman she was unable to. New research reveals how these types of stereotyped women in the media such as books and movies affect young women.
Christina Brown from the University of Kentucky along with Campbell Leaper from the University of California, Santa Cruz established that, “ reviewed the sexualized depictions of girls in media . . . by extension, accepting these stereotyped beliefs may undermine some girls’ own academic confidence and performance” (3). Of Mice and Men depicts women as only being good housewives and nothing more, which discourages school girls to achieve their personal academic goals. Surely, with the presence of technology and the internet, there is no doubt that a school girl has seen this depiction of women. Schools should ban Of Mice and Men because of its sexist nature which, consequently negativity affects female students. A lack of self worth that students might feel after reading Of Mice and Men might lead them to radical decisions.
The most prominent reason schools should remove Of Mice and Men from their curriculum is because of how the derogatory language in the novella affects African Americans. The first example of this happened when Curley’s wife gets mad at Crooks, a black man, and threatened him “‘Listen, N****r,’ she said, ‘You know what I can do to you if you open your trap’” (Steinbeck 78). Imagine a student having to read that section of the book aloud.
Not only will it cause the student to feel uncomfortable, but also cause uneasiness for their peers as well. Furthermore, it could create an environment where students think saying derogatory comments is acceptable, which will create a negative stereotype. Martin J. Wasserberg from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington researched on the topic and uncovered that, “high school and college students, some studies suggest that when African Americans experience stereotype threat, they experience increased anxiety . . . signifying that this may be the mechanism that leads to decreased performance” (1). A classroom space should be a safe haven where students are equal to their peers. It is absolutely arbitrary for black students to encounter a stereotype threat which is an obstruction to their learning. This is simply unacceptable, as every student has the right to learn without anyone or thing hindering them. For this purpose, schools should remove Steinbeck’s novella from their curriculums completely.
On the other hand, some say that the book should stay in schools because it accurately depicts the life of a migrant worker. Dings defends the book by highlighting that, “The book shocked audiences with its bleak portrayal of migrant life . . . It was called an accurate depiction of conditions by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt” (5). While the book does give readers an insight of the terrible life of a migrant worker, it overlooks a a great deal of negative reasons not to have the book.
In addition, There are other books that are equally historically accurate and do not offend people. For example books like The Circuit, Esperanza Rising, and First Day In Grapes are just a few of the books about the life of a migrant worker, while leaving out all the explicit content. Therefore, the claim that schools should keep Of Mice and Men because it has “merit” is an ineffective reason.
In the end, critics believe that Of Mice and Men should stay away from schools and classrooms. Keeping this book in schools and overlooking the negative impacts is unjust towards students. Retaining the novella in school subjects the upper level students to lower academic performance in the African American population, discourages women to achieve their academic goals, and possibly tempts students to take their own life. Although Of Mice and Men is historically accurate, the negative aspects outweigh any reason for the book to retain in public schools.