My wife and I just returned this evening from a Utah Opera performance of Carlisle Floyd’s 1970 opera Of Mice and Men, which is, obviously, based on John Steinbeck’s famous novel of the same name.
It’s a powerful piece, and we both liked it better than we had expected.
Every character in the story is stunted by ignorance, blighted by poverty, frustrated by lack of opportunity, and/or blocked by natural incapacity.
Which seems a pretty good description of a large segment of humanity, if not of the vast majority, both today and (even more certainly) historically. (In fact, Steinbeck’s/Floyd’s ranch hands have it pretty easy, compared to most people in Darfur, Bangladesh, and other such places.)
No wonder, then, that most yearn for a more fulfilling life beyond the grave, unshackled from the constraints of this too-often disappointing world.
But is this just wishful fantasy?
In the final scene, George exhorts Lennie to look across the river, and eventually persuades him that he can actually see their dream farm, with its lawns and ducks and lily pond and rabbits.
The audience knows, though, that the wonderful farm is pure imagination. They’ll never have such a place. It’s a dream, but nothing more. George knows this, of course. Poor dumb, gullible Lennie, however, doesn’t know it, and believes in the dream of their farm to the very end.
But Christianity says that Lennie is right. He is, astoundingly, actually more in touch with reality than George is. There is a wonderful “farm” beyond the river.