The writer more often than not goes off on a tangent to make his novel a commentary on the modern Hamlets who feel overwhelmed in a time that is out of joint in deciding to be or not to be. The degradation of human beings to the stature of rats recalls Kafka’s Metamorphosis where a man all of a sudden found in his sleep gets transformed into a huge crab. There is no sense of hugeness or titanic figuration rather in its place men are shown assuming the shape of Lilliput and becoming insignificant like the mice.
When discussing the thematics of Hossain’s novel, we would do well to first examine the title which is an allusion to a line of Robert Burns, a Scottish poet: “The best laid schemes o’mice an’men gang aft aglay”. Translated into modern English, the verse reads, “ The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry”. This cynical statement is at the heart of the novel’s action and serves as a foreshadowing prophecy of all that is to come. For, indeed the novel’s main characters do have a scheme, a specific dream of changing their current way of life in order to have their own place and work only for themselves. The tragedy of course lies in the fact that no matter how elaborately our heroes plan, regardless of how intensely they hope and dream, their plan does not find fulfulment .
The Mice and Men is a novel of defeated hope and harsh reality of the Bangladesh life. The only voice of protest, feeble but very determined, comes from the senile Maulvi Abdul Hakim and Mofazul who organized the village people against the exploiters including the Chairman Bajle Rahman and Rabbel who in league with the dishonest police officer harassed the poor Noimun Bibi and the farmers of the village doomed to a life of wandering and toil. They are not allowed to reap the fruit of their own labour. We remember the two characters of Steinbeck’s novel, George and Lennie who too are poor homeless migrant workers, becoming victims of endless suffering. Lennie in that novel desperately clings to the notion that they are different from other workers who drift from ranch to ranch because unlike others they have a future.
All the characters in Hossain’s novel wish to change their lives in some fashion. But no one is capable of doing so, they all have dreams and it is only the dream that varies from person to person. Their situation however hints at a much deeper oppression than that of the exploited ones. Through Abdul Hakim, Hossain exposes the bitterness, anger and the helplessness of the people who struggle to be recognized as human beings, let alone have a place of their own. Their helplessness is caused by the despair of wanting to change the way they live and attain something better in capitalistic society. Another great quality in Hakim is that he does not seem to want something outside of what he has, he is not beaten by a dream, he has not laid any scheme. The petty men in this novel are the multitude who seem to have somehow reached the sad conclusion indicated by the novel’s title that to dream leads to despair.
But the message of the novel is not one of despair. The key element is the companionship of Abdul Hakim the old man and Mofazul the young man. The two men are not unique for wanting a place and life of their own. Like George and Lennie of Steinbeck’s novel, they are unique in that they have each other. This companionship and sharing in time of crisis which was a cry in Albert Camus’ The Plague contrasts the lonliness that surrounds them. They are no longer insignificant like the mice when they are united. There is another mice symbolism - all people in the society of post –war Bangladesh suffer intensely from the loss of values and principles. They are like mice and making sounds like a mice like Cliff in John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger’ ‘eek…eek eek’.
Because of the dramatic vividness, the novel may be called ‘a play-novellete’. Based on the writer’s personal experiences of the post- war Bangladesh , the novel attempts to explain not only the socio-political aspects of life but also the human struggle in general to identify a place in the universe. In doing so the novelist as in his earlier novel The Flood touches again on his favourite themes: dreams, loneliness , how man’s prosperity achieves cruelty, powerlessness and uncertainty of the future and above all his degradation and diminution.
Quite interestingly, Hossain emphasizes dreams throughout the book. The poor and the oppressed aspire for independence and identity. They wanted to be their own boss and to prosper in the world in spite of their pettiness and loneliness. Hossain’s characters are often powerless, due to intellectual, economic, and social circumstances. Abdul Hakim and Mofazul possess the greatest physical strength of any character, which should therefore establish a sense of respect as they are protesting throughout the novel. However their intellectual handicap undercuts this and results in their powerlessness. Economic powerlessness is established as many of the poor are victims of society during the period of Economic depression and political turmoil of post war Bangladesh.
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