Monday, June 25, 2007

Of Bunnies and Ben

When I first saw season 3's "Ever Man For Himself", which features Of Mice and Men very prominently, I was confused. EMFH is the Sawyer episode where he recalls his time in prison (reading our book); Ben fakes him out about the pacemaker, and generally breaks his spirit. Sawyer makes a casual reference to the book, and Ben quotes him a long passage. At first, I couldn't figure out why they picked this book, but now that I've reread it, it makes more sense to me. I think this book is meant to connect particularly with this episode, and less with the larger show.

OMaM is a simple story about two wandering farmhands in the depression. Tough George and sweet, slow Lennie have been together for a long time. Lennie is obsessed with touch and soft things, but he doesn't understand how to be gentle. George tells Lennie again and again that someday they'll have a farm all their own, with rabbits for Lennie. They work on a farm, get a little ahead, and for a moment it seems like that dream might actually become a reality. Then this terrible woman tries to seduce Lennie. He gets his hand caught in her hair, panics, and accidentally snaps her neck. He runs away, and when everyone else on the farm finds out they set out to try and kill him. George finds him first, and, calmly telling Lennie about the farm for the last time, shoots him in the back of the head.

It's pretty brutal. Now, there's a lot in the story that has straight up nothing to do with Lost: the importance of a man working his own land, how the bossman sucks, how hard it is for a man to get ahead on an honest wage. Whatever. But there's one theme that makes sense to the show, and I think especially to this episode: the importance of "having somebody" in a mean world. Other characters, and George himself, constantly raise the question of why George puts up with all the trouble and hassle of Lennie. The answer is that a person can't travel alone, it's just no good. Here's the passage Ben quotes: "A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody. It don't make no difference who the guy is, long as he's with you. I tell you, I tell you a guy gets too lonely and he gets sick."

Ben's making the point that no matter who Sawyer pretends to be, no matter how many times he tells Kate "It's every man for himself", it just isn't so. But, as OMaM shows, our inescapable bonds to other people come at a cost. Ultimately Ben doesn't break Sawyer with the pacemaker, or even the impossibility of escape. He, just like Kate and Jack, are held tight by bonds of love.

Okay, one more paragraph and I'll shut up. There's a great parallel between Ben and the character he quotes, 'Crooks'. Crooks "the Negro stable buck" is a bright but deeply lonely man, twisted literally and figuratively. A painful spinal problem twists his back to the left (which side was that tumor on?). Because he's black, he isn't allowed to bunk or assiociate with the other men, so he spends all his time in his room in the stable reading and thinking. In the scene the quote comes from, he toys with an unaware Lennie, taunting him with the idea that George will abandon him. When Lennie freaks out, Crooks apologizes, explaining his behavior with the quote. It continues "A guy sets alone out here at night, maybe readin' books or thinkin' or stuff like that. Sometimes he gets alone and he got nothing to tell him what's so and what ain't so....He got nothing to measure by. I seen things out here…" It's interesting to consider Ben as a man warped, maybe to the point of losing touch with reality, by isolation.

No comments: