Justify your choice of major theme(s) in the novel “Of Mice and Men”, and trace its/their development
Within the novel “Of Mice and Men”, numerous different themes are evident. These range from death (the killing of Curley’s wife and of Lennie) to nature (the descriptions of the scenery at the beginning and towards the end of the story). However, the themes that I will consider are that of friendship and of the ‘American Dream’.
Friendship, in my opinion, is one of the most regularly occurring themes in the story because of all the struggles George and Lennie have to overcome in their friendship, for example, keeping Lennie out of trouble so as to avoid any further predicaments.
Also, it is considered slightly strange that these two men (Lennie and George) have travelled together for so long given the trend at the time of itinerant workers who were almost constantly changing their workplace. This shows how strong their bond is and how they would never leave each other.
To further enhance this point of the constant occurrence of friendship, we see all the other friendships present on the ranch like Candy’s friendship with his loyal dog and the general friendship between all the ranch ‘guys’.
Candy particularly has a strong friendship between himself and his dog. His feelings are clearly evident in the scene in which Carlson volunteers to shoot his dog. Candy is extremely reluctant but allows it anyway. However, he soon realises his mistake after he has decided to become a part of George and Lennie’s dream and we can see he regrets it when he tells George “I shouldn’t ought to of let no stranger shoot my dog.”
Another friendship that is present and the most integral to the story is the friendship between George and Lennie. This friendship has many different sides to it like anger and happiness and even George being protective of Lennie. George sometimes can’t stand the sight of Lennie and constantly breaks into sudden outbursts about how “life would be easy” without Lennie. Yet deep down George realises that he took up the responsibility for looking after Lennie after his Aunt Clara died and knows he could never desert Lennie because they need each other equally.
Their friendship also links into the other theme I have chosen, the ‘American Dream’. This theme is what bonds Lennie and George together because they know that they have a purpose and will eventually get somewhere, which is another reason why George doesn’t leave Lennie. Moreover, this theme is also one of the main sources of conversation between George and Lennie. For example, the way Lennie constantly tells George to “tell how it’s gonna be.”
Again, like friendship, the theme of the ‘American Dream’ is also a regularly occurring theme that is never far from the action. For example, in the fight scene with Curley and Lennie, it was because Lennie was grinning at the idea of the dream materialising that Curley, upset about his wife, decided to pick a fight with him thinking Lennie was laughing at him. Additionally, to emphasise this point further, there is a final recitation of it just before George shoots Lennie. George shoots Lennie because he feels that it is his responsibility and he didn’t want to see Lennie get shot “in the guts” at the hands of Curley.
The dream also has an aura of infectiousness to it and the reader can see this when George and Lennie are going over it again to each other and Candy overhears them and wants to become a part of it. Furthermore, in the scene with the four ‘rejects’ (Lennie, Crooks, Candy and Curley’s wife), we see that Crooks also wants to facilitate the dream becoming a reality when Lennie inadvertently lets the idea slip out, but by the time the scene has ended, Crooks withdraws because of the verbal attack by Curley’s wife on him. “Keep your place then, Nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny.”
A further example of friendship is how nobody tries to befriend Crooks because he is black with the exception of Lennie because he doesn’t know the difference. Back then, in society, racism was openly accepted and it wasn’t thought unusual for blacks and whites to be separate. It was regarded as the way it was meant to be. In the case of Crooks, his circumstances also link into the themes of Racism as well as Loneliness, other themes within the novel.
The two themes I have chosen both have twists in their paths. With friendship, it is introduced almost straight away when we read the descriptions of the two men although at first we don’t know the connection between them. However, as the story unfolds, their relationship becomes more apparent and we begin to see the depth of it.
To begin with, we have the basic emotions and things that can happen within a simple friendship. For example, when Lennie has a dead mouse and is stroking it, George takes it away but Lennie is hesitant. The emotions range from anger, “give me that mouse or do I have to sock you?”, to a caring side when George consoles Lennie after he has confiscated it, “I ain’t taking’ it away jus’ for meanness.”
On the other hand, as we go deeper into the friendship, we learn that despite the incident in Weed, George is still taking care of Lennie thus concluding that his feelings for Lennie are stronger than those in an ordinary friendship and we can also see that their relationship resembles that of one between brothers. As we move onto the ranch, we see that there is a general sense of friendship between all the ranch ‘guys’ and also see that racial discrimination is evident in the form of Crook’s loneliness.
Returning to Lennie and George, when they’re introduced to Curley, the defensive element of their friendship comes back into play when Curley gets annoyed that Lennie isn’t talking, George becomes protective of Lennie and defends him. Again, the friendship has drastic contrasts, for example, one minute George is almost going to hit Lennie and the next, he’s preventing him from getting hit by Curley.
A new character comes into the fold in the form of Slim who is more appreciated by George than Lennie although he gives Lennie one of his pups. George becomes friendly with Slim by confiding in him about Lennie. For example, he tells him about Weed and how when earlier, he used to beat Lennie up but Lennie would never retaliate and the time when he told Lennie to jump in the river and Lennie did. This builds up an element of trust within their newly formed friendship. “An’ he jumps. Couldn’t swim a stroke. He damn near drowned before we could get him.”
Finally, we come to the final scene and this is when George and Lennie’s friendship really hits a downfall. After Lennie has killed Curley’s wife and has run off, Candy finds the body and informs George. Judging from George’s reaction, (“I should of knew. I guess way back in my head I did.”), it can be interpreted that he realises what the circumstances will be resulting from Lennie’s actions. Nonetheless, he joins the ensuing manhunt, knowing where to find Lennie, and meets up with him “in the brush”. At this period in the novel, we can sense the apprehension within George simply from his actions and responses to Lennie. For example, when Lennie says “I done another bad thing.”
“It don’t make no difference,” George said, and he fell silent again.” Even so, George realises that Lennie can prove to be a menace to society and is unsafe because everyone is looking for him. George manages to be mentally strong and shoots Lennie because he doesn’t want his long time cherished friend suffering an agonising death at the hands of someone else. Ironically, we see that as one friendship ends, another one blossoms as George walks off with Slim. The theme of Friendship runs through the entire novel and even beyond with the new friendship formed between George and Slim – although it can’t possibly replace his friendship with Lennie.
For the ‘American dream’, it also follows a path, which changes as it unfolds. We first learn of it during the first scene where we are introduced to George and Lennie when, after George has just shouted at Lennie, Lennie tries to win him back over by telling George to tell “how it’s gonna be”. We are surprised that what could be labelled as two ‘oddballs’ (one is like a giant, the other like a mouse) are unified by something so simple.
From then on, the dream takes a backseat until it reappears when Lennie and George are telling it again and Candy overhears them. As mentioned earlier, the dream has an infectiousness aura about it and this is what has drawn Candy to it, the fact that you can have your own independence and avoid taking orders from a boss. It is at this point in the novel that Lennie and George (with Candy’s input) are the closest they’ll ever be to actually seeing this ‘dream’ of theirs become a reality. Later, Crooks also falls victim to this idea of independence and freedom such is its ability to attract people towards it. Unfortunately though, at the end of the scene, he withdraws because of the verbal attack on him by Curly’s wife. Curley’s wife reminds Crooks that he is black and black people in those days were oppressed, resulting in even the simplest aspirations of a person not being realistic.
Another point about the dream is how it’s earned Lennie the tag of being stupid. For example, in conversations with Crooks and Curley’s wife, he says things about the rabbits he will soon be able to tend and how he shouldn’t do wrong or he won’t be able to tend them. He is so obsessed with this idea that its all he talks about to others and this has lead both Crooks and Curley’s wife to calling him crazy because they don’t know what he’s talking about and this is a factor as to why he is considered slow, not just because of his intellectual inability but also because of the things he says not following the thread of conversation.
Lastly, in the final scene, Candy asks George if the dream is off after they find Curley’s wife’s body but he doesn’t respond. In any case, when he meets up with Lennie, Lennie requests that George tell the dream again one last time. George obliges and then shoots Lennie during it, signalling the end of the dream they once shared. The theme of the ‘American Dream’, like that of Friendship, is introduced almost from the beginning and runs right through till the end but doesn’t extend beyond however as it’s been given a conclusion.
The two themes chosen are interconnected very closely: The complications of George and Lennie’s friendship got in the way of them realising their “dream”. The friendship and dream got in the way of each other spelling disaster for both. For example, Lennie being killed (friendship) and the dream not seeing the light of day (‘American Dream’). This point also links with the meaning of the title of the novel.
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