Of mice and men – dreams and hope
Hopes and dreams help people survive even if they never become real. How true is this for the characters in ‘Of Mice and Men’? The novel ‘Of mice and Men’ was written by John Steinbeck and is set in Salinas and Soledad California in the 1930s when life was hard for so many people because of the great depression. A major theme of John Steinbeck’s novel ‘of mice and men’ is the American dream and the drive to attain it.
There are two major themes in ‘of mice and men’ novel that is foreshadowed by the reference to Robert Burns’ poem called “To a mouse” the word mouse within the title means loneliness and dreams. (BBC Bitesize, 2014:2) This poem contains the lines, “The best laid plans of mice and men/ often go awry” Most of the main characters in “Of Mice and Men” harbour dreams and have plans that never come true. George, Lennie, and Candy all share a doomed dream of buying their own farm and living off the land.
George often thinks about how his life he could have had as an unrestricted bachelor and free of the burden of caring for Lennie. “If I was alone I could live so easy,” he says. (Steinbeck, 1965:12)
However, Lennie has his own private dream of living in a cave with his own rabbits but Curley’s wife regrets the missed chance to become a movie star. The main theme throughout this novel is that people must learn to reconcile their dreams with the reality to accept that everyone’s best laid plans often die. Each of the characters plans go askew not because they give up on them but because the forces beyond their control destroyed each one of them. Due to the bleak economic outlook of the Great Depression coming to terms with your broken dreams was the reality nearly everyone in America faced. The American Dream is written into the Declaration of Independence: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
With these protections, any American, regardless of class, religion, gender, and eventually race, could always strive—and even sometimes succeed—at improving himself via wealth, education, or labour. (SparkNotes, 2014). George and Lennie’s dream about owning a farm and living off the “fatta the lan” (Steinbeck, 1965:16) symbolises this dream. In the novel “Of Mice and Men” shows that the American Dream became an illusion and a trap for the poor migrant workers during the Great Depression. Every single one of the ranch workers in the novel dream of life, liberty and happiness but not one of them ever gets is. When Crooks hears of George and Lennie’s dream of owning their farm he says “Nobody ever gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land.” (Steinbeck, 1965:84). Although the ranch workers dreams may not be realised, the novel suggest that in order for a person’s life to be full and meaningful it has to contain some sort of dream.
At the end of the novel George and Lennie never achieved their dream but it did hold their remarkable friendship together throughout the story, for them this dream was real even if it was just there imagination because kept Lennie happy and it stopped George from becoming a mean and lonely guy like the other ranch workers. The dream gives them life, even if life never allows them to achieve their dreams. This novel explores the changing aspects of male friendship during this period this is shown when Lennie asks George to tell him why they are not like the other ranchers; George tells him “we got a future Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place….With us it ain’t like that. We got a future…. An’ why? Because…because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why.” (Steinbeck, 1965:15) this is George’s way of saying he and Lennie are different to the other workers.
It could also be suggested that the word ‘future’ could be a metaphor for something bright and so much greater then what they have got now, which could be linked to their version of the American Dream and to ‘live off the fatta the lan’. (Steinbeck, 1965:16) this could almost suggest a biblical meaning like a promised land where all their dreams could come true. This dream helps George and Lennie to endure the hardship they face each day and to help them not to give in to despair. Usually the men who worked on these ranches would have no family, friends so therefore no future. Their friendship strikes the other ranch workers as odd due to their dependency on each other. This makes the boss and Curley suspicious and Slim observes that ranch workers rarely travel together because they’re scared of each other. Although most of the men in the novel are completely alone they still all crave true friendship.
As Crooks, perhaps the novel’s most solitary character because of his black skin puts it, “A guy needs somebody—to be near him.” (Steinbeck, 1965:82) All the characters in the novel long for friendship and kindness but yet they all live in fear of one another. This is shown with the tough shooting of Candy’s dog which makes it clear that during the Great Depression if you are useless, old or weak you will certainly be destroyed because the strong and the useful will fight for survival. All the workers on the ranch would constantly try to make themselves look strong especially if they feeling weak. The fear of the weak being overrun by the strong could explain why Curley likes to fight a larger men then he is “Curley’s pretty handy. He done quite a bit in the ring. He’s a light weight and he’s handy” (Steinbeck, 1965:29) and it could also be why Crooks tells Lennie that George is going to abandon him. Then Curley’s wife threatens to have Crooks lynched. Each of these characters tries to appear strong by asserting power over one another. This fear of being the strongest explains why the other characters in novel find it hard to understand George and Lennie’s friendship because they see being the strongest as a fight for survival.
In ‘Of Mice and Men’ it has two different visions of women in it the first is the male character view and the second is the novel’s view of women. The male characters view on women which is they tend to view the women with fear and negatively labelling them as dangerous sexual temptresses. The male workers often referred to Curley’s wife with insulting words like a “tart” (Steinbeck, 1965:31) and “jail bait” (Steinbeck, 1965:36). George and Lennie have a friend in prison “on account of a tart” (Steinbeck, 1965:63) plus they have had their own troubles twice as a result from a woman. The first the women from Weeds and the second is Curley’s wife. Although she plays into her role as sexy temptress throughout the novel until the last part of it where is a victim. Curley’s wife craves the attention of the men on the ranch because she’s desperately lonely so she flaunts her power over the men because she herself feels weak. There are a number of symbols within the novel that have different meanings these are George and Lennie’s farm, the rabbits that Lennie keeps talking about, Candy’s old dog and also Lennie’s puppy.
The dream of owning a farm for George and Lennie is a symbol of the American Dream. This fantasy of owning their own farm leads George, Lennie and the other ranch workers such as Candy and Crooks to indulge in the dream of living “off the fatta the lan” (Steinbeck, 1965:16). George’s rich description of the farm’s lavish plants and animals also makes it seem like a symbol of paradise. While Lennie dreams of tending to the rabbits on the farm that he and George hope to own one day. This dream forms Lennie’s complete innocence. Lennie enjoys touching anything that has a soft fur such as rabbits and mice due to this love of touching soft things leads to his fate.
This symbolise not just innocence but also Lennie’s downfall of innocence in the harsh world that he lives. The next symbol is Candy’s old but once powerful sheepdog. For Carlson killing Candy’s dog makes it clear that during the Great Depression those who was strong would only survive. The way that Carlson kills Candy’s dog in the back of the head with just a single gunshot is foreshadowing how George will kill Lennie in the end. The link between Lennie and Candy’s dog is that they are powerless, innocent and doomed from the start. The symbol of Lennie’s puppy shows how dependent Lennie is on George, just as the puppy is dependent on Lennie. The puppy symbolise the fate of the weak in the face of the strong.
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