The Concept of Friendship During the Great Depression in Of Mice and Men, a Novel by John Steinbeck
The ending of the novella is seen as a tragedy to the readers following the death of Lennie, nevertheless is holds the key ideas that Steinbeck wanted to present to the reader concerning society during the Great Depression such as how they were unable to understand the concept of friendship. It also shows to the reader the death or beginning of themes that ran throughout the novella.
The opening of Chapter Six is seen as a mirror to the beginning of the book and description of the setting in Chapter One. This cycle created by Steinbeck may be used to hint at the cyclical nature of the ranch workers and how they will keep moving onto new ranches and jobs. This cycle is shown by referencing the “pile of ashes” in Chapter One and then again in Chapter Six by saying “near the pile of old ashes”. This theme is further referenced in the description nature when it says “As quickly as it had come, the wind died” which can be seen as referencing the time spent on the ranch by George and Lennie, a fleeting moment in time. Nevertheless, an alternative interpretation for mirroring the two descriptions is in order to reference the idea of the Garden of Eden. In chapter one nature is described using adjectives which hold majestic and fairy-tale connotations and through this strong imagery a picture of the Garden of Eden is created in the reader’s mind where “two men” enter. In chapter six the imagery used is similar but nevertheless Lennie is killed in this setting so it may be him leaving the Garden of Eden. This would also suggest that Curley’s Wife was the temptations and symbolised the forbidden fruit to Lennie which ultimately would cause him to be forced to leave the ranch. Therefore, this mirroring of description could hint at the religious aspect in ‘Of Mice and Men’ created through the description or could hint at the monotone and cyclical life of a Ranch Worker during the Great Depression.
Additionally, Chapter Six has a semantic field of death infused within the description. The overall description used in this chapter and the actions of the heron described as ”swallowing the small snake” all hints at the theme of death which runs throughout the novella. Furthermore, the phrase “The mountains seemed to blaze with increasing brightness” could be seen as representing heaven and a spotlight over Lennie as he lives his final moments. A different way of interpreting this phrase is that there is hope for George because now he has a fresh start. Furthermore, it may be seen that for George the depression is over suggesting that Lennie was the one standing between him and the ‘American Dream’’. Nevertheless, it may also be suggested that when Lennie dies the dream dies with him shown through the phrase the “sun left the valley”. This loss of dreams is a consequence of the actions of humans. Therefore, Steinbeck may be attempting to show how the lack of hope that society held and the loss of dreams and ambitions were ultimately due to humans and that we are an obstacle to our own future. Thus, Chapter Six is used to reference the theme of death but then also show the death of one of the key themes – dreams.
Chapter Six also helps to reference the concept of friendship which is seen as strange and foreign to other ranch workers. When Lennie and George first arrive at the ranch the boss doesn’t understand the connection between them and thinks that George is trying to “pull one over” Lennie and take advantage of him. Furthermore the final sentence of the book is “Carlson said ‘Now what the hell ya’ suppose is eatin’ them two guys?’” when describing the pain that George felt after shooting Lennie. This shows that the rest of the ranch workers don’t understand the concept of friendship and couldn’t understand what George had been through losing someone close to him. The idea of friendship is also explored when Lennie is hallucinating and the rabbit says to him “He gonna leave you” but Lennie refusing to listen because he understands that him and George are friends and that they “travels together”. Furthermore, this shows that even Lennie, who is mentally challenged, has a grasp on the concept of caring for other people but its harder for the rest of the ranch workers because they are lonely and travel alone when changing jobs. Therefore Chapter six helps to present to the reader the isolation the ranch workers felt during the 1920’s.
Furthermore, the death of Lennie can be seen as significant because it shows how nothing innocent can survive on the ranch. Lennie, due to his mental disability, is seen as innocent and naïve to the horrors of the world. Nevertheless, the ranch results in Lennie killing puppy and Curley’s wife showing that how the ranch life can corrupt even the purest of minds. Furthermore, it is the ideas and actions of fellow ranch workers which lead to the hunt for Lennie and ultimately his death. This may show that they don’t understand him or his innocence but just label him as belonging in a hospital and “looked up”, as Crooks described. It also shows to the audience how due to humans nothing innocent can survive or that we are afraid of concepts we don’t understand like how the brain of Lennie worked.
The significance of Chapter Six is to show to the audience how humans are responsible for the death of dreams, being forced to abandon the Garden of Eden but it also shows the constant idea of humans destroying nature even though we are a part of it due to the disturbance in the environment when Lennie enters, similar to Chapter One. It also shows how the ranch workers don’t understand the idea of friendship or innocence and are afraid of concepts they don’t understand to react using violence as the solution. Therefore, Chapter Six is arguably one of the most significant chapters as it referenced all of the key ideas and themes that ran through out the novella and delivers the final message which Steinbeck wished to present to the reader.
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