The Role of Hopes and Dreams in Of Mice and Men, a Novel by John Steinbeck
Hopes and dreams help people to survive, even if they never become real. How true is this for the characters of Mice and Men.
Steinbeck wrote the book of Mice and Men in 1937, following the Great Depression of the United States of America. When the Wall Street stock market crashed in October 1929, the world economy suffered enormously. By 1932, America was experiencing the greatest economic depression in history. Many of the themes that are dealt with in the book reflect what people were experiencing at this time. America’s citizens became unemployed and massive numbers lived in poverty. Debt and homelessness was also very common during this period as people had to travel around America in order to find work. Therefore, in order for people to survive during this grim time; many members of America’s society decided to believe and create their own American dream.
During the 1930’s, the idea of the American Dream was based on the Declaration of Independence. The phrase was first introduced by James Truslow Adams and basically consisted of the idea that everyone should have an equal opportunity to live a better and more prosperous life. The hopes and aspirations that are established as a result of the American Dream and the difficulties for characters to obtain their desires is a central theme throughout the novel. Steinbeck introduces this theme in the very first chapter of the book through the use of George and Lennie displaying their ambition to own a farm and produce their own livelihood. “Ok. Someday – we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and …” “An’ live of the fatta the lan’, Lennie shouted” The quotation above implies the two characters often share this same story as Lennie is able to finish George’s sentence. The pair have some hope as they know that they’ll never be lonely during the time that they continue to travel around America looking for work with each other. Additionally, by repeating the dream, the pair lift themselves out of their dismal situation as evidenced by how exited they both become as they begin to talk about the dream. To George, the dream of the farm signifies the fact that he wishes to develop security and independence but most importantly ‘being somebody’ through owning their own land. To Lennie, his hopes are for safety and companionship with George where he can look after his rabbits and pet his soft animals which brings him some responsibility as well as security.
Steinbeck creates the character Candy in order to portray the bitter treatment that the elderly endured during 1930’s America Similarly to George and Lennie, Candy’s American Dream is to own a plot of land and produce his own livelihood. Additionally, Candy is disabled; having lost his right hand in a farm accident and is reduced to the worst job on the ranch which is a ‘swamper’, meaning cleaner. Despite this, Steinbeck uses the character to represent hope in the novel as it is Candy who offers his savings to George and Lennie in order to join them in making their dream a reality. After planning in detail what the farm would look like and where it would be, Steinbeck writes ‘Lennie and Candy nodded, and they were grinning with delight’ in order to emphasize how uplifting talking about the dream is to the three. Regardless of the feeling of hope that Steinbeck creates in chapter 3 where the men plot their promising future; the author includes many dark images and events during the chapter in order to introduce the sense of foreboding that Lennie, George and Candy’s dream could be defeated. This can be exemplified in the third chapter of the novel as Lennie brutally crushes Curley’s hand and Carlson mercilessly shoots Candy’s ageing dog which further highlights the lack of respect and care felt towards the elderly during this period. To Candy, the dream of the farm gives him security in his old age as he has control over his work and place of death.
In contrast to these characters, Steinbeck creates Crooks in order to bring a sense of reality to the novel. Crooks is a black, ageing man who is disabled due to a kick from a horse. At first, Steinbeck portrays Crook’s dream as being able to return to his childhood as his family was financially stable and owned a plot of land that included chickens. ‘My old man had a chicken ranch, ‘bout ten acres.’ However, Crook’s dissuades himself from being able to return to such a life on the biases of his colour and disability. Racial discrimination was not illegal in 1930s America, therefore racism was still very common at the time. Whites and blacks were segregated in 1930s America and blacks were considered as 2nd class citizens. Additionally, People who had disabilities in 1930s America were treated very unsympathetically by the majority of society. Abnormal behavior and low levels of economic productivity was regarded as a burden to communities. As a result of this, Crooks never believes that society will ever accept him. Crooks describes how he has seen hundreds of ranch workers with the same dream but has never witnessed anybody succeed in perusing their ambitions. ‘Just like heaven. Ever’body wants a little piece of land…. Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land. It’s just in their head’. Crook’s speech foreshadows the failure of the other characters dreams by bringing the reader back to the harsh reality of 1930’s America which was poverty and mass unemployment.
Steinbeck further expands the idea that hopes and dreams helped people to survive through the dreadful depression of the 1930’s through the use of Curley’s wife. The author does this by portraying her to be an incredibly lonely character. The reader recognizes this as she is married to a man who she doesn’t love and is cruelly neglected by her husband. Additionally, there are no other women on the ranch which means she has nothing to do and is unable to feel companionship. As a result of this, she tries to make friends with the ranch workers by lingering around the bunkhouse. However, her dream of stardom through becoming a glorious and famous actress in Hollywood allows her to forget about her loneliness as she hopes and fantasizes that one day she’ll become the most talented and beautiful actress in America. Curley’s wife believes that because of her stardom, everybody and anybody will be desiring a moment in her company, meaning that she’ll no longer be lonely and instead feel appreciated. Despite this, her dream of fame reinforces her feelings of separation as she yearning to interact with the world around her and wishes people to adore her abilities and elegance. In her eyes, her loneliness would decrease if somebody would only recognize her talents and shape her into a movie star. Steinbeck informs the reader that Curley’s wife almost accomplished her dream as her hopes were risen by a man who claimed he would take her to Hollywood. “I lived right in Salinas,” she said. “Come there when I was a kid. Well, a show come through, an’ I met one of the actors. He says I could go with that show. But my ol’ lady wouldn’ let me. She says because I was on’y fifteen. But the guy says I coulda. If I’d went, I wouldn’t be livin’ like this, you bet.” However, as her mother forbid her from perusing her dream she was forced to marry Curly instead. As a result of this experience, Curley’s wife is aware that her dream is possible to achieve. Perhaps she thinks that n opportunity like this could appear again in her future. I believe that it is this thought that enables her to survive through her empty life and prevents her from becoming insane or extremely depressed.
Be that as it may, the harsh truth is that having a dream and sharing it with others is not enough to ensure survival in Steinbeck’s novel. In fact, some could argue that it was the characters hopes and dreams ultimately caused their deaths. It was Curley’s wife’s desire for attention that caused her to be alone with Lennie and eventually leads to her murder. Additionally, it is Lennie’s eagerness to peruse his dream that brings him to kill Curley’s wife as he is immensely afraid that Curley’s wife’s shouting would imply to George that she is mad with him. He believed that her anger meant that George wouldn’t allow him to be part of their dream anymore. Lennie’s passion towards his dream meant that George had to kill him as his future consisted of a life of misery in a prison or an asylum as a result of his terrible actions.
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