The story “0f Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck
The story “0f Mice and Men” was written by John Steinbeck and set in America in the late 1920’s early 1930’s, in California near Soledad. The story is based around migrant workers in California usually male with no roots a very solitary existence. Migrant workers life was hard. It was gruelling, challenging, and often unrewarding. Just as George and Lennie dream of a better life on their own farm, the other migrant farm workers dreamed of finding a better life in California.
The state’s mild climate promised a longer growing season and, with soil favourable to a wider range of crops. Very few found it to be the land of opportunity and land of plenty which they dreamed about.
Steinbeck ‘s theme’s within this story are loneliness and relationships, the migrant workers usually travel alone moving from job to job as season and circumstances dictated an almost thankless existence having no place to call their own or families to go home too.
Most of the characters admit, at one time or another, to having a deep sense of loneliness and isolation. . George sets the tone for these confessions on page 15 “Guys like us, that work on the ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place.” When he reminds Lennie that the life of a ranch hand is the loneliest of lives. Men like George and Lennie who migrate from farm to farm rarely have anyone to look to for companionship and protection. Each wishes for the comfort of a friend or a partner or lover, but many will have settled for a stranger rather than no one..
Curley’s wife admits to Lennie that she is unhappily married on page 87 , and Crooks tells Lennie that life is no good without a companion to turn to in times of confusion and need on page 72 he say “A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t make no difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you.” They are all helpless in their isolation, and yet, even at their weakest, they seek to destroy those who are even weaker than they. Crooks shows this cruel and nasty tendency when he criticizes Lennie’s dependence on George and their dream of the homestead, their farm where they can work or not work just as they please, be their own boss. Having just admitted his own vulnerabilities-he is a black man with a crooked back who longs for companionship-Crooks homes in on Lennie’s own weaknesses, I think this mainly was to make him feel better and less of a failure somehow. Being alone and lonely and pushed out has made him bitter and mean in some ways.
Everybody needs some kind of relationship, someone to call their own in some way whether it is a platonic, sexual or for instance a relationship between man and pet. This makes the difference between merely surviving and thriving and flourishing everyone needs some form of love and care in their lives. Candy had a relationship with his dog, George with Lennie, Curley with his wife but still Curly and his wife’s relationship is pretty dysfunctional, there is no comradeship between them no love or trust no affection. Candy is keeping his dog alive for purely selfish reasons so that he isn’t left alone even though the dog is old infirmed, in pain, unable to eat, and Lennie and George’s relationship is not an equal relationship either. Since Lennie cannot offer an equal adult relationship he needs a father figure, a caretaker where as George needs a friend a mate as such.
The main characters in the book are George Milton and Lennie Small. George has a much stronger character he’s portrayed as more of a smaller wiry type of man strong fit body and a quick thinker, lives by his wits almost, which comes across on pages 23-24 when he is talking to the boss he lies about distanced walked saying “We hadda walk 10 miles” to cover them not arriving until late when they only walked 4 miles and they had arrived at the pool the night before.
He is short-tempered but a devoted friend, whose frequent protests against life with Lennie never weakens his commitment to protecting his friend. George at some point early on in their relationship used to abuse and make Lennie a laughing stock and seems to be atoning for his sins ever since. He mentions his earlier bad treatment of Lennie on pages (40-41) telling Slim “Funny” said George. “I used to have a hell of a lot of fun with ‘im. Used to play jokes on ‘im ’cause he was too dumb to take care of ‘imself”
He did this because it “Made me seem so god damn smart alongside of him”P41. So George definitely is no angel and can be petty and nasty as much as the next person, but he genuinely cares for Lennie. George’s first words, a stern warning to Lennie not to drink so much lest he get sick on page 5, set the tone of their relationship. George may be snappy and impatient at times, but he never strays from protecting Lennie.
Lennie is a large, lumbering, childlike migrant worker. A huge bear of a man in looks,
“A huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes, with wide, sloping shoulders;” (p2).
Steinbeck thinks Lennie is quite animalistic in his looks and ways comparing him to a bear when he was swishing his hand in the water as if it was a paw on page 4 then a horse on page 4 also when he is drinking water and later he is likened to a terrier on page 10 who doesn’t want to bring a ball back to his Master.
Due to his learning disabilities, Lennie completely depends upon George, his friend and travelling companion, for guidance and protection. Lennie nevertheless does not understand his own strength. His love of petting soft things, such as small animals, dresses, and people’s hair, leads to disaster. Lennie is very childlike; he has a naï¿½ve childlike innocence usually found in the very young which is shown in his utter helplessness in the face of the events that unfold. Lennie is totally defenceless. He cannot avoid the dangers presented by Curley, Curley’s wife, or the world at large.
The two men share a vision of a farm that they will own together, a vision that Lennie believes in wholeheartedly.
Despite his hardened, sometimes harsh exterior George also wants to believes in the story of their future farm that he tells and retells to Lennie, but I think deep down he knows it all just a dream. He longs for the day when he can enjoy the freedom to leave work and see a ball game. More important than a ball game, however, is the thought of living in safety and comfort with Lennie, free from the people like Curley and Curley’s wife, who seem to exist only to cause trouble for them. Lennie is largely responsible for George’s belief in this safe haven, George needs to feel needed too and that he has somebody close to him. Lennie gives George a purpose to carry on.
In their relationship they are both intensely loyal to one another, dangerously so in Lennie’s part as he could harm someone because of his obsession with George and his need for him to be around, George is more like the protector, the father figure, he pretends he’s put out by it but he knows exactly how lonely his life would be without Lennie, Lennie also knows this, the way he tried to manipulate George when he got angry over the mouse shows this. Lennie being there stops George living the life the way other ranch hands do, he points this out in anger at Lennie when he was whinging about ketchup on page 12 saying “If I was alone I could live so easy, I could go get a job an’ work, an’ no trouble”
But later feels guilty because he knows Lennie would never manage to live alone without him to watch his back and care for him.
They both need each other for their own various reasons Lennie needs George as a protector, father figure, carer and George needs Lennie because he needs someone to care for, someone to be there in a sense to step in for the absence of family, making Lennie his family, he is George’s reason for not going out getting drunk and going to whore houses he keeps him a step above the rest.
This relationship fulfils their immediate needs for companionship, they both need someone else there on the long lonely road they travel for work, and through life but the relationship can never be equal or enough since Lennie’s intelligence cannot match George’s he would hardly get intelligent stimulating conversation from Lennie, Lennie couldn’t look after George if the need arose and where as George would survive without Lennie albeit a lot lonelier, Lennie could never survive without George. George would then just be a plain old ranch hand like the rest without Lennie and the need to keep him safe and out of harms way. George would eventually need someone else in his life to provide what Lennie can’t but I don’t think Lennie would have the same problem since he would always need a father figure to protect him and care for him and his needs.
If they went their separate ways George would drink, go to the whore houses with the rest of them and spend his $50 at the end of the month; he would end up with no hopes and dreams with no one else beside him to help keep them alive, just another lost and lonely soul existing from day to day.
Lennie on the other hand would end up in an institute at best or hounded and lynched eventually at the worst, he couldn’t survive without George, he doesn’t even have the basic survival skills to keep him alive. He would “pet” someone or something he shouldn’t and be lynched for it, people didn’t understand simple learning disabilities in those days, feeling it was better to lock them away out of harms way or sight than actually dealing with the problem at hand. There just wasn’t the care and attention given to people with learning disabilities in the 1920 – 1930’s people didn’t want to know, was much easier if they pretended they didn’t exist or where got rid of in the institutes.
The other person in the novel to have an alleged caring relationship is Candy The old swamper, aging and left with only one hand as the result of an accident, worries that the boss will soon decide he is useless and demand that he leave the ranch. Candy has a dog, once an impressive sheep herder but now toothless, foul smelling, and rheumatic through age. He was very proud of his dog, it was “The best damn sheepdog I ever seen” page 45. The dog just shuffles through the day barely existing too ill to eat even, yet, Candy still keeps him alive when it would be a kindness to have had him put down years ago and spared the dog the pain and suffering he now felt. It is a needful relationship in as much as the dog needs caring for and feeding etc and Candy needs something or someone in his life and in this case the dog is it, the dog can hear whatever Candy says but cannot have a conversation with him, he can nuzzle Candy and follow him around offering what form of love and attention a dog can, but he cannot substitute for another human being.
By the time we meet Candy’s dog in the story it is purely selfishness on Candy’s part that has kept the dog alive and I think fright, Candy is scared to be utterly alone and in that the dog is better than nobody. Candy needed people this showed in his eagerness to become part of George and Lennie’s dream they way he tried to buy himself in, in a way not daring to rely on a blossoming friendship between them, he was hedging his bets knowing money might swing things his way.
Making it quicker for them to realise their dream as well. Candy seems to be ignoring the fact that you cannot buy friendship, they are generally built up over time and experiences together, but he is a weak lonely old man frightened of his future or lack of one and he thinks investing his lifesavings to secure him a future and friends into the bargain. On page 59 he says “I ain’t much good with on’y one hand. I lost my hand right here on this ranch. That’s why they give me a job swampin’. An’ they give me two hundred an’ fifty dollars cause’ I los’ my hand.” Then he proceeds to ask if he could come in with them by trying to bribe them with his lifesavings.
Candy is too weak to put his dog down and out of his misery, to offer his faithful companion even this last final kindness, so Carlson has to do it, Carlson comes across almost heartless and devoid of feeling when he does this, Candy seems to shrink in on himself feeling very sad lying in his bunk turning his face away from prying eyes. On the other hand Carlson may seem cruel and heartless but I think in his own strange way he was doing a kindness based on selfishness in a way, he couldn’t stand the sight or smell of the old dog, but a kindness non the less, since no one else was willing to put the old dog out of his misery. It was the right action but for all the wrong reasons.
The boss’s son, Curley wears high-heeled boots to distinguish himself from the field hands. Rumoured to be a champion prize-fighter (p54), he is a confrontational, nasty minded and aggressive man who compensates for his smallness of body and mind by picking fights with larger men. Recently married, Curley is plagued with jealousy perhaps because he himself is incapable of faithfulness and doesn’t really love or know his wife, she is more of a trophy to him, and he is extremely possessive of his flirtatious young wife. Curley’s wife is never given a name and is only referred to in reference to her husband. The men on the farm refer to her as a “tramp,” a “tart,” and a “looloo.(P51)” Dressed in fancy, feathered red shoes, she represents the temptation of female sexuality in a male-dominated world. Curley’s wife is not a bad person, but rather a victim. Like the ranch-hands, she is desperately lonely and has broken dreams of a better life. It seems to me that Steinbeck comes across with the opinion woman are just there to serve men and are devious temptresses.
Neither trusts each other and Curly has no respect for her, telling the other ranch hands about their sex life. Curly’s wife confronts Lennie, Candy, and Crooks in the stable, she admits to feeling a kind frustration with her life. Her vulnerability at this moment and later when she admits to Lennie her dream of becoming a movie star makes her much more human not just a hussy in red shoes. She’s just a young girl married too early to a man she doesn’t even like let alone love she tells this to Lennie on p87 when she tells him of her dreams of the movies, and Hollywood and her dislike of Curly and his nasty ways. Perhaps she felt she didn’t have any other way out, but marriage to this stranger, she felt trapped at home by her mother and totally unhappy with her life and simply jumped out of the fat straight into the fire since her relationship with Curly just wasn’t in anyway what she dreamed marriage would be like.
In the 1930’s there was not a lot of work offered to woman and single woman didn’t have the same social standing as married women, many may have felt it was better to be married and married to anyone than being on their own and struggling to survive, women didn’t have the resources they now have, and where never encouraged to feel on equal terms to men as they are now.. I think Steinbeck also tries to depict woman as low, flighty people corrupting men with their sexuality, they where either merely caretakers of men there just too look after them or sexual objects, not human beings in their own rights.
Steinbeck had nothing nice to say about this girl, when really she is just a poor misguided young girl, who thought marriage would be the answers to her prayers, and that she would have a handsome attentive young husband, when in reality she got the aggressive nasty bully whom no one really liked, and whom she found she didn’t like either. I think she was flirtatious because she needed company and since there was just men on the ranch she flirted, probably not knowing how to have any other kind of relationship with a man, and too young to work out that if she had just been friendly without flirting she might have made a few friends, that is if Curly’s jealousy allowed it. Although the men think it is wrong of her to flaunt herself sexually and flirt, the men all visit a whorehouse for sexual gratification and momentary companionship.
Another lonely character was Crooks the stable buck. Crooks is an even lonelier character than Candy, because not only is he a cripple, like Candy, but he is also black. Most of the men have a lot of prejudice against Crooks, referring to him with derogatory terms such as ‘nigger’. And because he is a different colour, he has to stay in a room on his own. Crooks is yet another victim of the times. We are told by Candy that the Boss takes his anger out on Crooks, though Crooks does nothing wrong. And Candy also relates an incident in the past when one of the ranch hands picked a fight with Crooks. It is to Crooks’ credit that he won the fight, although the other man did have his feet tied.
He is very lonely and bitter, Lennie seemingly unaware of the politics of daily living for black people tries to go in Crooks room(p67) and make friends and chat with him , he doesn’t realise that white people in the 1930’s didn’t integrate with black people in their leisure time as they looked down on them. On page 68 Crook says “They play cards in there, but I can’t play because I am black. They say I stink. Well, I tell you, you all of you stink to me.” This goes right over Lennie’s head he just doesn’t get the point. Lennie just wants to chat and make friends. Crooks tries to rile him saying “Well s’pose, jus’ s’pose he don’t come back” page 71-72, he was trying to frighten Lennie and it nearly backfired, it shows Lennie becoming dangerously quiet and centred when he thinks George might be in any sort of danger when George is all Lennie has in the world and he doesn’t want to lose him, his loyalty to George could prove fatal to someone else.
Crooks was so desperate for a relationship anybody would do on page 78 he says “A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t make no difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you.” Crooks realises being friendless and having nobody leaves people lonely and embittered, he says on page 72 ” I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an’ he gets sick.” I think Crooks wants more than anything else a sense of belonging, to enjoy simple pleasures such as the right to enter the bunkhouse or to play cards with the other men.
This desire would explain why, even though he has reason to doubt George and Lennie’s talk about the farm that they want to own, Crooks cannot help but ask if there might be room for him to come along and hoe in the garden. On page 76 he offers to work for nothing even just to be allowed in. Anything it seems would be better than the loneliness of his present life, until Curly’s wife comes in and in promptly makes him feel his place in the world yet again, bursting his bubble his notion of just being a man amongst men instead of a black man.
Carlson a ranch hand, who complains bitterly about Candy’s old, smelly dog. He convinces Candy to put the dog out of its misery. Carlson says he wont be causing the animal any suffering. Carlson comes across quite heartless. If something or someone isn’t useful get rid of it, everything has to have a function. He has a lack of concern for other people’s feelings and doesn’t take time to understand them. He is an insensitive person who cares nothing for others. Carlson is the type of man George hopes to avoid becoming.
The death of Candy’s dog testifies to the shameless and pitiful way by which the strong attack and eliminate the weak. Candy’s dog, although no longer useful at corralling sheep, is of great importance to the old swamper. Candy’s emotional attachment to the dog is clear. Despite this, allowing the animal to live out its days is not an option in this cruel environment. Carlson insists that the animal’s frailty makes it unworthy of such devotion. The most comfort he can offer is to assure Candy that he will kill the dog mercifully and quickly. Carlson has no attachments to anyone or anything and possibly feels happy enough without them, I think he sees emotional attachment as a weakness he can do without. Even at the end after George shoots Lennie Carlson cannot understand what all the fuss is about, why George should be upset in anyway, George had put down Lennie like he Carlson had put down the dog both animal and man as useless as each other in Carlson’s eyes.
None of the relationships in the book seem complete and fully functional. Nearly all of the characters in Of Mice and Men are disempowered in some way. Whether because of a physical or mental handicap, age, class, race, or gender, almost everyone finds themselves outside the structures of social power, and each suffers because of it. All seem lacking in some way. Lennie cannot offer George all he will need from a relationship although George probably offers Lennie all and more. Candy is too old and disillusioned with life, and his loneliness and fright of the future, to be much use in a relationship, and Curly is to into himself and proving himself a “big man” to ever have a proper fulfilling relation, his own insecurities would forever mess up a relationship. Curley’s wife is too young and has the selfishness of youth, and is unable to cope with the likes of Curly she needed an uncomplicated young man really who would love and idolise her how she needs to loved.
After Lennie killed Curley’s wife, George was faced with a terrible choice, let Curley find Lennie and kill him, or kill Lennie himself. Unlike Candy, he will not let someone else shoot his best friend. He would not subject his best friend to unnecessary fear anxiety and pain. George does what he has to do, in his own way, the act of killing Lennie himself, is doing Lennie a kindness, putting him down, the lesser of the two evils, since if Curley got hold of him it would be horrendous. When George suggests they find Lennie and lock him up instead of shooting him, Slim has to remind George how terrible it would be if Lennie were locked in a cage, or strapped to a bed. Like the painful life of Candy’s arthritic sheepdog, life in prison or an asylum would be no better for Lennie. Just as Candy had to realize that his sheepdog would be better off dead than alive, so did George with Lennie.
George by killing Lennie surrendered his dream for survival Slim’s sympathetic response is best showing his understanding. Slim is the only one who does not seem to need a fantasy to shield him from the harsh realities of the world. His skill at his work and mastery of the ranch bring him peace and contentment, these emotions and feelings are unknown to his fellow ranch hands. . Slim is both respected and admired. Everyone looks for his approval, even Curley, who seems to have contempt for everyone else on the ranch. The others give into Slim because his word is the law. He is the voice of reason and understanding, and he consoles George after he has killed Lennie. Slim is the kind of man that George hopes to become one day. I think Slim has more chance of a ‘normal’ relationship if he ever has one since he’s the only one at peace with himself and his life.
Of Mice and Men is about the struggle of the weak in society and loneliness in or out of a relationship. Loneliness is an inevitable fact of life that not even the strongest can avoid, Crooks, Candy and Curley’s wife all suffer through loneliness and isolation and lack of a viable relationship. George and Lennie are unique in that they have each other. Their companionship contrasts the loneliness that surrounds them, the loneliness of the outcast black man, the loneliness of the “scarlet” woman, the loneliness of the old, helpless crippled swamper. People need relationships even though it is difficult keeping a good relationship going since no two people are the same or have the exact same thoughts and beliefs.
To keep a relationship flourishing you must have things in common, you must be able to disagree or agree without fear of the relationship ending, you must be caring of one another and respect each other, and some people do not have the social skills to keep a relationship fruitful. Quite often a person suffering through isolation will forever be trying to fulfil a friendship like Candy trying to become part of the dream with Lennie and George; he was trying to buy into a relationship.
I do not think Steinbeck had a high regard for woman either, I think that was a sign of the times though and the era they lived in, woman had a place and that was to serve man. Curley’s wife was in a relationship yet was the loneliest of all, she was married yet still was alone, still felt unloved and unwanted, and that’s why she flirted to ease her hurting. I think Steinbeck had a very bleak view of relationships and woman in general, all the relationships seemed dysfunctional. People were made to live in society and it a natural instinct to seek friendship and companionship. When they find it, they are content within themselves. Friendship and interaction are two very necessary things; we all need them to combat loneliness.
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