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In Of Mice and Men, it seems an incontrovertible law of nature that dreams should go unfulfilled. From George and Lennie’s ranch to Curley’s wife’s stardom, the characters’ most cherished aspirations repeatedly fail to materialize. However, the fact that they do dream—often long after the possibility of realizing those dreams has vanished—suggests that dreaming serves a purpose in their lives. What the characters ultimately fail to see is that, in Steinbeck’s harsh world, dreams are not only a source of happiness but a source of misery as well.
For the characters in Of Mice and Men, dreams are useful because they map out the possibilities of human happiness. Just as a map helps a traveler locate himself on the road, dreams help Lennie, George, and the others understand where they are and where they’re going. Many dreams in the work have a physical dimension: Not just wishes to be achieved, they are places to be reached. The fact that George’s ranch, the central dream of the book, is an actual place as opposed to a person or a thing underlines this geographical element. Dreams turn th...

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