Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

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Introduction.

'Of Mice and Men' is written by John Steinbeck, published in 1937. The
novel is set in the 1930s during the great depression in California.
The two prominent characters, George and Lennie are farm workers who
have a dream of one-day owning their own ranch. They find work in a
ranch near Soledad, after escaping from Weed because of George's
incident. They are met by different characters on the farm that all
have a dream. Lots of farm workers would share the dream of all one
day owning some land of their own. This dream became very popular and
was named the 'American Dream.' Its people came from every country and
background with the one belief that America would bring them wealth
and happiness. For very many others, America offered escape from
poverty and starvation. It was a new country, an undiscovered one. In
Europe land had always been the key to money and status. Only in
America could the poor of Europe hope to own their own land. The
country became more and more heavily populated as the word got around
of gold mines, and new homes and villages developed creating
communities. At its simplest the American Dream was the popular idea
that America was a country that allowed men and women to make a clean
start. Like all dreams the reality did not always match the dream.
However the destruction of the Indians, the American civil war and the
creation of city slums were all growing pains of a great country. Yet
the dream survived. That is this dream survived until the late 1920s.
By then there was no more land to be claimed and America had built up
its own rules and laws. This marked the start of the great depression.
Farming was badly effected, as over farming had caused huge areas of
land to just dry up. This was the creation of the famous 'dust bowl.'
Poor crops meant that many of the farmers were unable to pay back the
debts they had taken out in the first place to buy the land.

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This
meant that the way of life of men such as George, Lennie and slim was
coming to an end when 'of mice and men' was written. All the events
above occurred during the writing of the novel and perhaps suggests
that the story is about the end of the American Dream, the social
changes and the new reality of living a full American life.

The Setting.

The book opens with a description of the country around the Salinas
river, south of Soledad in California. When describing this landscape
Steinbeck uses a very wide variety of different colours and animal
descriptions in only the first short paragraph. He has a very powerful
descriptive style. 'Lower leaf junctures,' that are green, then he
notes that the deer's tracks are 'split wedge.' This description is
used when the author used direct speech. As the two characters give us
information about what they think and their personalities by how they
talk. This landscape is the appropriate backdrop to the introduction
of the two characters George and Lennie because it shows a typical
background for migrant workers. Who would travel great distances,
either walking, using cheap bus services, hitch hiking or traveling by
train. We know that this particular novel strictly focuses on the life
of these men from a few short quotes on the first couple of pages.
'The path beaten hard by boys.' This line suggests that George and
Lennie are following in the footsteps of hundreds of other men. The
path had been used to walk to and from work many times which
symbolizes the employment and unemployment of men. Walking the road
and trying to achieve the all 'American Dream' by making a fortune and
living the high life. ' The tree worn smooth by men,' this shows how
often migrant workers had collapsed and sat on that log suggesting how
tired and utterly exhausted the men were after traveling miles and
miles. This proves determination that those men had, to actually make
something of their lives. 'Ash pile made by many fires.' This conveys
the notion of starving men who had set up camp in that area. By
lighting fires that kept them warm and fed. The fact that so many
fires had been lit before just proves the amount of people who had
been in that baron area. George and Lennie's previous job in Weed was
probably something to do with farming as they were itinerant farmers.
They are drifters who move from ranch to ranch. This means that they
are very skilled in various aspects of farm work and labour. The only
security these men live on is the hope of more or new work. 'Murray
and Ready's' was like an employment agency which was set up as a
result of President Roosevelt's new deal which directed migrant
workers into agricultural work. From this place George and Lennie had
both collected 'work cards' which secured their working position and
acted as evidence and identity. They had no permanent home and solely
relied on the rough farm accommodation. They carried all their
belongings around in a bindle of clothing and cooking utensils which
were made portable by wrapping blankets around the outside.

When migrant workers arrive at their work place after traveling and
sleeping rough. They often find they have to stay in very simple, poor
accommodation. The conditions in which the migrant workers lived were
primitive. Bunkhouse walls were whitewashed, the floor unpainted.
There were eight bunks in the bunkhouse, which showed that there was a
lack of privacy for the men. Even their few personal belongings were
on public display "...over each bunk there was nailed an apple-box
with the opening forward so that it made two shelves...". The only
places for the men to sit were boxes. George saw that the conditions
were also unhygienic when he found a can in his apple-box which said
"...positively kills lice, roaches and other scourges...". Even the
stable buck, who is not permitted to sleep with the other men in the
bunkhouse and has his own room, also has to live in primitive and
unhygienic conditions. For example "...a manure pile under the
window...". One characteristic that the migrant workers share is that
they all long for a better life.

Loneliness.

Loneliness is a very key part of the migrant workers life. They have
no time for meaningful friendships or long relationships. Little trust
is shared and the men work solely for themselves. Many of the
characters are lonely and this motivates them to look for an
alternative way of life. This is one of the reasons why there are
drifters; they are continually searching often not knowing what they
are looking for. Characters are also lonely because of something
within themselves, something which seems to make their loneliness
inevitable. Different characters seek comfort and solace in different
things. For Candy it is his dog, for George and Lennie it's each
other, for Crooks it's his pride and his skill at pitching horseshoes.
In the novel George and Lennie find themselves a 'Few miles of
Soledad.' This is a real place in California and its name, which is
Spanish can mean loneliness or lonely place. George describes himself
and Lennie as the sort of people who 'are the loneliness guys in the
world.' Although the boss of the ranch thinks that George exploits
Lennie, all the ranch workers come to see that the reason for their
relationship is mutual loneliness. Candy's relationship with his dog
is much like the relationship between George and Lennie. Candy has a
parental role towards his dog, just as George has a parental role
towards Lennie. Lennie can be compared with the dog in the sense that
he listens, but does not talk; this provides comfort for those who
talk to him about their feelings. 'He ain't no good to you Candy. An'
he ain't no good to himself. Why'n't you shoot him Candy?' Carlson is
unsentimental about Candy's dog as he can see no further practical use
for it. Although his suggestion is perhaps reasonable, he seems
oblivious to the strong bond between Candy and his pet. Lennie turns
to petting animals for comfort. He means no harm to the creatures and
sees them as on a similar level to himself. Lennie is unaware of the
feelings of the pups as he heavily touches and plays with them, this
causes the ranch workers to become concerned. 'Well you ain't bein'
kind to him..' With these words Carlson is ironically 'sentencing'
Lennie who will later suffer the same fate as the dog. Carlson assumes
that Candy can soon get another pet, just as at the end of the novel
he seems to assume that George can easily get another friend. From
this we can see that Carlson, like some of the other characters does
not appreciate the bonds that occur. Candy and his dog are obviously
very alike to George and Lennie, even to the way the dog follows Candy
around in the same way as Lennie follows George. Just as Candy feels
tied down by his relationship with his dog, so George feels trapped by
his sense of responsibility for Lennie. Curley's wife is one of the
loneliest characters in the novel; she has no identity, she is seen as
an object, a possession of Curley's. Curley's wife is seen as a
flirtatious 'tart' by the other ranch-hands, true, Curley's wife does
flirt, she is very conscious of the effect this has on men, but she is
not a tart. She wants attention and by gaining that attention, she act
the way people think. 'She had full rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes,
heavily made up. Her fingernails were red.' She likes to dress up and
wear a lot of make up, to attract the men. The men on the other hand
do not flirt with her, as they are afraid of what Curly might do. This
leads to the loneliness of many characters. Although the men think it
is wrong of her to flaunt herself sexually and give everyone the
'eye', the men all visit a prostitute for sexual gratification and
momentary companionship. Those like George and Whit contradict
themselves when they talk about Curley's wife as being 'jail-bait'.
'She's gonna make a mess. They's gonna be a bad mess about her. She's
a jail-bait all set on a trigger,' George senses danger coming his
way, but he chooses to ignore it, as he needs the money. During the
1930s, women were seen as possessions of their husbands who were to
stay at home. George's view of women, seem to be very basic and
biased, he sees them as instruments to relieve physical urges. All the
ranch-hands one evening go off to 'Susie's place.' This Brothel is a
place were the men can enjoy the company of women and sexual pleasure.
As the men have no need for a relationship it means they can still
have fun without all the strings attached to love and friendship. 'She
never talks dirty, neither. Got five girls there.' George does not
express the need for any female companionship mainly because he is too
busy keeping Lennie out of trouble. All these things link up to
suggest clues behind the real reasons as to why the ranch workers are
so lonely. They try to shy away from commitment and responsibility.

Violence.

The lives of the men in the novel is filled with unnecessary violence.
The boss is a good example of this in the way he treats the men and
permits fighting. Curley is another good example with all his
completely irrational aggressiveness. Carlson is another character who
seems to thrive on violence either when he is arguing with others or
when he is erring them on. The guns' easy availability causes
inevitable trouble throughout the book. From the text it is simple to
separate the more frustrated characters who resort to uncivilized
behavior from those who are not quite so uptight. In a world of such
mistrust it is not hard to see why violence is a constant issue. When
George and Lennie first enter the bunkhouse they discover how bad the
accommodation is. Suspecting his bed contains vermin George inspects
it cautiously. As he does so Candy chatters on about the boss. We
learn that he vents his anger on the black stable hand, provides the
men with whisky and allows a fight between the stable buck and
'Smitty,' one of the Skinners. The boss could be worse: Candy insists
he's 'a pretty nice fella' and, after all, he keeps two of the
cripples on payroll. The atmosphere of later violence has the
potential to create trouble for Lennie. Finally friction builds up
between Curley and Lennie. 'Let the big guy talk.' This harsh
confrontation is caused by Lennie's attempts to obey George's
instructions to say nothing. Curley's presence is not good for Lennie
and George's safety. This is emphasized by Candy's comments 'he's alla
time picking scraps with big guys.' Since Lennie is a giant man it
seemed certain that a violent assault would come from Curley. As Candy
explains, Curley is a small man and feels that he cannot loose this
kind of situation. This seems very dangerous as Lennie 'don't know no
rules' when it come to fighting. It is typical that Curley should pick
on Lennie for his display of violence. In picking on the large but
apparently harmless man, Curley demonstrates his own cowardice. There
is an irony in the fact that it is Lennie's happy thoughts about the
farm which leave a smile on his face, which is misinterpreted by
Curley. Despite his size Lennie has two distinct disadvantages, he
will not act unless told to do so by George and he is terrified by
aggression. Because of this he does not make any attempt to defend
himself. Curley is a vicious fighter and is out to inflict damage on
Lennie. Animal imagery is used towards Lennie as he stands like a
'bear' with 'paws' covering his face but Curley is the 'dirty little
rat.' Lennie's strength and grip crushes Curley's hand . This is not
aggression but more of a reflex action, it is a defensive move.
Carlson is not a cowboy, but does possess a handgun. There is a
conversation about Carlson's gun in the bunkhouse this lets George
know where it is kept. The sensitive slim points out that when Candy's
dog is killed there will need to be a decent burial so a shovel would
be needed. This compares the shooting of the dog with the shooting of
Lennie later on. John Steinbeck emphasizes the long wait at this
period in time in the novel by using sounds like 'shuffle,' 'rippled,'
and 'gnawing,' which contrast the eventual 'shot.' After Lennie is
accused of killing Curley's wife the ranch workers all go searching
for the criminal. The prospect of a manhunt and the opportunity to use
his luger excites Carlson, who seems to want to solve all his problems
with his gun. His keenness to use his luger on Lennie reminds us of
his former enthusiasm to use it on Candy's dog. The hunt for Lennie
continues and the consequences for Lennie are that as George has just
been saying that there 'Ain't gonna be no more trouble. Nobody gonna
hurt nor steal from 'em.' These things would have been the rewards
they were hoping from their dream farm. There is heavy irony in
Lennie's urgings to George to 'do it now.' Earlier on in the novel
Candy said that he 'ought to of shot that dog myself, George. I
shouldn't ought to of let no stranger shoot my dog.' This is probably
the main reason as to why George decides that he should be the one to
shoot Lennie, but he may also be protecting him from the treatment he
would receive at Curley's hands if he were to find him first.

Prejudice.

In Of Mice And Men there are several different levels of prejudice
shown, all contributing to the failure of the American dream. The main
types of prejudice shown in this novel are racial, sexual and age
related. Racism is very prominent. There is much racial prejudice
shown in Of Mice And Men towards Crooks the black crippled stable
buck. Crooks is more permanent than the other ranch hands and has his
own room off the stables with many more possessions than them. This
room is made out to be a privilege and also because it means he is
nearer to the horses but in fact it is really because the other ranch
hands do not want him in the bunk house with them. As a result of this
prejudice Crooks has become bitter and very lonely. When Lennie comes
to pet the puppies, not even realizing that Crooks' room is 'out of
bounds', Crooks instantly becomes defensive "I ain't wanted in the
bunk room and you ain't wanted in my room" but Lennie is childish and
is completely without prejudice " Why ain't you wanted" he asks.
Crooks replies to this ,"Cause I'm black, they play cards in there but
I can't play because I'm black. They say I stink. Well I tell you, all
of you stink to me" This line showing that Crooks desperately wants to
join in, be accepted, but because of his colour he can't and so he
feels the only way he can make himself feel better is to cut himself
off further, it is a vicious circle. When Crooks realizes that Lennie
means no harm he invites him to " Come on in and set a while" Lennie
begins to talk about George and his dream, it makes Crooks remember
his childhood which he looks on as a kind of paradise. "The white kids
come to play at our place, an' sometimes I went to play with them and
some of them were pretty nice. My ol' man didn't like that. I never
knew till long later why he didn't like that. But I know now". Crooks'
didn't experience racism in his childhood, making his current
situation even worse. Crooks is fascinated by the strength of the
friendship of Lennie and George, especially how close they are. Crooks
said, "Well, s'pose, jus' s'pose he don't come back. What'll you do
then?" Crooks asks these questions because he does not have any
friends, and wouldn't know how losing them unexpectedly would feel. He
was curious and envious, about the friendship of Lennie and George,
noticing that Lennie is retarded, he takes advantage of this situation
to "torture" him mentally, to make him feel better and ease the pain
of having other reject him "Crooks' face lighted with pleasure at his
torture" he also does this to ease his jealousy towards the friendship
Lennie has, but that he, Crooks, will probably never have. He wants
the people to feel the way that he does, completely alone. Crooks goes
on to talk about his loneliness " 'A guy needs somebody-to be near
him' He whined:' 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' he cried 'I tell ya a
guy gets too lonely an' he gets sick'" Crooks is looking for sympathy,
he is so incredibly lonely even to the point to saying that loneliness
can make you ill. Curley's wife is shown a lot of sexism over the
course of the novel. Living on a ranch where the large majority of the
people are male she is very lonely. George says "Ranch with a bunch of
guys on it ain't no place for a girl" Perhaps to prove the fact she is
insignificant, she is always referred to as 'Curley's wife', never
given a name. She experiences sexual prejudice in that none of the
ranch hands will talk to her. This is partly because she can make up
things about those she dislikes who will subsequently get 'the can'
and also because she is a 'looloo' who flirts alots. "She got the eye
goin' all the time on everybody. I bet she even gives the stable buck
they eye. I don't know what the hell she wants" says Whit. The ranch
hands don't trust her or understand her. George says "Ranch with a
bunch of guys on it ain't no place for a girl, specially like her" An
old lover told her that she "coulda went with the shows, not jus one
neither" He promised her that he would write "Soon's he got back to
Hollywood" but he never did and so she married Curley. Because of this
she's upset and feels she's been deprived by life. In fact she doesn't
even like Curley "He ain't a nice fella". Because she has nothing to
do but sit at home she goes out on the ranch under the reason of
looking for Curley. Some of the sexism she experiences is her fault,
she scares the ranch hands with her womanly actions but she isn't
really a tart, she just craves attention which she doesn't get from
Curley. Ignored by both the ranch workers and Curley she has ended up
very lonely, the one thing she most wanted to escape. Throughout the
novel there is a small protest for the weak. Steinbeck sees an
opportunity to emphasise on how strong men had more authority over
weaker or disabled onees. Candy, the old swamper is prejudiced against
because of his age and his disability. Because of his hand he is
unable to do a lot of the jobs that the other ranch hands do making
him instantly an outsider. Also because he thinks that he is old he
puts himself in a state of mind which handicaps him far more than his
missing hand ever will. His life echoes that of his dog, he was once
"the best damn sheep-dog I ever seen" but now is next to useless,
Candy's life has gone somewhat the same way. The novel shows the
amount of predjudice at the time of the 1930s. At the time of the
novel blacks in America had no rights, they were seen as nobodies.
Because of this prejudice many of them, like Crooks "retired into the
terrible protective dignity of the negro". Women also had very few
rights. There are many different levels of prejudice shown in Of Mice
And Men. Through these prejudices the characters such as Crooks and
Curley's wife have become lonely but they are in hopeless position
which they can do nothing about.

Dreams.

Many ranch workers would share George and Lennie's dream of a small
farm. Such a dream would allow men such as George to be their own
master, to make a decent living from their own hard work. This dream
forms part of the much larger phenomenon known as the American dream.
The American Dream has its roots from when American first became
populated. Many of the characters in the novel have dreams, in the
sense that they have hopes or ambitions. These dreams are often kept
secret to begin with. George is displeased when he discovers that
Lennie and Candy have told Crooks about their secret 'dream farm.'
George always talks wistfully about his mental picture of the farm. He
sits 'entranced with his own picture.' Georges dream like description
slows down the pace of the novel and provides a period of almost calm
before all of Lennie's destruction. George's life and Lennie's would
be more closely related to nature on his dream farm as he says, 'when
we put in a crop, why we'd be there to take the crop up', so the cycle
of nature would be complete. Since George and Lennie's ambition in
life is much like all those around him he believes it to be pretty
impossible to come true. But suddenly George realizes that what had
been until a certain point a distant dream was then a real
possibility. 'S'pose I went in with you guys.' Candy's involvement and
contribution made the dream make more sense. It offers George and
Lennie the prospect of companionship and self-living. The characters
dream is a sharp contrast to that of their current surroundings.
Crooks is rather scornful of the dream as Lennie explains it to him
'you're nuts', he says. Crooks compares human hopes with religious
belief and says that the search for 'a little piece of land' is like
the search for heaven. His comments create tension as Candy, George's
and Lennie's dream seems so close to them. Crooks thinks that the
chances of them successfully achieving their dream farm are remote.
Few have achieved it before. Despite Crooks negativity he seems drawn
into the same dream of a better life and of companionship. During the
discussion with the ranch workers his attitude changed from sheer
disbelieve to almost excitement. Unlike most of the characters in
contrast, Curley's wife seems almost desperate to tell Lennie about
her dreams. It is ironic that she confides in someone who appears to
have no interest or little understanding of what she is saying.
Curley's wife reveals her own dreams of a better life. Her dream is
parallel to that of Candy, Crooks and George. Curley's wife seems to
be starstuck to have taken all the flattering comments she received
from the men she met. She finds her dream in the glittery world of
show business, the cinema and glossy magazines. This is a sharp
contrast to that of the three men. Her interest in the world of cinema
and film stars suggest that her dress sense is there to make her stand
out from all the other 'ordinary' girls. Eventually though in one way
or another all the peoples dreams die out because of Lennie. Candy,
George and Lennie's dream is destroyed because of Curley's wife.
Lennie sinned and the heaven of the small farm became a dream again.
George realizes that his own prospects are now no better than those
other ranch workers, with their limited ambitions of cheap sex and
gambling. Georges vision is an example of the second kind of unhappy
vision. When he sees his future aimlessly drifting.' I'll take my
fifty bucks an' I'll stay in some lousy cat house. Or I'll set in some
pool-room till ever'body goes home.' Lennie's dream is shattered. He
starts to have visions after killing Curley's wife. The appearance of
a giant rabbit is to do with Lennie's fear for the future. The rabbit
is a symbol of a time of peace in quite and natural surroundings.
Lennie tells himself that his dream has been destroyed by what he has
done. Steinbeck again creates a sort of parallel not only between the
shooting of Candy's dog and of Lennie, but also between the emotions
which motivate the killings. George ends up by killing Lennie, Lennie
has killed Curley's wife, and Carlson killed Candy's dog. All killers
are motivated by passion. Many of the workers have dreams of one kind
or a another, and sometimes they share the same dream. Generally
though the characters have one choices of an almost realistic dream.
This is the dream that includes companionship, honesty and love or the
'dream farm.' Which represents the ambition and the possibility of
escape from the workers loneliness and poverty. These factors
eventually stimulated the violent deaths and therefore the abrupt
ending of dreams.
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