The Tragedy of Isolation Exposed in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men

The Tragedy of Isolation Exposed in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men

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The Tragedy of Isolation Exposed in Of Mice and Men  

The Great Depression of the 1930's was a tumultuous time. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their homes and means of unemployment. Whole families would roam the country, desperate for food and a place to rest, struggling to survive. There were also many men who tramped across America alone, searching for menial jobs to keep them alive another month. John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men details the lives of several such men and shows that the principle quest of so many was not money or things that money can buy. Rather, whether they were travelling from one job to another or employed in some capacity, the vast majority of the wandering laborers were searching for human companionship and reassurance that they were not alone to fend for themselves- something very few of them actually found.



It was not merely the migrant workers who felt detached form the world- even the boss's son Curley was manifestly desperate for real companionship. Curley's biggest obstacle was himself, as he possessed simultaneously an enormous ego and very little self-esteem. As the son of the owner of a large ranch, Curley had considerable power over the men who worked there, and he chose to abuse that power rather that try to befriend those who were beneath him. Unable to realize that constantly picking fights would do little to combat his loneliness, Curley pounced upon everyone who looked at him funny as an excuse to vent his frustration at being friendless and hated. He could not love his wife because that would mean breaking down the barrier of pride he had constructed, and so he perpetuated the cycle of loneliness both in himself and others.

And what of Curley's wife? Nameless, she epitomizes the wife displayed as a trophy by a status-conscious husband, whether he is a prominent politician, a millionaire, or the son of a ranch owner. It is tragic that two individuals so alone in the world could be thrown together by fate and succeed only in strengthening each others' isolation, and that is often the case. Curley lived his life picking fights or discussing future ones, while his wife, desperate for meaningful attention, flirts with all the ranch hands. She sought out Lennie and the others in Crooks's room for conversation in desperation, hoping for companionship yet dooming it from the start by her arrogance and unwillingness to concede that, to be truly happy, she must bend a little.

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Since so many individuals, then and now, are searching for a cure to their loneliness, it seems rather ironic that, for most of them, their biggest obstacle is breaking down the walls they've built to shield themselves from their pain. In what we consider normal society, there are still people as completely isolated as the characters in Of Mice and Men. They many not be literally tramps or migrant workers, but George's words to Lennie as they sat beside the green pool that first evening apply just as well to those who may be presidents of multi-million dollar companies:

"Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don't belong no place... They ain't got nothing to look ahead to."

 
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