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and 'Of Mice and Men'?
Thomas Hardy, author of 'The Withered Arm' and John Steinbeck, author
of 'Of Mice and Men both portray the common theme of loneliness in
each of these novels. For example, in 'The Withered Arm', Rhoda is
judged for the cause of her loneliness, such as when it says 'She knew
that she had been slyly called a witch since her fall', as are Curley
and Curley's wife like when Candy refers to Curley's wife as a tart.
Both show signs of discrimination be it due to race, sex class or
disfigurement. Also, both mainly revolve around a friendship-Lennie
and George in 'Of Mice and Men' and Gertrude and Rhoda in 'The
'The Withered Arm' also conveys many other themes; a lot of these are
common to 'Of Mice and Men'. Similarities in these themes include the
unhappy marriages suffered which could also link into the loneliness
theme. Curley and Curley's wife in 'Of Mice and Men' have an unhappy
marriage as do Farmer Lodge and Gertrude in 'The Withered Arm' though
in 'Of Mice and Men', neither try to resolve the situation whereas in
'The Withered Arm', it is Gertrude's main concern to find a cure for
her arm so that her husband will love her again. However, we know that
this won't happen as there have been too many bad things happen for
everything to turn out happily. 'Of Mice and Men' also shows strong
signs of this inevitability. We hear from George about the many mice
that Lennie has killed and how things always go wrong due to the fact
that he does not know his own strength. After crushing Curley's hand
and killing the puppy, we know that it is only a matter of time before
Lennie kills a person. We also know their 'American dream' of owning a
ranch will not come true as, fairly near the beginning, George says
'Nuts' showing that he did not believe in it from the start.
'The Withered Arm' was set in Hardy's home town of Dorset though he
has used fictional names for parts of Dorset such as Holmstoke,
Casterbridge, Egdon Heath and Wessex. This in itself is a rural, quite
isolated setting as is the ranch in 'Of Mice and Men' which is
situated near Soledad in California which is also the
author's-Steinbeck's-home town. The isolation of these settings is
used to show the isolation of the characters within them. This
technique of using the setting as a reference to other points of the
story is also used in the settings themselves.
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Mice and Men', we are immediately brought into a lone clearing where
there is no one up until the arrival of George and Lennie and, even at
that point, we don't know who they are. With the line 'the rabbits
hurried noiselessly for cover,' we get the impression that, even with
the presence of animals, it is quite a solitary place. Also, the
phrase 'there is an ash pile made by many fires; the limb is worn
smooth by men who have sat on it' makes the area seem empty. Though
many men have come past the pool, none have stayed for long and those
that have passed it and sat there were in the same position as George
and Lennie or like the other migrant workers: alone; no family; moving
from ranch to ranch for work.
The book is set during the depression which came due to the collapse
of the New York stock market. This meant that large numbers of
businesses could no longer afford to operate increasing unemployment
dramatically. Jobs were hard to come by and droughts and failed
harvests didn't help. Many men went to the 'promised land' of
Californiain search of work as is the case of George and Lennie. This
constant need to travel to keep up an income meant that many men could
not form families or proper friends as they were always on the move.
As George says 'Guys like us, that work on ranches are the loneliest
guys in the world'. The fact that George and Lennie do travel together
shows how strong their friendship is. It is so rare that men travel
together, it bought suspicion to the boss-'I never seen one guy take
so much trouble for another guy'.
There are some people, however, who although having the same social
situation, do not have the freedom to travel in search of work. It is
usually the reason that they cannot do this that determines why their
loneliness occurs as is the case for Crooks who is black and so
discriminated against which is why getting another job would be hard.
It also accounts for his segregation which I will go into more detail
Curley's wife is another person who suffers loneliness for the same
reason that she is confined to the ranch. Because she is Curley's
wife, she is expected by him to stay in the house and not socialise
with the other men. Even though this expectation is put upon her, it
is obvious throughout the story that Curley doesn't really care a lot
about her. This is shown especially well towards the end when her body
is found and Slim suggests 'maybe you better stay here with your
wife'. Curley doesn't show emotion towards his dead wife. He just
wants to shoot Lennie which leaves Candy alone in the barn with
Curley's wife. The barn may also be a setting to show loneliness as it
never seems to house much activity but instead is a place for either a
single person or only a few people to reflect what has happened.
This technique of using settings in the portrayal of loneliness is
used in 'The Withered Arm' although in more depth. It is visible from
the descriptions of Rhoda herself that she is lonely though this is
reflected in her surroundings such as her cottage for example.
Descriptions such as 'lonely spot' which refers to their homeward
route and a reference to a rafter which 'showed like a bone protruding
through the skin' give a sense of eeriness. Also the mentioning of the
chimney corner makes us feel that there is a coldness about the room
and so representing loneliness.
It is not just the mainly focused on characters of each book that are
lonely either. Many of the characters in both books are actually
lonely. For example, in 'The Withered Arm', even though it is not
stated in the text, it is easy to see that Rhoda's son is lonely. The
reason for this is probably the same as that of his mother. It is
common knowledge that his father is Farmer Lodge and, with the setting
of 19th century England, the fact that his mother gave birth to him
outside of marriage is probably seen as a reflection on him.
As well as losing the love of her husband due to her disfigurement,
Gertrude Lodge has also lost her best friend as it was Rhoda Brook who
caused it. This means that she has no one to talk to as before she
knew her assailant's identity, she shared her worries with Rhoda which
was comforting to her even tough she had no idea that Rhoda's replies
were due to her guilt.
Conjurer Trendle seems lonely though mostly by choice. The walk to his
house again relates back to how setting portrays loneliness and gives
a feeling of coldness. We hear of Rhoda and Gertrude walking through
'this solemn country' overhung with 'thick clouds' and where the 'wind
howled dismally'. Also, his reclusiveness could be due to the fact
that at the time that this book was set, witchcraft was deemed as a
kind of evil and so was frowned upon by many.
Curley in 'Of Mice and Men' is lonely for a different reason
altogether. Being the boss's son, he is slightly better off in the
ranch hierarchy than the working men and so could have any of them
sacked. It is obvious that he uses this against them as Slim threatens
him to tell people that he got his hand caught in a machine to stop
them getting fired so, naturally, they don't like him.
Candy, however, has a similar situation to that of Gertrude Lodge.
After being owned by Candy since it was a pup, Candy's dog was shot by
Carlson for its own good causing him to lose his long time companion
so even though he is no worse of socially, he feels more lonesome.
Rhoda Brook from 'The Withered Arm' and Crooks from 'Of Mice and Men'
both have similarities in the way they are presented, their
circumstances and what happens to them through the path of the
Rhoda is described as a 'thin, worn milkmaid' and a 'thin, fading
woman of thirty'. Her being thin is emphasised by being mentioned
three times in the first chapter and makes the reader picture her poor
lifestyle and feel sympathetic towards her.
Crooks is described as having a 'lean' face which is 'lined with deep,
black wrinkles and he had thin, pain-tightened lips which were lighter
than his face'. 'His eyes lay deep in his head, and because of their
depth seemed to glitter with intensity' which are like Rhoda's eyes
that 'had once been handsome' and the glow of the fire made' handsome
The main reason for Rhoda's unhappiness is her jealousy of Gertrude.
It caused her to have a nightmare in which Gertrude came to her as a
gremlin and taunted her to which Rhoda's reaction was to grab her arm
and fling her away. She became friends with Gertrude but was then made
to suffer more unhappiness as she lost her friendship after the grasp
marks from Rhoda's dream were found to be caused by Rhoda herself.
Unlike Crooks, who confides to Lennie, she does not directly speak of
this unhappiness. Instead, it is represented in what she says, such as
her jealousy which is shown by the many questions posed to her son and
her pleased reaction over the height of Gertrude-a quality which she
has but Gertrude has not.
Crooks' unhappiness is also caused by the actions of others. Like
Rhoda, he is segregated due to a moral issuer of the time though,
unlike Rhoda, is totally opposed to it.
1936, when this book was set, was a time when America was primarily
white. This, and the misunderstanding of black people, meant that
America was a very racist society. In the book, Crook is shown to be
obviously a victim of this. 'Nigger' is the term most used to label
Crooks which shows that everyone on the ranch thinks of his colour in
a derogatory way. This common judgement gave white men a feeling of
superiority over black people which, in turn, lead to giving white men
priority when it came to jobs. Also, the disfigurement of his crooked
back means that he is not as strong as other men.
Due to his colour, he lives in the harness room. The normality of
segregation at this time is shown by the author saying 'Crooks' bunk
was a long box filled with straw on which blankets were flung' as if
it were nothing out of the ordinary.
He takes his misery out on Lennie by asking 'S'pose George don't come
back no more. What'll you do then?'. He knows that Lennie will
misunderstand this as though he were saying George will never come
back but wants to see the sufferance inflicted on Lennie to make
himself feel better after having felt it himself.
His confessions show the joy of earlier times when he lived on his
father's chicken ranch though the feelings of both himself and white
people are also made evident in these confessions by the lines 'They
say I stink. Well, I tell you, all of you stink to me'. This is the
reason he is the stable buck. Another job like barley bucking would
require him to work as part of a team.
Being the only black man, it seems that the boss takes his frustration
out on Crooks-"Give the stable buck hell?' he asked, 'Sure. Ya see the
stable buck's a nigger.'
Rhoda is very talked about. When commenting on Farmer Lodge's
marriage, one milk-maid said ''Tis hard for she' which in context, was
not very sympathetically said. She is also suspected of being a witch;
another moral issue of the time. In the book, it is said that 'there
must be a sarcastic feeling among the work-folk that a sorceress would
know the whereabouts of the exorcist. They suspected her then!'. Due
to 'her fall' and other ethical problems, the dairyman avoids talking
about her and moves the other milkers on with their work.
Throughout the book, Rhoda never speaks to Farmer Lodge on a social
level as they are from very different classes. Although they have a
son together, he is illegitimate and so is thought of as a sin to
For both Crooks and Rhoda, good things never seem to last. For
example, Rhoda's friendship with Gertrude only lasts until she
discovers that it was Rhoda that caused the scarring to her arm. For
Crooks, it lasts even less time. He offers 'if you guys would like a
hand to work for nothing-just his keep, why I'd come an' lend a hand'.
He is soon brought down to the reality of the time when Curley's wife
says 'Well, you keep your place then, Nigger. I could get you strung
upon a tree so easy, it ain't even funny'. Both these instances make
us feel sympathy towards the characters though this sympathy is not
maintained all the way through the story.
At first we feel no sympathy for Rhoda as we can see her obvious
jealousy towards Gertrude. With regards to what she does to Gertrude,
it is said that 'in her secret heart, Rhoda did not altogether object
to a slight diminution of her successors beauty' and she does not
really care about the physical pain that Gertrude has endured.
Crooks loses some sympathy with us as he asks Lennie what would happen
if George never came back knowing that Lennie would not be smart
enough to interpret it and think that he is saying George will never
come back. We still, however, understand that he has felt this type of
suffering and only wants to feel better so we do not totally lose
compassion for him.
I don't think that 'The Withered Arm' portrays loneliness as well as
'Of Mice and Men' shows the loneliness in many different ways. I also
prefer it because it's is more realistic than 'The Withered Arm'. I
think that this is because I prefer things supported by facts. It
shows the possibility of achieving dreams which many people aim to do
and which possibly could have happened had Lennie not killed Curley's
wife. Even though there was a sense of inevitability in both stories,
I felt that 'The Withered Arm' came to too neat an ending. I preferred
'Of Mice and Men' because it left you wondering what could have been.