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Identify The Main Moral Issue Which George Faces

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            The dilemma George faced was between his loyalty and friendship to Lennie and what he thought he should do.  This is very apparent at various points of the book.  George’s friendship with Lennie has hindered him from doing what he really wants.

            Although over the course of the book, we doubt George’s plan and its feasibility, with Steinbeck hinting that George was only chasing a fool’s dreams.  It is apparent that these dreams were simplistic, and there were instances when Steinbeck hints at them being unattainable for George.

            However, even without these speculations, it is apparent that Lennie is ruining everything for George.  Lennie’s retarded thinking and behavior causes them to get into trouble. Ultimately, George cannot hold onto a steady job and gets into trouble himself.

            To me, though, George is afraid of going out on his own, and almost always makes Lennie an excuse.  With some ambiguity, Steinbeck also shows the reader that George genuinely loves Lennie, his final sacrifice is shooting Lennie, with compassion that he knows the other guys cannot and would not give Lennie.  This is the culmination of George’s dilemma:  does he protect Lennie further or kill him, thereby freeing himself from the burden of caring for him?

            Identify the stage (s) of Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development of George and Lenny. 

            Justify your choice of stage (s) of Kohlberg by discussing the main characteristics of each stage and give examples from the book where the characters speak or act in accordance with the stage(s).

            Lennie is obviously stuck in the obedience and punishment orientation.  According to Crain, at this stage, an individual unquestioningly obeys the rules set out by society or authorities.  In Lennie and George’s relationship, George seems to be the authority that Lennie obeys.

            Lennie avoids doing things that would irk George, and thereby getting punished.  While at some point, Lennie hid the dead mouse from George, fully knowing that George didn’t like it.  This is another trait of Stage 1 reasoning, wherein the individual reasons that George might permit him to keep the mouse because “he ain’t doing nothing wrong, just petting it.”

            George, on the other hand, is under stage two, or the level of self-interest.  Crain points out that the reasoning is more of returning favors.  What is right for the individual in Stage 2 is what meets his own self-interest.

            Many times throughout the book, George asks himself “what’s in it for me?”  He often questions why he’s stuck with Lennie when all he does is to get them in trouble, and he derives no benefit at all from being with Lennie.  But the answer is that George longs for Lennie’s friendship and companionship.  Lennie alleviates his loneliness, which is basically Steinbeck’s main theme all along.

            Also, George is spurred by his ambition of the farm they’re going to buy, till and own.  His actions are guided by what he could get in his current job, to advance that dream.  He speaks of the money he’d get after the work, how he’d save that money to buy the farm.

            George also goes further by saying that if he keeps on moving from farm to farm, he’d have nothing in the end, but with a farm of his own, he’d get to work for his own money and not earn for somebody else.

            However, further into the story, George can be classified under stage five, or social contract driven where the moral reasoning is based on the greatest good for the majority.  George sees that Lennie cannot continue destorying life, and getting into trouble, so he shoots him.  He didn’t want to but he had no choice.  George had to compromise his love for Lennie, rather than let him run amuck again at another time.  He also shot Lennie to spare him from a more cruel death at the hands of Curly and the others.

            Identify the main moral theory George used to resolve the moral issue he faces. 

            Give examples/evidence of the moral theory George used to resolve the moral issue (s) he faces by giving from the book where George speaks or acts in accordance with the theory.

            As noted above, George was driven by social contract in the last compromise he made.  George has realized that Lennie will never learn from his previous mistakes and has a great capacity for harm, so for the greater good of the majority, he shoots him.

            According to Crain in his book “Theories of Development”, stage 5 respondents usually talk about rights and morality that take priority over some laws.  The fact that George killed Lennie, which is murder, seems to demonstrate this point.


Crain, WC. (1985).  CHAPTER SEVEN: KOHLBERG’S STAGES OF MORAL DEVELOPMENT. pp 118-136. Theories of Development, Prentice Hall. Retrieved on 24 April 2008. <http://faculty.plts.edu/gpence/html/kohlberg.htm>

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