“Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck
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John Steinbeck was born on 27 February 1902 in Salinas, California. “Of Mice and Men” was published in 1973, it was immediately successful and Steinbeck was beginning to be recognised as an author. The novel is set in Soledad, California and is about two migrant agricultural labourers, George Milton and Lennie Small. The two workers travel together which are unlike most of the other migrants. Lennie has a body of a grown man but a mind of a child and relies on George to look after him. The story progresses at their new working ranch when bad things start to happen and leads to a tragic ending resulting to the lost of lives and the destruction of dreams.
Migrant workers were homeless men during the period of 1929 to 1932. When the stock market crashed in America, economic pressure was brought to bear in large landholders. Thirty percent of the country suffered from unemployment and these migrant men decided to leave and journey elsewhere in search of a better life. The migrants are from areas: Oklahoma; Texas; Arkansas; and Missouri, better described as the Dust Bowl. Driven by the Great Depression, drought and dust storms, the men all headed for California in search of work.
Although most of these men reached California, they did not stay in one place to settle, as work was very limited and there was competition everywhere. The migrant men had to travel alone to different places to find temporary jobs in ranches. Most of these people did not have their own families and their relatives maybe too far away, most had no friends so they travelled and lived alone only to care for themselves.. This is shown in Of Mice and Men by the loneliness and isolation with some of the workers on the ranch. The men were very isolated and had no time for proper relationships with women. Migrant workers with money usually went to the brothel and spent time there. George and Lennie were different as they had each other.
Steinbeck explores the loneliness of the ranch workers. George was not lonely during the novel, as he had Lennie as a companion. He felt lonely afterwards, after the gunshot by the riverside, without his best friend. Lennie was the only character, who was innocent enough not to fear loneliness, but he was completely dependent upon George. This is shown by how angry he gets when brooks suggests that George would not come back to him. Curley’s Wife was married to a man she does not love and does not love her, she is the only woman on the ranch which makes her lonely and she also has nothing to do.
She tried to befriend the men by constantly showing up in front of them and trying to talk to them. When candy’s very old dog was shot by Carlson, candy had nothing left and felt extremely lonely that he wanted to die himself. He delayed killing the dog, even though he knew deep down that it was the best thing to do, as he was scared of loosing his long-time companion. Crooks lived in enforced solitude, away from the other men. He was bitter about being crippled, with a crooked spine, and being the only black person on the ranch. He was aggressive when Lennie and candy came into his room and acted extremely territorial towards them. Despite not wanting anyone in his stable-space, Crooks felt glad that someone came to chat to him and soon felt calmer by not minding the two into his space.
Steinbeck uses dreams to show the hopelessness of ranch life. George and Lennie shared a dream, they together wanted to own a little patch of land and live on it in freedom. George was so set on the idea that he even knows of some land that he thought they could buy with some saved-up money.
“We got a future… we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres…”
Many migrant workers have the same dream as George and Lennie and that was wanting freedom, and their own of land but no ordinary worker has succeed in such a goal, so George and Lennie were no different.
Lennie’s main desire was to tend soft haired rabbits they would keep on their future ranch, this was typical of him. Lennie’s character is simple and flat
“An have rabbits… Go on… George. How I get to tend the rabbits…”
This represented that everyone had their own dreams, whether big or small in order to live on having a thought of one day being able to have what they wanted.
Curley’s wife dreamt of being a movie star. Her hopes were raised by a man who claimed he would take her to Hollywood, but when she did not receive a letter from him, she gave herself excuses that her mother stole the letter. Her cravings to be a movie-star blinded her senses that in fact the man lied to her. She later married Curley and lived miserably with shattered dreams and aloneness.
“I don’t like Curley. He ain’t a nice fella…”
She now felt isolated with nothing to live for like other characters in the novel.
“If I catch anyone man, and he’s alone, I get alone fine with him…”
Candy joined George and Lennie’s plan of owning a piece of land. His savings made their dream in a small grasp of actually being possible to achieve. Candy does this only for a sense of belonging, not feeling useless and unwanted anymore. This of course did not come true when Lennie killed Curley’s wife.
Crooks dreamt of being seen as equal to everyone else, this was nothing special but was a great deal for him.
“Cause im black. They play cards in there, but I can’t play because im black. They say I stink.”
He knew his civil rights and remembered tenderly in his childhood, when he played with white children who came to his family’s chicken ranch, and longs for a similar relationship with white people again. Crooks can not decide what he should do, when Candy told him about their ranch, Crooks despised him.
“Everybody wants a little piece of lan’…every damn one of them’s got a little piece of land in his head…”
But later on, Crooks wanted to be a part of George, Lennie and Old Candy’s idea again. Maybe just to feel equal, but he later changed his mind feeling wary. Curley’s Wife had influenced Crooks a bit.
“Member what I sand abut hoein’ and doin’ odd jobs?… Well just forget it…I didn.t mean it. Jus’ foolin’…”
Slim had go dream or target, he believed that those things only brought despair; he was right in a way. Maybe he thinks this because he once tried and failed and had given up on the idea altogether.
Carlson is generally selfish, and so are the rest of the migrant workers. He only cares for himself and not the feeling of others. He kills Old Candy’s dog without remorse but only cares that bunk house does not smell and does not affect himself.
“That old dog ain’t good to himself or you.”
All the characters in the novel had a dream, and because of that, they were motivated to work or continue living, they seek to fulfil those dreams. The truth was that all those ideas and thoughts would never come true for the individual characters. As the title of the book suggested, how ever hard you try, things would never seem to end right.
The use of language in the novel varies greatly, the description of settings and scenery really adds an extra element to the book. Steinbeck uses personification and adjectives for imagery.
“Yellow sand in the sunlight before reaching the narrow pool.”
Steinbeck also refers to colours in most of the descriptions of scenery quite a lot.
“Fresh and green with every spring…and drink in the dark.”
Steinbeck sometimes refers to animals when describing things. “Lennie dipped
his whole head under….Snorting like a horse….The dipped his big paws in the water.”
Steinbeck spells words the way that they should sound when read rather than the correct spelling to put empathises on the American accent.
The migrant workers presented by Steinbeck in his novel are generally poor lonely people and travel alone (apart from Lennie and George), they all have dreams and goals they want to achieve however never being able to. Most migrant workers are selfish because they are used to being isolated, they travel from place to place and does not know any other way of living but to be selfish. Each one of them works on ranches in search of a better life.