Of Mice and Men Themes

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1 Of Mice and Men Themes In his 1938 journal entry, John Steinbeck wrote that a base theme in writings is the strive to understand each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love Try to understand each other. Fears and Dreams of the Future Steinbeck uses both fears and dreams of the future to develop the story. Most of the characters in Of Mice and Men dream of a better life. George wants to be "somebody" and dreams of independence as his own boss on his own homestead. Lennie simply wants to be with George on the land and to tend soft rabbits. George and Lennie s prototypically American Dream of owning a farm would allow the pair to be self-sufficient and to be protected from an inhospitable world. Fearing that he will be deemed useless like his dog, Candy dreams of the security offered by George's homestead. Crooks wants a small homestead to gain security and acceptance and asks Lennie if he can join them on the new farm. Curley's wife wanted to become a famous movie star, but resigned herself to an unfulfilling marriage. The characters failed dreams make this story a tragedy of the American Dream. George is a character who strives to be an optimist to obtain his dream, but reality makes him a fatalist. When unable to protect Lennie, George feels he must save Lennie from a brutal death by killing him more mercifully. George believes he has no other options. Steinbeck originally titled the book Something That Happened, because no one can be really blamed for the tragedy that unfolds in the story. Loneliness and Companionship Loneliness and the impact of loneliness are a prevalent themes. George reminds Lennie that the life of a ranch hand is among the loneliest of lives. Migrant workers rarely have anyone for companionship and protection. Candy is lonely especially after his dog is killed. Because her husband is not the friend she wanted, Curley's wife is lonely. She deals with her loneliness by flirting with the ranch hands causing jealous Curley to increase his abusiveness. This jealousy increases his wife s loneliness because the ranch hands try to avoid her. Crooks states, "A guy goes nuts if he ain't got anybody. Don't make any difference who the guy is, long's he's with you." The companionship of George and Lennie is an effort to avoid loneliness. Even the settings reinforce the theme of loneliness, as Weed means something unwanted or out of place and Soledad means solitude in Spanish. Loneliness is increased by the barriers created by cruel actions towards others. Because he is barred from the bunkhouse, Crooks loneliness results in bitterness that is only reduced slightly because of Lennie's innocence. The end of George and Lennie s friendship mirrors the loss of a dream larger than that of two men. The farm on which George and Lennie plan to buy inherently attracts other men to the dream. After hearing a description of only a few sentences, Candy is completely committed to the dream. Cynical Crooks who knows of many men falling victim to this dream cannot resist

2 wanting to join them. The men would become like brothers to one another. This idealized brotherhood would allow the men to work together and protect each other. Powerlessness and the Abuse of Power Many of the characters are powerless due to intellectual ability or economic and social circumstances. Though Lennie possesses great physical strength, his limited mental capacity renders him powerlessness to overcome his circumstances. The Great Depression compounds the economic powerlessness of the ranch workers. George, Candy, and Crooks struggle to earn enough money to buy their own farm. George believes that once on their own farm, Lennie will be easier to protect from the abuse of others. Curley and Curley's wife illustrate oppression and abusive behavior. Curley's wife is manipulative using her sex appeal to gain attention by flirting with the farm hands. Wanting control of the ranch, Curley uses his superior position to belittle the ranch hands. Curley uses his brutish strength and violent temper to intimidate the men as well as his wife. He constantly reprimands the farm hands and accuses the men of inappropriate behavior with his wife. Though both men are small, George and Curley s personalities are in contrast. George states that he does not like men who behave like Curley. Dominance over the weak exemplifies the powerlessness of many characters. This dominance is displayed when Crooks criticizes Lennie s dream and his dependence on George. Knowing his own vulnerabilities as a lonely, black man with a crooked back, Crooks still exploits Lennie s weaknesses. Crooks dominates Lennie to tears by saying that something bad has happened to George. Curley s wife intimidates Crooks when she threatens to have him lynched. Steinbeck illustrates that oppression does not come only from the hands of the strong or the powerful, but that oppressors are often in a position of weakness. In addition, Lennie s physical size and strength prove powerless and render him weak. The Corrupting Power of Women The portrayal of women in Of Mice and Men is limited and unkind. Lennie and George are fleeing from the previous ranch where they worked, due to trouble with a woman. Misunderstanding Lennie s love of soft things, a woman falsely accused him of rape for touching her dress. Though George berates Lennie for his behavior, George believes that women cause trouble by tempting men to behave poorly. George has no desire for a female companion or wife needing only a visit to the flophouse to satisfy any desires. Curley s wife reinforces George s view of marriage. Dissatisfied with her marriage, she plays the role of a temptress invoking trouble. Her sinister side is revealed when she threatens to have the black stable-hand lynched if he complains about her to the boss. Steinbeck gives her more humanity when she voices her unhappiness and her own failed dreams for a better life. Women are are the antagonists in a world dependent upon the brotherly bonds of men.

3 Symbolism Animal Imagery Steinbeck uses animal imagery to emphasize the obstacles of mental illness, disabilities, racism, and death. The death of Candy s dog represents the future of those who have outlived their usefulness. Once serving as a valuable sheepdog working on the ranch, Candy s dog is now debilitated by age. Candy s sentimental attachment to the animal means little on the ranch. Although Carlson promises to kill the dog painlessly, his insistence that the old animal must die supports a cruel natural law that the strong will dispose of the weak. Candy internalizes this lesson and fears that he is nearing an age when he will no longer be useful at the ranch, and therefore no longer employed. Lennie s puppy represents the life and death of the strong over the weak. Lennie accidentally kills the puppy, as he has killed many mice before, by his failure to recognize his own strength. Lennie s death is paralleled in both the death of Candy s dog and the puppy. Lennie is shot in the back of the head like Candy s dog to give the dog a merciful end since sentimentality is the dog s only current value. Lennie s killing of Curley s wife made him someone that George could no longer protect. George loved Lennie as Lennie loved the puppy, and both were killed out of love. George and Lennie s Farm The farm that George repeatedly describes to Lennie symbolizes the American Dream. The men grasp at the idea and the freeing life it promises. Candy is immediately drawn in by the dream, and even the cynical Crooks hopes that Lennie and George will let him live there too. A paradise for men who want to be masters of their own lives, the farm represents the possibility of freedom, self-reliance, and protection from the cruelties of the world. Human Hands The human hand is also a symbol of work, power, and usefulness. Lennie s powerful hands represent not only the capacity of hard work, but also the destructive power of unintended consequences. Lennie s powerful hands cannot be controlled by his simple mind. He unintentionally kills the animals he pets and accidentally kills Curley s wife. Curley s hands represent both sexuality with his wife and confrontation as a former boxer. When Lennie s fist crushes Curley s hand, the power of both the strong and the weak collide. This confrontation symbolizes the battle between the weak and the powerful. Candy s missing hand symbolizes the loss of power and control over one s destiny.

4 Sources: SparkNotes Editors. SparkNote on Of Mice and Men. SparkNotes LLC (accessed October 1, 2013). Wikipedia Editors. Of Mice and Men Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed October 1, 2013).

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