Of Mice And Men


John Steinbeck
The novel, "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck is story of
defeated hope and the unfortunate reality of the American
Dream. George and Lennie are poor, homeless, migrant
workers, who are never able to reap the fruits of their
labor. Their desires may not seem so unfamiliar to any
other American: a place of their own and the opportunity to
work for themselves. George and Lennie desperately cling to
the notion that they are better than other workers who
drift from ranch to ranch because, unlike the others, they
have a plan for the future and each other. But characters
like Crooks and Curley's wife serve as reminders that
George and Lennie are no different from anyone who wants
something of his or her own.
All the characters in the story want to change their lives
in some fashion, but none are able to succeed. They all
have dreams, and it is only the dream that varies from
person to person. Curley's wife has already had her dream
of being an actress pass her by and now must live a life of
empty hope. Crooks' situation hints at a much deeper
oppression than that of the white worker in America-the
oppression of the black people. Through Crooks, Steinbeck
exposes the bitterness, the anger, and the helplessness of
the black American who struggles to be recognized as a
human being, let alone have a place of his own. Crooks'
hopelessness underlies that of George's and Lennie's and
Candy's and Curley's wife's. But all share the despair of
wanting to change the way they live and attain something
better. Even Slim, despite his Zen-like wisdom and
confidence, has nothing to call his own and will, by every
indication, remain a migrant worker until his death. Slim
differs from the others in the fact that he does not seem
to want something outside of what he has. He appears to
have reached the sad conclusion indicated by the novel's
title, that to dream leads to despair.
Another key element is the companionship between George and
Lennie. The two men are not unique for wanting a place and
a life of their own, but they are unique in that they have
each other. Their companionship contrasts the loneliness
that surrounds them-the loneliness of the homeless ranch
worker, the loneliness of the outcast black man, the
loneliness of the subjected woman, the loneliness of the
old, helpless cripple-and it arouses curiosity in the
characters that they encounter, Slim included. And indeed,
the reader becomes curious as to their friendship as well.
Lennie would call George a friend, but George would perhaps
be hard-pressed to admit the same of Lennie. As he tells
Slim, he has simply become so used to having Lennie around
that he "can't get rid of him" (45). Despite his annoyance,
George also demonstrates protectiveness, patience, and
pride when it comes to Lennie. He is perhaps motivated to
stay with Lennie by a sense of guilt, or responsibility, or
pity, or a desire to not be alone himself.At times it seems
somewhat strange that George would choose to remain with
Lennie, given the danger that Lennie causes for the both of
them. George is not blind to the fact that life would be
easier without Lennie, and he often yearns for independence
when Lennie becomes troublesome, and creates a major source
of tension. This tension is not resolved until the final
gunshot by the riverside, when the strain of Lennie's
company makes it impossible for George to survive with his
By killing Lennie, George eliminates a monumental burden
and a threat to his own life (Lennie, of course, never
threatened George directly, but his actions endangered the
life of George, who took responsibility for him). The
tragedy is that George, in effect, is forced to shoot both
his companion, who made him different from the other lonely
workers, as well as his own dream and admit that it has
gone hopelessly awry. His new burden is now hopelessness
and loneliness, the life of the homeless ranch worker.
Slim's comfort at the end ("You hadda George" (118))
indicates the sad truth that one has to surrender one's
dreams in order to survive. This is far from being an easy
thing to do in America, the Land of Promise.

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