We now move onto Curley’s wife, who has already played a part in this essay. Our first impressions of her are of a flirtatious woman, who dresses provocatively for the male ranch workers. We read of her ‘full rouged lips, heavily made up… her hair hung in little clusters….’ Also Steinbeck describes Curley’s wife as wearing a lot of red, bringing in the idea of a femme fatal. We know the men on the ranch are very cautious towards her, again bringing forward her portrayal as a femme fatal, and on George and Lennie’s first encounter with her, Lennie is warned about her. “Well you keep away from her… cause she’s a rat trap …”
This quote foreshadows further encounters between Lennie and Curley’s wife as we know of Lennie’s mental capacity, and his almost obsession with soft things. This therefore also foreshadows possibly misfortunes between these two characters, and again the femme fatal element of her is brought in by Steinbeck. In chapter four, some of Curley’s wife’s feelings towards her husband, and towards where she has ended up in her life, are revealed. “Sure I gotta husband… spends all his time sayin’ what he’s gonnar do to guys…” Here we can understand some of Curley’s wife’s feelings, and have some sympathy with her.
Her attitudes towards Curley also portray her as tragic, as we know of Curley’s characteristics and the sexist treatment towards women. However, even though we sympathize with Curley’s wife at some points in the novella, some of this sympathy is lost when we read of her treatment of Crook’s. Steinbeck has already portrayed Curley’s wife as lonely at this stage, as she us talking to the men in the first place Steinbeck also seems to show a link between loneliness and tragedy, and this is shown in Curley’s wife. The story line is set in a place called ‘Soledad’ and this can be linked to the word Solitaire, which means alone, and this is a metaphor for the loneliness of the characters in the novel.
We can infer that Steinbeck has purposely used this place to show the loneliness in Curley’s wife, and we see her need for companionship. Another tragic element can be found in Curley’s wife based on this. We then read of her ‘American Dream’, “I tell ya I could of went with the shows….” This outburst from her arouses pity in the reader, as we know that these dreams would not be possible. This can be perceived as tragic because how she is stuck in the sexist context of the times, and based on how lonely she is. Curley’s wife’s actual death is not very surprising due to Steinbeck’s use of foreshadowing, and the build up of dramatic tension. Curley’s wife’s death is firstly foreshadowed by the idea of her being a femme fatal. Every time she has an encounter with other characters in the novella, there is that hostility in the air which foreshadows events to come.
The main use of this literary technique however is just before her actual death. We find Lennie in the barn after killing the puppy. As readers we know that that this killing has not been done on purpose, and this shows Lennie’s ignorance of his own strength. We read ‘Suddenly his anger rose. God damn you, why do you got to get killed…’ Lennie grows angry with the things he accidently kills, displaying his ignorance to the reader.
The dress incident in Weed which we hear of, also foreshadows Curley’s wife’s death. Steinbeck uses dramatic tension with the description of the barn, and the outside. We draw comparisons between the quiet barn ‘the hazy afternoon humming..’ and the excitement of the games outdoors. Dramatic tension is also used after Curley’s wife has died, ‘The quiet of the afternoon was on the ranch..’ This informs the reader of important events waiting to happen after the death. Based on this analysis, Curley’s wife can be seen as a tragic figure, mainly because of how lonely, and almost ostracised she is, because of the social context. Also Curley’s wife is killed without fulfilling any of her dreams, and she can be regarded as tragic based on this.
The final tragic figure to be explored in this essay is Lennie, who is often said to be the most tragic figure in the novella. Steinbeck introduces Lennie as a large, clumsy character: “Lennie dipped his whole head under hat and all…” ‘His huge companion flung himself down and drank from the surface of the pool…snorting into the water like a horse.” In this quote we see an example of Steinbeck’s use of animal imagery; using similes to compare Lennie to a horse. We also read of Lennie’s need of assistance from George in something as minor as drinking water: “Lennie…For God’s sakes don’t drink so much…
Lennie’s reliance upon George is made obvious by Steinbeck. “You never had none you crazy bastard. I got both of ’em’ here…” George is indicating Lennie’s lack of responsibility, which we know is due to his mental disability. We see Lennie to be a ‘draw-back’ for George, due to the fact that George is constantly required to look after him, and Lennie always finds a way of getting into trouble. “God you’re a lot of trouble…I could live so easy if I didn’t have you on my tail” We sympathize with Lennie, as we know that it is not his fault, but his childlike intellect, that holds the pair back, and a tragic element can be drawn from this. Later on in the chapters we read of Lennie’s ignorance of the racial discrimination of the times, when he goes to Crook’s room. Lennie is so unaware of the things that are made so important in the novella, that we have sympathy with him. Crooks is soon able to see Lennie’s obvious lack of intellect, and based on the way Lennie is so easily manipulated in chapter four, a tragic element can again be seen.
The main reasons for Lennie to be portrayed as tragic are found in his death. Steinbeck focuses on the foreshadowing of this tragic event. There is the killing of Candy’s dog. Candy’s dog is utterly dependent upon Candy, and it gets to the stage where the dog becomes too much of a problem and has to be shot, directly foreshadowing George killing Lennie. Lennie and George’s companionship contrasts the loneliness that surrounds them (the loneliness in the ostracised black man, and in the solitary woman), and their companionship arouses curiosity due to how unique it is in the context. “Well, I never seen one guy take so much trouble for another guy. I just like to know what your interest is.” Lennie’s death is also tragic due to the fact that the understanding of those mentally disabled was so poor. Generally people would not care for people like Lennie which is tragic.
The last sentence of the novella sums this up “Now what the hell ya suppose is eating them guys”. These characters cannot understand why emotion would be felt at the death of someone like Lennie, and this is an effective and original ending by Steinbeck because of how tragic it makes those times seem. Based on this another tragic element can be drawn, based on the fact that Lennie is killed by the one person who really cared for him. This is therefore ironic and extremely tragic, as George and Lennie shared he closest thing to friendship in the novella. George often wishes for independence when Lennie becomes troublesome “God a’mighty, if I was alone I could live so easy”…
This creates a major source of tension which is finally resolved by Steinbeck when the gun shot is heard by the riverside, after Lennie’s company becomes impossible to bear. Of Mice and Men can said to be a novel of ‘defeated hope’ based on the fact that Lennie and George’s dream of their own ranch, “We’re gonna have a little place and a couple of acres an’ some cows and some pigs…” is not achieved. Lennie especially clings to the notion that he and George are different from the many ranch workers and, and it is therefore especially tragic to see Lennie proved wrong, as their dream to “live off the fatta the lan” is crushed.
In conclusion, this essay has looked at the extent to which three certain characters can be portrayed as tragic. As each character has been explored we have seen various reasons(which correspond with Greek and Shakespearean tragedy), for these characters to be deemed as tragic. We have seen Steinbeck’s use of various literary techniques such as foreshadowing, and dramatic tension, and these have been effective in portraying certain characters, and keeping the reader under a prolonged suspense. Furthermore, through Steinbeck’s portrayal of certain characters and how they have aroused empathy in the reader, we can assume that Steinbeck does not agree with the social context of these times, and he shows this through tragedy in the novella.
Most of the characters in Of Mice and Men admit, at one point or another, to dreaming of a different life. The novella shows the harsh reality of the American Dream, as each character looked at in this essay have their own dream which is not fulfilled. All the characters that are developed by Steinbeck in the novella wish to change their lives, but none are capable of doing so, and Steinbeck portrays each character as tragic based on the idea of the American Dream.
Lennie is, in my opinion, the most tragic character based on the fact that he provides an element of warmth and humour to the novella, but then goes on to commit a crime completely by accident, which leads to him being murdered by the one person who really understands him in the novel. Therefore even though Steinbeck provides evidence for other characters to be regarded as the most tragic figure (looking again at the sexism and racism in Crooks and Curley’s wife) I think Lennie is the most tragic character.
I also think Lennie is the most tragic figure because of how he walks his way through life completely oblivious to the dangers of the world holding on so tightly to the dream of someday owning a farm, but this dream is so quickly crushed in a instant, and in doing this Steinbeck portrays Lennie as the most tragic figure in the novella. We also see Lennie’s fatal ignorance of his own strength as his ‘tragic flaw’. Also his mental disabilities and the effect they have on himself and George provide reasons for him to be said to be the most tragic character. In closing, we refer back to the poem, as Robert Burns is proved correct, as Steinbeck shows through the novella that the “the best laid schemes o’ mice and men” really do “gang aft agley, an’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain.”