Naturalism is a literary style that displays action or thought that is derived exclusively from natural desires and instincts (The Reader’s Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary, p. 901). John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men contains several instances of this element. Some of these are found when Lennie breaks Curley’s hand, when Lennie kills Curley’s wife, and when George kills Lennie.
When Lennie breaks Curley’s hand, Lennie’s honesty is contrasted with Curley’s hotheadedness and arrogance. “Then Curley’s rage exploded. . . . He crouched cowering against the wall. ‘You tol’ me to, George,’ he said miserably,”(Steinbeck 68). This scene contributes to the novel the knowledge of the full extent of Lennie’s honesty. The reader is shown that Lennie doesn’t want to hurt Curley even when Curley is hurting him, and feels remorse when he is forced to go against his nature and inflict harm upon Curley.Order now
When Lennie kills Curley’s wife, it becomes apparent that Lennie’s honesty is too stubbornly childlike for the good of himself or anyone else. “Lennie was in a panic. . . . And then he whispered in fright, ‘I done a bad thing. I done another bad thing,'”(99). This scene makes the reader aware that Lennie is too honest to fit easily into society and not smart enough to understand how or why he must stifle his honesty. This helps the reader to understand Lennie’s strength and the childlike openness that drives him. Being forced to stifle this honesty expedites his death.
When George kills Lennie, the reader sees that George is every bit as honest as Lennie, but is smart enough to realize that such brutal honesty is impractical. He would rather deceive and kill his friend than watch him die at the hands of a stranger. “And George raised the gun and steadied it, . . . Slim’s voice shouted, ‘George. Where you at, George?'”(117). George kills Lennie because it has now been proven that Lennie is no good to himself or anyone else. This scene contributes to the knowledge of George’s honesty, but also shows that George must stifle the honesty of how he feels about Lennie and get on with his own life.
Naturalism in this novel has the overall effect of making the conflict clearer and showing more of a contrast between the opposing forces. The three events mentioned have the overall effect of heightening the conflict and the contrast between Lennie’s frank honesty and brute strength with the other men’s stifled honesty and false courage. This courage appears to be lacking until the climax and final resolution resulting in Lennie’s death.