John Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men follows two men, George and Lennie, through their somewhat lonely and isolated lives on the ranch. The story is set in America, in around the 1920’s, just post the Wall Street Crash. They are bottom of the social ladder, being ranch workers, and travel from location to location in search for employment. They, like many other characters in the novella, had an American Dream. This is the idea of independence, owning your own plot of land and not having to work again. However, in reality, this dream was rarely achieved by such men.
Steinbeck opens the book with a vivid description of the surrounding area. There is a lot of colour imagery “sycamores with mottled, white, recumbent limbs.” The detailed opening emphasises the point that it is a lonely area. Furthermore, the area in which they are in is “a few miles south of Soledad”; Soledad can be translated into English to mean loneliness or isolation. Steinbeck has chosen this to hint at one of the main themes in the book.
There is some evidence of man’s mark on nature, “and among the sycamores, a path beaten hard”. This quotation shows how there had once been a human presence in the area but now it is isolated. When George and Lennie eventually enter the scene, they are walking one behind the other, showing how they are even isolated amongst themselves. Although they are wearing the same clothes which shows there are connected but, yet, isolated.
George and Lennie are further isolated from the rest of society due to their unusual relationship. Lennie is a strong and powerful man; this is shown in the similes that the author has used. “Lennie dabbled his big paw”, comparing Lennie to such a big animal emphasises his size. Whereas George is a not as physically strong but has more intelligence. Conversely, Lennie has a very low intelligent quotient; therefore he is dependent on George to help him in everyway possible. Lennie needs George to survive. However, it is possible that Lennie and George’s relationship can be seen to be interdependent as Lennie gives George a purpose in life.
Travelling together means that Lennie and George are very close but they have more of a parent and child relationship. George has to help Lennie in every situation and, sometimes, loses his control. “I gotta tell you again, do I? Jesus Christ, you’re a crazy bastard!” George loses his temper in the same way that a parent would with a child. George can be seen to be more isolated than Lennie as George always has to clean up the mess that Lennie causes and due to Lennie’s mental disability he does not really understand/care as long as he has George.
The reader learns about the George and Lennie’s dream. “O.K. Some day we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres and some pigs… an’ live off the fatta the lan’ an’ have rabbits” Lennie is fixated on tending the rabbits and will do anything to attend this dream. George subconsciously knows that it is highly unlikely that they will ever achieve this dream. This is linked to the symbolic imagery of the dove that is seen whistling over the water. This bears peaceful connotations and is similar to when Jesus Christ is baptised in the River Jordan. This foregrounds the ultimate freedom that Lennie will obtain when, ultimately, George administers the ‘coup de grace’ (merciful blow) to him.
Once George and Lennie entered the bunkhouse the reader meets most of the main characters, such as Slim and Curley. The bunkhouse, itself, is described in great detail. Everything about the bunkhouse is tacky and ‘DIY’, for example the shelves for belongings are apple boxes. This shows how transitory the workers stay was, how they had no real place to stay and nobody to live with. Also, the bunkhouse is in stark contrast to what the men have and what they dream of and see in their western magazines. In addition, in the bunkhouse there is talk of an unknown figure trying to keep some unknown respect and dignity.
There is evidence of other character’s dreams, and this is linked to isolation and loneliness. Curley’s wife dreams of fortune, fame and Hollywood, where, in reality she only has a common prettiness. She talks of how a man once told her she could make it in the acting business. This is most definitely a lie but she believes her mum prevented her from having this dream by stealing her letter. Another example of dreams is that of Crooks.
He is isolated from the rest of the workers in that he is a Negro, and he is referred to as nigger. Also, Crooks is crippled and cannot work properly. He lives in his own, separate bunkhouse, which shows how much further isolated he is from the rest of the workers. Crooks dreams of impartiality and equality. He wants to be treated fairly by the fellow ranch workers. The dreams that the different characters of the ranch have indicate the loneliness they are subject to in society, and how they dream of a different reality. To conclude, isolation and loneliness plays a key role in the novella. It is one of the main themes of the book. Set during a depression many of the readers would be able to empathise with George and Lennie’s situation. There is a cyclical structure to the book and this is important as it shows how they have ended and started in the same place but so much has changed.