Mice and Men is a story written by John Steinbeck mainly about two friends, George and Lennie. George is described as “Small”, “Quick”, “Dark of face” with restless eyes and sharp strong features. Lennie is totally the opposite, and is described as “huge man”, “shapeless of face” with large pale eyes and sloping shoulders. John Steinbeck shows that George is the small clever guy whereas Lennie is the big dumb guy. George and Lennie travel together everywhere in the search for a job. Lennie keeps on messing up and so George and Lennie have to move elsewhere.
This brings them to a ranch in California. George describes people working on the ranch as the “loneliest guys in the world”. They have “no family” and don’t belong “no place”. They’re working in the ranch to build up a stake to have their own place. The boss’s son “Curley” has a wife who likes to flirt around with the guys and one day she is flirting around with Lennie whilst everyone else is playing a game. She tells Lennie to touch her hair, but this was a grave mistake because Lennie doesn’t let go. Curley’s wife starts to scream and try to get Lennie hands of her hair.
But this result in Lennie holding her hair even tighter, and because of Lennie’s brute strength, her neck was broken and she died. Seeing this Curley set out for revenge for his wife and his broken hand. He goes with all the ranch workers set on killing Lennie. George knows where Lennie had gone and he also goes there. George does not want Lennie to be brutally killed and for the sake of friendship he kills Lennie himself so Lennie can be spared from being killed by others. There are many themes to the play but the main one is “friendship” between George and Lennie.
Unlike any other worker on the ranch George and Lennie have each other. Steinbeck reiterates this point by saying “I got you and you got me”. In Mice and Men every ranch worker desires to come together in a way that would allow them to be like brothers. Each ranch worker would like to know that there is someone in the world dedicated to protecting them. The Boss asks George “Say-what you sellin”? He was suggesting why he always looked out for Lennie and if he wanted the money Lennie earned. The Boss could not understand the fact that George and Lennie were friends and looked out for each other unlike the other ranch workers.
Another theme would be the “Human existence” and during the story at one point or another nearly all the characters, including George, Lennie, Candy, Crooks and Curley’s wife admit to having a profound sense of loneliness and isolation. Curley’s wife admits to Candy, Crooks, and Lennie that she is unhappily married and Crooks tells Lennie that life is no good without a companion to turn to in times of confusion and need. The characters are rendered helpless by their isolation, and yet, even at their weakest, they seek to destroy those who are even weaker than they.
Perhaps the most powerful example of this cruel tendency is when Crooks criticizes Lennie’s dream of the farm and his dependence on George. Having just admitted his own vulnerabilitiesâ€”he is a black man with a crooked back who longs for companionship, Crooks zeroes in on Lennie’s own weaknesses. It seems that each person gets strength when criticising someone’s weakness. Crooks seems at his strongest when he has nearly reduced Lennie to tears for fear that something bad has happened to George, just as Curley’s wife feels most powerful when she threatens to have Crooks lynched.
The novel suggests that the most visible kind of strength, that used to oppress others, is itself born of weakness. Probably the main reason why Lennie and George were together was because they fear loneliness. Another theme is the “Impossibility of the American Dream” where every character reveals that they wish to live another life. Curley’s wife confesses her desire to be a movie star. Crooks, bitter as he is, allows himself the pleasant fantasy of hoeing a patch of garden on Lennie’s farm one day, and Candy latches on desperately to George’s vision of owning a couple of acres.
All the characters have to resign themselves to something that they don’t want to be. The theme is that no-one ever is getting to fulfil their dreams especially during the depression period. During the 1930’s there was ‘depression’ when the American economy was low and out and out of business with no money or jobs. So everyone was going to the “land of dreams”. It was California that everyone wanted to go to, as the soil was good for growing crops. But even California was being called a “Dust Bowl” which meant that the drought made it impossible to farm on the land.
On the contrary people had wear masks not to inhale the sand otherwise they might not even live. For migrant workers it was really hard to earn money and was really lonely. If a migrant worker was too old they would fire him because he can’t work properly. In the novel, Candy has a similar situation. The moment he can’t swamp out bunk-houses they’ll “can him purty soon”. This suggests that people who work at the ranch have to be able to work. This is why Candy wanted to lend George and Lennie the money so he would have a stake and a place to live when he was too old.
Only the strongest survived in the world. They’re lifestyle was very poor and had to work really for little money. When George and Lennie arrive in the bunkhouse they have few comforts in their quarters. The men have to sleep on rough burlap mattresses. Life was not so clean in the ranch, but Candy talks to George about the person who had earlier the bed that George had. Whitey was a very clean person and used to “wash his hands even after he ate”. This suggests that the rest might not have washed their hands after meals. This shows that they’re lifestyle was of a low class.
They didn’t have a lot of belongings with only some stuff like a razor, bar of soap, a bottle of pills, liniment and a leather wristband. This shows that at the time people didn’t have enough money to have a considerable amount of belongings. George and Lennie didn’t have any belongings that couldn’t fit into an apple box that they had been given to put their belongings in. This suggests that they had stuff that was very small, such as toothpaste etc. Nearly all the ranch workers had barely any belongings. Only Crooks had some considerable amount of possessions than he could carry on his “Crooked back”.
He had many possessions for being alone in a room away from every one else. Crooks possessed several pair of shoes, a pair of rubber boots, a big alarm clock, and a single-barrelled shot gun. He also had books such as a tattered dictionary and a mauled copy of the California civil code for 1905. A California civil code suggests that Crooks may have known quite a lot about law and segregation but still he was being ruled out by white people. The fact that that Crooks had much more possessions than any other ranch worker is surprising but then again he is alone and has nothing else to do.
On the whole a ranch worker had very small possessions and just worked for their money and hopes to build a stake and have their own land. In the 1930’s women were treated to have no respect and their role was to look after the children and the house. At the time women weren’t allowed to vote and the men were the ones in control of the house and earning money. The culture was that women weren’t allowed to do much and had to obey their husbands and family. This also similar to the early Indian culture where also the same injustice used to happen to the women.
It is only now that the modern culture and people’s minds are changing about what women’s role should be in the world. In the novel Curley’s wife is the only women mentioned and the reader never really gets to her, always describing her as Curley’s wife. This shows the readers of the book that Steinbeck wanted to put into words the views of the men on the ranch; he wanted to show how the other men on the ranch felt she was unimportant. I feel this is why she has no identity; she is lonely because she feels she is not important to anyone else.
Steinbeck generally depicts women as troublemakers who bring ruin on men and drive them mad. In the novel, women are seen as a people who fulfil men’s sexual needs. The ranch workers went to a “flop house” and had sex with men for 2 dollars. The ranch workers were really desperate to take away the gap of loneliness. In the novel Curley also uses his wife as a sex object. He says he has a “glove full of Vaseline” implying that he has that hand soft for his wife. Curley never trusts his wife, suspecting that she is flirting with the ranch workers.
He always suspects Slim, but he has to apologise for the false accusation knowing that Slim is too strong to be beaten. Even Curley’s wife doesn’t think much of him. On the contrary she tells Lennie “glad you bust up Curley”, “he got it comin to him”. Even she feels that he should be given a good lesson by someone of what power really is. Curley had always tried to bully and intimidate people smaller and weaker than himself. And then for the first time she actually tells Lennie that she “don’t like Curley” and that “he ain’t a nice fella”.
She can confide within him and this refers to earlier when Crook’s says “A guy can talk to you an’ be sure you won’t go blabbin”. Lennie only really remembers or is interested is about rabbits and petting them. Curley’s wife never had a good relation with her husband and this is shown plenty of times during the novel. Not having the best of relations with Curley she tends to feel lonely and only being able to talk to Curley and no-one else makes her even lonelier. Her situation is very similar to Crooks who is also very lonely. She gives all the ranch workers the eye, especially Slim and Carlson.
The ranch workers view her as a “tart”. She goes to the bunk-house to meet the workers with the excuse that she is finding Curley. As she is leaving the bunk-house she says “bye boys” trying to flirt around with the workers. George views Curley’s wife as a “tramp” and also says that “she’d clear out for twenty bucks”. George is suggesting that she is a prostitute and Curley certainly married the wrong person. George seems to hate her the most because she feels that she could be trouble for Lennie, and this is foreshadowing because we know what happens to Lennie and whose fault it was. She ain’t concealin’ nothing” which shows that is flirting very openly.
“She got the eye goin’ all the time on everybody”. “I bet she even gives the stable buck the eye”. She gives the eye to everyone and she is so desperate that she even gives the black worker Crooks the eye. Curley’s wife gets frustrated at not being able to talk to anyone and went she talks to a worker when he’s alone they talk to her but when there are two workers no-one of them will talk to her. She feels that they are all scared of each other. She ask Lennie, Candy and Crooks “Think I don’t like to somebody ever’ once a while?
Think I like to stick in that alla time? This suggests that she is very lonely and stuck in her house and wants to go outside. Probably the fact that Curley doesn’t pay her any attention and she is always lonely, drives her to flirt around with everyone to fill that gap ness of loneliness. It really isn’t her fault that she is flirting with the ranch workers. Close to the end she meets Lennie outside and she flirts around with him, making him touch her hair. Lennie likes to touch soft things and when she tells him to let go he won’t and hold on stronger resulting in her death. Her flirting cost her own life.
The language that Steinbeck uses for Curley’s wife when talking to the ranch workers is persuasive to make them understand her situation and possibly feels sympathetic for her. Also she talks in a sweet way trying to seduce them. Perhaps the time of depression resulted in women not being treated fairly and this resulted in loneliness. The culture was to try to earn as much money as they could this resulted in men forgetting about their wives. In Mice and Men there is only one black person in the whole ranch. At the time there was a lot of racism by white people to black people. Black people were being segregated by white people in everything.
White people wanted to show that they are superior in every way to black people. John Steinbeck shows this as well in the book in the form of Crooks. He gets racially abused all the time because he was a black. He never spoke to anyone and he had his own room separate from everyone else so he never had chance to speak to anyone. No-one ever talked to him apart from sometimes Slim. The workers were embarrassed to talk to Crooks just like Candy is when he enters Crooks room. They called him a “black negro” or “nigger” which is a foul word to say especially if it’s not black man to black man.
Curley’s wife is very racist to Crooks saying “I could get you strung up a tree so easy it ain’t even funny”. She could get Crooks lynched through no fault of his. When Lennie tries to come into Crooks room and talk to him as the rest have gone out, Crooks says “You got no right coming into my room”. Crooks tell Lennie that he isn’t invited to the bunkhouse because he’s “black” and that he “stinks”. He was implying that he couldn’t do things that other people did because he was a different race colour. When he talks, no-one gives him importance because it’s only a “nigger” talking.
But finally the aspiration of talking to someone overcomes him and he allows Lennie to come in. Crooks views everyone as racist depicting his character as someone who keeps to himself and does’nt try to interact with anyone else. The culture at the time was very similar to South Africa where also this type of racism and possibly even worse racism happened to black people. The American dream was a dream everyone wanted to strive for. The poor ranch hands wish to be their own bosses, and actually have stability. George, Lennie, Candy and Crooks are all chasing the dream.
George and Lennie have the dream even before they arrive at their new job on the ranch, to make enough money to live “off the fat of the land” and be their own bosses. They plan to have their own little place with some cows and pigs. Also they want a “big vegetable patch” and a “rabbit hutch” and “chickens”. Candy upon hearing about the dream, wanted to join them so he would not be left alone, especially after his dog was killed. He would have been out of a job and living place soon enough because he was getting old and so if he had his own place no-one could kick him out.
Crooks wanted to join them so he wouldn’t be alone. He felt that if he lived with George, Lennie and Candy, he may not be racially abused and can talk to someone. George has to let go of his dream and financial security when he kills Lennie so he would escape a brutal death. In the novel, Steinbeck mocks the dreams of the characters because of the impossibility of a better life for them. Killing Lennie meant that he wouldn’t have enough money and also a person to live with so therefore he would spend his whole life alone working in the ranches.
This is also dramatic irony because at the start he keeps telling Lennie that he would have done better if he was alone. But now when he is alone he can’t live this way. One other aspect of the American dream portrayed in the book is the dream of Hollywood for Curley"s Wife. This is the feminine version of the dream of owning land. However, she also envisions escaping the world she lives in and moving to a perfect one like the male dream. She says, whilst talking to Lennie, “… a show came through and I met one of the actors. He says I could go with that show.
But my ol" lady wouldn"t let me. She says because I was on"y fifteen. But the guy says I coulda. If I"d went, I wouldn"t be livin" like this you bet. ” This quote shows how she has convinced herself that there is a better life that she could have had, and maybe still hope for in the movies. This dream is seemingly all that keeps her going in her unhappy marriage to Curley, showing once again how dreams are needed to be held onto. This has been an appropriate to study novel because it is a good way of learning about the life in America and the culture in the 1930’s.
The novel shows the different aspects of culture in America during the 1930’s. You can learn about friendship at the time, living style, how woman were treated, racism and the dream of owning land. The most favourite part of this novel is the role of Curley’s wife and how she treated by other people and how she reacts to it. This is what probably told me the most about the culture of America during the 1930’s. The way that Steinbeck has depicted each character really demonstrates the life during the 1930’s. This is why I feel that this has been an appropriate novel to study.