Explore the sense of an ending in the novel and how central this is to the book.
In “Of Mice and Men”, Steinbeck built up a sense of an ending which is applied throughout the entire novel. For this he linked several and different aspects and characters which follow the story and make it successful.
In this novel, the sense of an ending is showed by a few techniques the author used through the whole book.
Firstly, he makes the reader feel it is the end in the last chapter; he brings us back to the same place as in the first chapter in which the natural setting is similar : “Salinas River”, “deep pool”, “Gabilan mountains”, “among the sycamores”, it is like a cycle that finishes where it started. In the beginning of these both chapters, Steinbeck starts with a description of nature. But not only the setting is repeated. The content is as well resembling: Lennie’s thoughts and Lennie and George’s conversation mirror the opening: for example in both chapters they discuss about rabbits and about their dream ranch. However, these similarities actually emphasize the change that have been made with these persona through the story: in chapter one they had their great plan about the ranch and we feel they believed in it, and now in chapter six this plan seems to be left out.
This feeling of an end comes as well when George tells the ritual story, the dream, a last time: “We gonna get a little place […] We’ll have a cow […] An’ we’ll have maybe a pig an’ chickens […]”. Unlike in the middle of the book, the lack of details in his speech gives us the sense it is the last time George tells this; it shows he doesn’t believe in it anymore. Furthermore, we can feel in the way he speaks that something’s wrong, he is very hesitating and he seems stressed and worried. This dream is very important to the novel because it is a narrative and narratives always have an ending.
Secondly, some symbols reveal we’re close to the end. There is “Carlson’s Luger” -which is actually the gun used to kill Candy’s dog- and which George took just before going to see Lennie. This gives us the feeling of a death coming, in other words, the feeling of an end coming.
There is also the death of Candy’s dog because the author reflected Lennie’s death to it: both characters were seen as a nuisance, they were smelly and miserable. On the other side, their “master”’s reaction are different and contradictory: for Candy’s dog shooting, someone else had to do it instead of Candy. And just after agreeing to kill his dog, Candy went and “stared at the ceiling”. And this suggests a need of thinking, of being alone. But for Lennie’s shooting, firstly George did it himself, and secondly he didn’t want nor need to be alone, he actually went in and get a drink with Slim. So this gets the reader to ask himself questions as: “Is George really saddened by Lennie’s death?” Or “Does he regret it?” And finally there is the heron eating the water snake in the beginning of the last chapter: “A silent head and beak lanced down and plucked it out the head, and the beak swallowed the little snake while its tail waved frantically”. The death of this water snake is very short and fast. It prepares us to Lennie’s death, which will be same.
Finally, there are the effects we feel throughout the book which prepare us as well to Lennie’s death. The emotional effects developed for the killing of the dog and the snake (which are pity and empathy) will be the same ones for Lennie’s killing.
Moreover, the sense of an ending is emphasized by the violence in this novel: the scenes when Lennie kills Curley’s wife, the puppy and crashes Curley’s hand, but also when the heron eats the water snake.
The narratives play an important role in the book because they all have a beginning and an end (so this prepares us to the actual end), and because the build up of narratives in the novel prefigures this ending of the book.
Moreover, looking at the descriptions and the images of light in the landscape, there’s always the feeling of the time running out; “Already the sun had left the valley to go climbing up the slopes of the Gabilan mountains, and the hilltops were rosy in the sun”. This imagery gives a sense of obscurity in the scene, a concept which is linked with death.
This novel is also about the impossibility of happiness which contributes to this sense of an ending the readers feels.
The two main characters, George and Lennie, have a dream. This dream is repeated three times: once at the very beginning, from “Someday” to “listen to the rain comin’ down on the roof”, p.16. This telling is the first of the book; it is the one in which the reader discovers and understands how lonely they are. The second time is when George tells this ritual story in front of Candy, from “Well, it’s ten acres” to “We’d have a setter dog and a couple stripe cats, but you gotta watch out them cats don’t get the little rabbits”, p.57-58. We note some more details in this telling, as the lot size (“ten acres”), the different kinds of fruit they’d get (“cherries, apples, peaches, ‘cots, nuts, got a few berries”), what they would eat (“An’ when the salmon run up river we could catch a hundred of ’em an’ salt ’em down or smoke ’em. We could have them for breakfast”), etc. And finally, the third time George tells the story is at the very end, just before he kills Lennie, from “We gonna get a little place” to “An’ live on the fatta the lan’”, p.103-104. But this time a lack of details is noticed in the telling.
The details George gives while telling this ritual story suggest how much he believes in it: the less he believes in it, the less details he gives. We can observe this through the whole book: the first time we hear about the story, a few details are presented but not that much; it is explained by the fact that they haven’t got a lot of money so they don’t really know rather to believe in it or not. Then, the second time, the story is told with an important amount of details: this suggests he really starts to believe in it because he starts to make money and if he goes on with this hard work he can get the amount needed. But in the last telling, the story is really brief and vague, without any detail, and this shows George knows he won’t accomplish this dream, and that he’s ready to let go of it.
Unlike George, Lennie continues believing in their ritual story, persuaded it will be real: “For the rabbits, Lennie shouted […] And I get to tend the rabbits”. This maybe also influences George’s opinion and makes him be tempted to believe in it. And this can as well be the reason why he killed him: George knew their dream won’t be real but Lennie still believes in it, and probably won’t stop.
George Lennie’s relationship is as well important for this dream because without Lennie George maybe wouldn’t have been in the barn so the story wouldn’t be the same, and without George Lennie wouldn’t have this dream, so it wouldn’t exist.
The impossibility of happiness in this novel is expressed by an essential technique used to survive: dreaming, which is a concept that follows George and Lennie throughout the book and which is linked to the sense of an ending of it because the impossibility of happiness is what puts an end to Lennie’s character (it is the reason why George killed him, as told in the previous paragraph).
Candy also contributes to the sense of an ending because he is linked to the dream ranch George and Lennie are dreaming of.
This character was, above all, alone and powerless: he’s part of “the weak ones”, as Curley’s wife says. It is shown by his physical description as well as his language: “stick-like wrist”, “stooped-shouldered”, “bristly white whiskers”, “shifted, “shuffled” (as Lennie), “the old swamper”. Our first impression of this character is that he’s an old man, finishing his life in the barn, that he’s a dominated character, behaving like Lennie, His physical description isn’t comic at all, on the contrary it should makes us feel pity for him just as the author tries to.
He is a victim of nature because of his age, he’s handicapped because of his missing hand and because of it swamping is the only job he can do so we can almost say he’s useless, and all these aspects suggest he represents injustice. But he also brings hope: he takes part of George and Lennie’s dream and tries everything to make it come true: “Oh George! I been figurin’ and figurin’. I got it doped out how we can make some money on them rabbits”, “S’pose I went in with you guys. Tha’s three hundred an’ fifty bucks I’d put in. I ain’t much good, but I could cook and tend the chickens and hoe the garden some”. With this, we feel like he doesn’t have anything to do with his life anymore and that he wants to put some action in it by actually trying to make this dream come true.
Curley’s wife is part of the ending of the novel: her death is the last event before Lennie’s death. Her own ending is felt by the audience from the beginning: she’s the only woman in the barn, she’s alone, and this clearly justifies why she died; she didn’t belong there. So Steinbeck chose to create sympathy for this character. He does this by several ways.
Firstly by placing her in a relationship where she is alone: she’s victim of her husband, she’s never with him and therefore looks for him (“I’m looking for Curley”), she’s the only woman in the barn (not in the book because there is also Aunt Clara) and she complains. Her physical image is a key symbol to her: “She had full, rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up; her fingernails were red. Her hair hung in little rolled clusters, like sausages. She wore a cotton house dress and red mules, on the insteps of which were little bouquets of red ostrich feathers”; she seems to want to be and to feel pretty, to put some femininity in the barn therefore to show she’s a real woman and not to become like the men with which she lives everyday.
So the sense of an ending in this novel is felt because of symbols, emotional effects, several techniques used by the author, different links between characters and aspects of the novel, and the use of narratives which proves us that every narrative has its beginning, and its end.