“This book tells the story of what happens to men who need, but cannot have, true communication with each other.” How complete do you find this as a description of the text?
Of Mice and Men is a novel written by John Steinbeck. The story is set in the rural Salinas valley of California. The problems of the novel are intimately tied to the rhythms and frustrations of the itinerant worker’s life. George and Lennie with their dream of acquiring a farm, represent an attempt to stand against such loneliness. Indeed throughout the novel we see almost all men living in the ranch seek for communication. Even the name of the city near which the novel sets,” Soledad”, which is the Spanish world for solitude, resonates with this theme of loneliness.
By reading the book we see that in the ranch most of the men keep distance between each other and have a lack of tolerance. Characters such as Candy or Crooks decide to bury their hopes and dreams deep inside whereas Carlson and Curley adopted this brutal life and are now brutal and selfish. In Of Mice and Men, some characters have a powerful need to communicate and others invite them to do it. Anyway even if Steinbeck make some characters sound despicable he emphasises the moment of their confession by making them act in a sympathic way or showing their deep hidden but living pain so we can here what they are about to say without having any regard against them.
Workers in the ranch such as Lennie end George are inerrant workers and therefore got to follow the work. This suggests that they cannot have the house that they really dream of as they are constantly moving. Communicating in the bunkhouse is quick to become conflictual: men use violent language and there is a lack of tolerance as they neither share past, present nor future together. The major themes in this culture are violence and solitude. Men mainly have a personal sense of moral obligation, a lack of tolerance and a certain realism as they never express their dreams knowing they won’t become true.
We can also see from the beginning that men in the ranch are very self-centred and tend to act alone. There is a lot of suspicion between all men and they all keep their distances with the others. The struggle for power is eminent as none of them wants to admit being at the bottom of the hierarchy except Crooks. Indeed we can see that those such as Curley or Carlson who know they can’t be at the top of the moral hierarchy such a slim is, will try to put themselves above the others by using strength.
Even if he has friendship and trust, George needs to communicate with someone else then Lennie because he knows Lennie can’t understand how he feels and even if he needs Lennie’s companionship he wants to talk with someone that’ll listen to him. Indeed, even if most characters that are in need to communicate will choose to tell their story to Lennie, George, will choose to find companionship within Slim. Thus Crooks thinks “Don’t make no difference no matter who the guy is as long as he’s with you” (p.72), George seems to need someone who will understand and listen what he has to say.
Indeed, Slim is the only one able to have a normal conversation with George and to make him have the “tone of confession”. The opening of the third chapter is made by a discussion between Slim and George. In this chapter we see the importance of friendship and communication as George announces “I seen the guys that go around on the ranches alone. That ain’t no good. They don’t have fun. After a long time they get mean. They get wanting to fight all the time.”(p.41). Here, without really knowing it, George has underlined the main consequence of life in the bunkhouse but also the importance of communicating with another to stay who you are and not become aggressive nor brutal. We see later on that what he has here described is what has happened to Curley and seems to be happening to Carlson.
George’s need for communication is also expressed throughout the second telling of “how things will be”(p.57-58). This passage shows that George somewhere deep inside really wants to believe in this dream and can’t keep it for himself any longer. Also, in this second telling of the dream we can see George has been so long keeping this dream within him, he has imagined every single detail of his future life and farm. He uses accumulation to show he is constantly improving this dream and his tone allows us to feel the excitement and the elevation of joy.
Somehow, George is the character that seems to have found the greatest balance between his communication with Slim and Lennie: his dreams and what he thinks what will be impossible to happen, he chooses to share it with Lennie because he knows he won’t judge him nor take an advantage on the weakness within him at these moments. Whereas his pain and stories, he chooses to share them with Slim because he knows he will listen.
Crooks and Curley’s wife both have lost faith in their dreams. Even if their role in the book is quite different their need of communication and confession toward Lennie are similar. These two characters are also alike in the way their dream will never become true. Indeed, Crooks has no rights in this 1930’s America, he is the only man that isn’t allowed in the bunkhouse and is victim of a lot segregation, racism and brutal vocabulary. Curley’s wife will die without ever being anything else than a rancher’s wife, as being the only female character on the ranch she is considered as the trouble maker by all men in the bunkhouse especially by Candy who will even yell at her after her death considering that she is the only culprit if his dream doesn’t occur.
Crooks is used to be on his own and has been in the ranch for several years which could make us think that he is used to be on his own or that he doesn’t want to have anything to do with anyone since he “kept his distances and demanded that other people keep theirs”(p.67). But he actually really needs to communicate with anyone; this is why he gets jealous of the privilege that Lennie has, to have someone to trust and to talk to: “Books ain’t no good. A guy needs somebody- to be near him”(p.72).
Still Crooks has a realistic sate of mind an knows that being black meens that he is excluded from the rest of the men in the bunkhouse and that he’ll remain for them at the bottom of the hierarchy. He even seems to has got used to it as when Lennie asks him why he isn’t wanted inside he doesn’t doubt or think of what to say before answering “‘Cause I’m black”.Therefore he knows that even if he wanted to communicate with someone no one would listen to him because “If I say something, why it’s just a nigger sayin’it” (p.70).
Crooks’ need of companionship is also show when he realizes Lennie isn’t listening to him but he still goes on telling his story. Once Crooks expresses his dream he is recalled in a brutal way by Curley’s wife the she could get him “strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny” (p.80) this shows that no matter what the man says he isn’t allowed to dream and that as soon as men in this novella express their dream they become victims of the own bunkhouse society.