John Ernest Steinbeck was born on February 27, 1902 in Salinas, California. From a very small age he loved books, his mother Olive would constantly read fairly tales to him and therefore at the age of five he was a fluent reader. In the later years he studied and also worked in New York and various other places, where he gained his experiences, found ideas etc which resulted in him writing many books and articles such as The Pearl (1947) – in which a poor diver finds a spectacular pearl but it brings only disaster.
He died due to heart failure in December 1968 and buried in his home land, Salinas, California and in his lifetime had written eight spectacular books. Of Mice and Men came about in John Steinbeck’s mind when he was undertaking a series of unskilled jobs, farm labourer, manuals etc. Working in the ranches had given him an idea and a whole new experience and this became the setting of the famous well known novel, it was published in 1937 and was an immediate success.
But the original title of the book was not Of Mice and Men but was actually Something that Happened, Steinbeck chose Of Mice and Men from a Scottish poet who in his poem wrote ‘… the best laids plans O’ Mice and Men aft gang agly’ this meant that the best plans often go wrong in Scottish. The book was such a hit that it was re-written for plays, became a film staring famous actors, was also used in an educational technique etc. The distressing tale is about a fascinating friendship between two rare roaming workers at the time of the great depression in the years of the 1930s. It shows how the great “American dream” is emulsified.
The book is embossed with history, particularly the great depression. Consequently after the fall of the New York Wall Street stock market in 1929, the United States lunged into an economic break down, which meant unemployed people, failed businesses, poverty etc. People / migrants travelled to California to seek jobs in ranches but there was drought and crops died, this meant that people had to work short term, with poorly paid contracts etc. In the story George and Lennie represent the migrant workers, they have dreams as they are in the so called ‘the promise land’, California.
George and Lennie are the two central characters and heart of the tale. They are two different and surprisingly unique friends. George the ideal migrant who is desperately looking to be employed but is dragged down by Lennie who is mentally dim-witted and is very reliant. George also has a very bad temper this is because of all the time Lennie messes up his plans resulting in George having to get him out of trouble and escaping to look for another job, getting them back to square one, an example of this situation would be when they had a job in a ranch in Weed and Lennie was accused of rape.
After running from the ranch and finding a safe area outside Weed George looses his temper and states that without Lennie he would be better off, Lennie tries to be clever and uses reverse physiology so that he can be sure that George is only saying this and not meaning it, he also wants to make himself feel wanted. They both hide their need of company and don’t like loneliness as George says to Slim ‘it’s a lot nicer to go around with a guy that you know’.
Lennie is a nature lover, as in the book he loves animals even when they are dead. He underestimates his strength resulting in trouble, he personifies a little child stuck in a massive adult body, has a short term memory, he relies on George to tell him what to do and for survival as it quotes in the book ‘Get him Lennie. Don’t let him do it’ this might also mean that sometimes George takes advantage of certain situations and orders Lennie to obey him, good or bad.
This friendship exists not because they like each other, but exists upon duty and pity to Lennie’s Aunt Clara and George has taken responsibility. Lennie with his child like mind is hard to please and therefore George has created a dream, this is the factor that makes them different and keeps them going so that they can reach that dream, George knows that this vision will not come true because of the shortage of money, but apart from this he uses this dream to drive them ahead no matter what.
Nearing the end of the novel after Lennie has run into problems again, he runs to the only place which he knows for safety, as the mob of people that want to kill Lennie for what he has done get closer to him, the friendship extends in George and he doesn’t want Lennie to suffer and decides to do what is right.
This is the heartbreaking moment of the story and shows how the American dream was broken apart until there was no more, but in this case Lennie was the one that caused the problems, he was the reason the dream fell apart and without him the dream might exceed and become a reality as George says that he would be rich and have a stable job if he was alone, he would have no duty or pity to Lennie’s Aunt. In the ranch they meet Candy the old alienated man with one hand.
His only friend is his old smelly dog, in some ways the dog and himself were similar as when they were young they worked hard and got praise but now that they are old they do not get praised. Other workers on the ranch see them as useless and Candy know this making the thought of the being kicked out his greatest fear, as he states in the book ‘I wont have no place to go, an’ I cant get no more jobs’. Because of this fear Candy offers to join George and Lennie’s dream, this money makes George realise that this dream could become a reality making them exited and ecstatic.
Before this excitement was the section in which Candy’s dog was killed by Carlson deeply distressed him as it quotes ‘he lay back on his bunk and crossed his arms behind his head and stared at the ceiling’. Steinbeck may have written this to show the sadness in those harsh times. This shows how candy’s hopes where rose after the killing of the dog, this could represent the fall of the New York Walls Street Market then the unemployed workers got into the American Dream and their hopes were raised.
Crooks is the only black man on the ranch, through him you see the discrimination towards black people in America at that time. He is continually referred as ‘nigger’ rather that crooks in the book which says that he is always degraded from whites. He alienated because of the Jim Crow laws of segregation, which does allowed white and black people to be mixed in same room, buses etc. As a young boy he had white friends and used to play on his dads ranch, this memory made him happy but now it all changed.
When he saw George and Lennie’s Friendship he got emotional and jealous, Lennie enters Crooks room and Crooks tries to destroy their friendship by saying ‘ s’pose George don’t come back no more’, Lennie gets enraged and Crook gets scared and backs off, but he soon finds out about the dream he wants to join. Steinbeck shows that Crooks has seen many other guys with dreams and they never come true.
Suddenly the wife of Curley enters and shows again the discrimination towards black people as she says ‘listen nigger, I could get you strung up on a tree’ this made crooks feel like he is not even good enough if he is compared to an animal. When someone tries to visit Crooks he doesn’t like them knowing that they are better than him because of the colour of their skin. He tries to evade this loneliness by reading books, but we as the readers know that he may not be able to read because he may have not got the education needed prior to the segregation, as he says in the story ‘books ain’t no good’.
Crooks was someone that had already experienced the American dream because in the book it says that his dad used to own a ranch, but as we all know that when a black family came to the USA they were very poor, so owning a far meant that Crooks family must have gone up the ladder of wealth and land but not Status because of their race although it also mentions in the books that Crooks used to have White friends when he was little; and now he is very poor, he is just a brutal example of the great depression and the racism.
Through Curley the boss’ son we see that you have to be tough and manly to survive in the ranch and to gain respect. He picks fights with those that are weaker than him, and show off. He also has friends in high places, and is a boxing champion. This confidence had got him into a marriage that he sees as successful, he other workers disagree with his wife and have concerns but Curley responds with his manliness. He gets jealous very quickly, as when his wife wonders around the ranch talking to the other men, he gets the wrong idea and becomes aggressive.
But when Lennie crushes Curley’s hand do we see how weak he becomes. In the eyes of the great American dream, we see as Curley already there but he is taking advantage of the situation, he is on the pivot to losing everything, through him we see the advantages and disadvantages of living in that era. Curley’s wife is a pivotal character in the tale. Her marriage to the boss’ son has made it so that she is the only female on the ranch. She tries to escape this loneliness by making herself known throughout both verbally or physically.
When she wants to start a conversation or be known she starts by saying ‘any you boys seen Curley’, she also shows off as it states ‘hand full toughed lip and heavily made up face’. Curley’s wife is also a victim of the American dream, as she states ‘I coulda made somethin’ of myself… I met one of the actors he said I could go with that show… nother time I met a guy, an he was in pitchers… says I was a natural’ these quotes show how she was thought of as a women and her dream failed because the men only cared about one thing.
And now she has married Curley, lives on the ranch and becomes alienated because she is the only female. Slim is a respected and important character. He is a man that is higher than the rest as it states ‘… godlike eyes… ‘ and ‘… whose ears heard more than was said to him’. Although he did not have to be manly or aggressive to gain his status, he is a kind and understanding person. Steinbeck may have used this character to show that there was still some good left in that time.
When George and Lennie arrive he takes a special interest to their friendship as he says that not a lot of guys travel together. He listens to George and they have a long conversation while Lennie goes to play with the puppy that he was given as a present. Slim understood very easily and was the only person that understood the relation and problems that George and Lennie had. Nearing the end Slim gives comfort when George is upset and says that what he has done had to be done and it was the right thing to do. Slim represents the wise people of the great depression; he takes life in a calm and mature manner.
Of Mice and Men consists of many themes; these are Friendship, loyalty, loneliness, history, morals / tales and the American Dream. The bondage between George and Lennie is unusual. Their friendship amazes the other workers on the ranch, especially slim who took a keen interest and said ‘Ain’t many guys travel around together, May be ever’ body in the whole damn world is scared of each other’. This means that friendship is rare, because of all the loneliness and isolation at that time, all people really wanted to do is work and get paid so that they can move on.
When people saw George and Lennie they saw that they were supporting each other, they were looking after and taking care of each other, this made other people jealous and they try to destroy this friendship. But when George and Lennie came in for their new job, the supervisor thought that George was taking advantage over Lennie and using him, but we as the readers know that George really does care for Lennie, maybe through pity and duty but in the book when Lennie says that he could leave, George says no, because we know that he needs company and doesn’t like being lonely.
They act as if they are family and George is the big brother, as in the book George is the one that make the decisions and Lennie has to always follow. Nearing the end of the novel we see the loyalty and suffering that George had to go through and we see how the friendship exceeds. There is more friendship in the ranch, between Candy and his dog and Slim and the workers. Candy loved his dog, he was his only family, he could talk to him, he could tell him what to do, he could be the father figure, an example of this father figure would be that he gave food to the dog and the dog sat next to him like a son.
But when his dog was put down this relationship disappeared and he was lonely and no one to talk to etc. Slim is the god like figure on the ranch, he is kind to all the workers and in return the workers are loyal and respectful towards him. But he does not have a close friend, a person that he could share his feelings with, this means that in some ways he is lonely inside but still has company and people around him.
The dog and Lennie are similar in some ways as Steinbeck says about Lennie ‘dabbled his paw in the water and wiggled his fingers so the water arose in splashes’, the book says that the dog is brainless as well and Lennie is dim-witted which makes them similar in some ways. This also means that George and Candy are similar, they both act like father figures and Lennie and the dog obey them. But there is a difference between Lennie and the dog, which is that Carlson shot Candy’s dog and George shot Lennie.
The dog was shot by Carlson because it was useless, smelly and old, but Lennie was shot by George out of loyalty and friendship because he did not want Lennie to suffer so he George gave him a painless and quick Death, this shows how much George cares for Lennie as in the book it says ‘… I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you… ‘ However there is a lot of loneliness and hate in the book. Curley is very lonely because his wife is always running away from him and he is always trying to find her.
Curley also shows a lot of anger and jealousy and these results in pain. Crooks is another example and he show the discrimination in that time, there was no other black person on the ranch meaning that he was a always by himself and at night time he can hear the white people playing in their bunkhouse and all he can do is read books which he hates. After Candy’s Dog was shot Candy became very lonely and he felt that he rather be shot than have nobody, he is getting old and soon they will tell him to leave and therefore candy will have nowhere to go, he cannot get another job.
It is very distressing to know that when these people will get ill or die they will have nobody and nobody will look after them, nobody will care, because as slim said, ‘May be ever’ body in the whole damn world is scared of each other’. Furthermore the book is reflecting the history of the great depression and the 1930’s. He also wrote about the migrant workers, the economical disaster, the poor quality of life, how hard it was to get employed etc. Steinbeck may have wanted to show his experience in a tale rather than making a boring history book about the incident.
He wanted to show the emotion that he might have felt, the harsh conditions that they had to put up with and the dreams / ambitions that they had. This successful book was a hit and the history made sure that it was used in an educational way so that people could gain a further and interesting view of that time. If you read and understand the story you find that it has some morals. Features in the writing portray mentally and emotional characters in the tale which creates a style for the reader from which they can gain aspects and understandings.
One moral is that both heroes and villains are victims, in this case George and Lennie are the heroes, Curley is the villain and of course the great depression and loneliness being the incident. Another predictable moral of the story would be that the bad guy never wins, but in this case the bad guy being Curley and the good guys being George and Lennie, another twist to this moral was that the good guys never won either, this was something different and separated this book from others.
The biggest and most important theme in the book is about the American dream, America is well known throughout the world as the ‘Promise Land’, ‘Where nothing is impossible’, ‘Any one can make it if they work for it’ and much more. Many poor people have entered America and came out as rich, fat, smoking men in tuxedos and a cowboy hat, may it be because they gamble or that they are born business men. Steinbeck focused mainly around the dream / goal that George and Lennie had, they thought that because of this dream they are different from the others as they say in the book ‘… ith us it ain’t like that. We got a future. ‘ This desire they dreamt of was of owning their own ranch in which they had freedom and in the book they describe it as ‘Well, it’s ten acres ” a chicken run, got a kitchen, orchard, cherries, apples, peaches, “cots, nuts, got a few berries. They’s a place for alfalfa and plenty water to flood it. They’s a pig-pen… An rabbits, George… and live of the fatta the lan… ‘ This desire alone keeps them going.
This a complete figure of a typical migrant in those days, where people only wanted to work so that they could reach their goals and hope that their desires become realities. When Steinbeck wrote this book he also had a dream, he wanted his book to be successful, and the difference between the George and Lennie’s dream and Steinbeck’s is that Steinbeck’s dream became a reality as Of Mice and Men was a hit. Although Steinbeck revolved around George and Lennie’s dream, some of the other workers on the ranch stated their dreams or tried to buy into George and Lennie’s.
Candy, after his dog was put down, eavesdropped when George and Lennie were talking about their dream, Candy started to think that the only way he could stay happy and get out of this place not lonely is to join the dream and turn the dream into reality with the help he could offer, when Candy told them how he could help with his money and doing little jobs like cooking etc, George hesitated and then thought about the money they had totalled with the money Candy had and the amount the ranch costs, he suddenly realised that this could work and the money would give them a might boost towards the ranch.
So Candy was in and very happy that he had a future. Crooks, the only black man on the ranch was talking with Lennie. Candy enters and then he and Lennie start to talk about the dream, Crooks get jealous and reassures himself that he has seen many guys pass with dreams and they have never come true. As Candy and Lennie keep on talking he starts to see their happiness and wants to get in as he says in the book ”0′ help out in the land that they will be getting’.
This means that suddenly crooks may have a chance to re live his childhood memories, he could be free, he could be happy and have people around him that treat him equally and not degrade him. But Crooks stays quiet thinking to himself and keeping to himself. There was somebody else on the ranch, who Steinbeck decided to write about. This was Curley’s wife and her dreams. When she was as young as 15 she was told that she could be a star, she was also told by a Hollywood actor that would try to get her a place and that he would contact her, he never has.
Still after marrying Curley she wait for the letter from Hollywood, we as the readers can see how desperate she is and how she is still holding on to her dream through thick and thin, maybe this is the reason for he acting very flirtatious. One night she was talking to Lennie, who was deranged of her beauty, he asked if he could touch her hair and suddenly not knowing how much strength he had, broke her neck. This incident was the last jigsaw to breaking apart her dream / goal.
Originally Of Mice and Men was an experiment for a play, therefore the parts with the action are in short paragraphs, the chapters are represented as numbers which is much like scenes and this answer the question of how short the book is because normal play books are very short. The tale is told in a clear and straight to the point narrative way, this shows the power of Steinbeck’s story telling capabilities. If the book was turned into a play it would be very easy because most of the action and screening would be indoors, i. e. the bunkhouse or the barn.
This explains the style of the way the story is told and the original ideas that Steinbeck intended to achieve. The language that Steinbeck uses is to create a feeling of atmosphere and realism so that the reader can feel what the characters are feeling as if they were there. He does this by adding lots of metaphors and similes throughout the book. He wants the readers to see a clear picture of the setting that Steinbeck has created. On one page alone there are over ten similes, this shows how much thought he has put into his work.
The use of slang gives a sense of realism towards the character and gives an insight to the migrant workers that are not educated and unethical. Through George and Lennie we see that their language is very hard when they are in hard times, but nearing the end we see friendship between George’s Language becoming softer as he makes a hard decision, that will decide Lennie’s fate, through the language we see how much he cares for Lennie. A summary of all the points I have stated above would be that the dream and Friendship may not always be forever.
Steinbeck in his book show how the American Dream is shattered and how Friendship can go so far as you will do anything for them. I think that you do not have to be a hero or villain to survive in the ranch and achieve your dreams, you have to be smart and be cautious. After the end of the book I think that the characters will be happy because Lennie was a burden, now that he is gone George may have the pay to get the dream ranch or he might want to join the other men and go to the whore house, he can now look after himself instead of look after somebody else.
This story that Steinbeck has written help the reader understand the importance of being morally responsible to get what you want in life. You can always do something you want (as the song goes) ‘with a little help from my friends’ although this song was not out at that time. Being morally responsible means that you do things responsibly and sensibly, you do not waste, you do not make stupid decisions etc. And if the workers were smart, morally responsible, cautious etc they might achieve their dreams / ambitions even after the great depression.