Of Mice and Men is a well known novel written by John Steinbeck. It was published in a highly traumatic time, in America. When the Wall Street crash catalysed the Great Depression and the United States suffered an economic collapse. Due to the lack of money there was a high level of unemployment of men and women and many businesses closed down. Additionally America experienced terrible droughts known as the Dust Bowl in which many crops died. The lower the American economy sank the higher the numbers of migrant workers rose, it reached approximately 13 million in 1932! The only way for many Americans to earn money was to travel into the countryside, where work was hard, dangerous, and lonely.
They became itinerant workers; the workers moved from place to place for work, to follow the harvest across California-USA. Itinerant workers travelled alone, Steinbecks character George describes them as the loneliest guys in the world. They usually travelled by cheap buses, hitch hiking rides or simply walking. The pay was not bad; they earned $2 to $3 a day and in addition received accommodation and food. As they were lonely and didnt have much they blew their jack at the local pubs and cat houses every Saturday night, this meant that they essentially trapped themselves in this style of living.
I personally think that Steinbeck chose to focus on the lives of itinerant workers to show the problems facing America and its people during that period. People just saw the economic problems, not the desperation of the workers, or the racial discrimination of the black community and I think that is what Steinbeck was trying to show, the personal effect to millions of men and women. Further more, as Steinbeck had worked on a ranch, he felt sympathy to the workers, and portrays their situation sensitively.
George and Lennie are the two main characters in Of Mice and men. Steinbecks detailed description of them allows the reader to easily relate to the characters strong personalities and sympathises with their situation. George and Lennie get on very well; they look out for each other. One of the main things that hold them together is their dream; they are not like other ranch workers because they all travel alone, they are the loneliest guys in the world. They travel together, they have got a future¦somebody to talk to that gives a damn about them. Lennie acts like a child, although he is very strong, Strong as a bull. George on the other hand is sharp, intelligent, and quick.
Their personalities deeply match their physical appearance, George is quite short, and skinny whilst Lennie is tall, muscular, and broad shouldered. The relationship, as strong as it is, is quite uneven, George has a lot of authority over Lennie, and we know this as they walked in single file¦ and even in the open one stayed behind the other. So even when there was room for them to walk next to each other, they didnt, showing that even though they are together they are separate, lonely and they have no community to look after them, no one that is their equal and their friend.
The setting of the novel is important for Steinbeck to convey his views on how the workers lived. Steinbeck makes many references to light though-out the whole of the novel, about how weak the lighting in the workers bunk house is as it didnt light up the corners, and how Curleys wife blocks off the rectangle of sunshine in the doorway when she enters. This shows how she had cut off everything good and pure, as light colours and the sun shows hope; it is almost like she is bringing trouble with her. In the last chapter Lennie is shot, killed by George, his death is sudden but the book was written so we would be expecting it.
The description of the setting contains many references to light, how the sun left the valley, mountains seemed to blaze¦increasing brightness. The sun is setting the day is ending, so is the novel and their dream; it is all inevitable, including their lives. Steinbeck was a pessimistic and the theme of trouble is very prominent throughout the novel. John Steinbeck also uses other descriptions linked to the weather to convey atmosphere, like the wind, a far rush of wind sounded¦ gust drove though¦ tops of trees like a wave. Compared to chapter one in the same setting where there is no sound of wind, it is calm. In chapter six we can tell something is brewing, a disturbance is coming, and something is going to happen.
In chapter two he describes the small bunk house, which is where all of the workers on the ranch live, from this detailed evocative description we can see how little the workers actually do have, and how they depend on very plain objects, like magazines and their dreams. The room itself is extremely simple and only provided the necessaries for the workers. Walls were whitewashed¦ floors unpainted. The d¯¿½cor in the basic four walled rectangular room is cheap, and hardly luxurious, by using words like, whitewashed makes the walls seem boring, cold and hard, almost as if the paint had just been thrown onto the walls, almost like no true care had been put into the comfort of the ranch workers living quarters. Steinbeck refers to the room looking like a dank prison, in three walls there were small, square windows, and in the fourth, a solid door with a wooden latch.
The solid door with a wooden latch makes the bunk house seem enclosed, kept in the dark, yet by having a wooden latch it makes the room seem like it does not need protecting, the possessions are not worth keeping safe. With very small windows and a big heavy door it gives you the idea of a coffin with thick stale air, this idea seems more like reality as you read on and find out that the sunlight is choked with dust when it shines in the bunk house, which strongly reflects the claustrophobic atmosphere, it also shows how dirty and unhygienic the living areas actually are, as flies shot like rushing stars, though the beam of sun light. In one of the bunks in the room there was a spray-can to kill bugs; one of the characters in the novel called Candy explains that the man who slept there before was just very consciously clean.
The bunk house was obviously very cramped as it contained eight bunks, meaning there was no privacy, it was a communal living, and a communal life, as they ate, slept and spent 24 hours of their day with each other, not only is there a lack of privacy, but none of the dignity that grown adult men should have. Inside the bunk house there was a nailed apple box¦ so that it made two shelves above the bunks, this allowed the men to keep their limited amount of possessions in one area of the room, a small area of privacy. Also in the room there was grouped boxes, where the men sit to play cards, all the furniture is very make-shift and cheap, representing that the men dont stay there long, they are only temporary workers. On the make-do shelves the workers had, articles, soap¦talcum powder, razors and those western magazines that men love to read¦and their medicines¦ little vials, combs; ¦a few neck ties. All simplicities, but they treat them like luxuries; they can not have anything more as they would not be able to carry it from place to place, as they worked.
Near one of the walls on the bunk house was a black cast-iron stove, in those times men did not cook, it was degrading. The workers having to cook for themselves is not as bad as having to clean for the rest of the ranch, especially if you were a man. One character on the ranch does have this job, Candy. He has what is seen as a womens job, yet he does it as he had a physical disability, this is an example of the levels of hierarchy on the ranch. Even though all of the men are different there is a certain category of men that can only be itinerant workers, white, young, strong men. Everyone else is below them in the hierarchy, Crooks being black and disabled, Candy being crippled, and Curlys wife being a woman. Even Curly feels that he needs to be more physically strong to make up for his height.
The start of chapter two deeply contrasts with the start of chapter one, chapter one is a hillside bank, which the Salinas River runs by. It is a beautiful setting and a lovely time of day, as it is the late evening of a hot day. The river runs deep and it is warm, the river had slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight before reaching the narrow pool. To one side of the river was the strong and rocky Gabilan mountains and on the other side the water is lined with trees. Steinbeck goes in to specific detail for this setting, even describing the lead junctures, showing just how important and picturesque this place is. Steinbeck goes on to tell us about the animals skittering lizards and rabbits¦ sitting ¦on the sand in the evening, the tracks of deer and coons. The scene changes and the marks left by man are described, the hard beaten path, the piles made by fires and the limbs of a giant sycamore worn smooth by the men who have sat on it.
As George and Lennie enter the area the animal hurried noiselessly for cover, birds laboured into the air and pounded down the river. The place was lifeless for a few moments before the men came into the opening. I think Steinbeck changes the peaceful atmosphere as the men enter, to show the power men have over the environment, the power and strength they posses. When they sit down Lennie starts to drink from the water, it might look nice, but George tells Lennie to stop as it looks scummy. This is not the only dark side of nature, there are water snakes, which the herons would eat then the coyotes that would eat herons. It is survival of the fittest, just like at the ranch and in America at that time. None-the-less the expansive setting distant mountains, a free flowing river, and the natural wildlife contrasts with the enclosed bunkhouse where the men are trapped. Steinbeck does this to show the predictability of existence; the cynical lives that they lived and worked in.
Steinbeck does not just show the different levels of power in animals and humans, but with humans together, for example the Boss not really being present in the novel, except when George and Lennie arrive, when he is questioning them, the Boss was sore as hell when they were late, as the Boss did not get that little bit of money more that he could of earned. The character is obviously only concerned about the money, not the workers, as he says, you dont need any brains to buck barley bags.
The Bosss name is never written in the novel, which almost gives us the idea that he has no personality, as if he is just a person making others work for him. On the way to meet the Boss, George asks Candy about him, he says that he is a pretty nice fella. Gets pretty mad¦ hes pretty nice. Throughout the description Candy repeats the same word pretty often, showing that he really does not know the true nature of the Boss as he is not a constant figure on the ranch, he mainly stays in his house. This could be because the Boss does not want to mix with people below his status, or because he does not want to get attached to people who he knows will leave soon, but most likely it is just because he does not care, all he wants is money, he employs strong men and lets them get on with it, Steinbeck presents him as a harsh capitalist.
As the Boss is not on the ranch that often and looking out for his workers, the workers can get away with a lot, with out even concerning him, he doesnt care what happens to them, he can always employ someone else. However the Boss is not evil, as he brought the workers a whole gallon of beer for Christmas, and is very concerned about whether Lennie is taking Georges money at the end of the month. When Steinbeck describes the Boss himself, he tells us how he is a short man, but with quick steps, he does not dress extravagantly, but he does not wear ranch clothing that working men wear. His shoes were high-heeled boots they had spurs to prove he was not a labouring man. His son also wears this style of boot, the boots are described like cow-boy boots, the American Dream, and the pioneering of Americas past. Not only were the boots meant to show that the Boss had his own land but that he had authority and power, he demanded respect, and the boots were another object that could be used to show the hierarchy on the ranch.
The Boss and Curly, (his son) demand authority, contrasting to Slims natural authority, Slim is one of the ranch workers who is respected by everyone else because he is a good man; he is emotionally intuitive, which makes it easy for him to make friends. The workers feel like they can trust him, talk to him, in one part of the novel, Lennie tells Slim about when they were kids and how he used to make Lennie jump in¦ the Sacramento River¦ he jumps¦ He damn near drowned but George had forgotten that Lennie told him to jump in, and just thanked him for pulling him out. George also told Slim why they left Weed, about how Lennie had touched a girls dress; just to feel the material, and how George and Lennie were chased out of Weed.
George and Lennie are itinerant workers, on this ranch they earn approximately $2 a day, we know this as they get fifty bucks at the end of each month. Their personal job was to buck barley bags which meant that they had to throw large bags of grain on a truck, the barley is poured into large burlap bags, around 75 or more pounds and then is passed brigade-style to the truck. The work was dull, and repetitive, and once it was done, the workers could spend the rest of the day, doing what they want.
In Of Mice and Men, the men usually play cards, in their bunk house. The men play solitaire, a one man game, which shows the continuous theme of loneliness throughout the novel. There are many references to the men playing cards, usually in awkward circumstances, for example the shooting of Candys dog. Carlson offered to kill the dog because he was old and smelled, however Candy does not like the idea, when the dog is being shot the room is very awkward and the other ranch workers play cards to take their minds away from the subject that obviously hurts Candy.
Everyone they meet find it hard to imagine George and Lennie going around together, even Slim, who is a very friendly and kind worker on the ranch. He is also very intelligent and perceptive, and he has a good sense of justice and fairness. (1) Slims comment on the fact that there Aint many guys that travel around together. Men dont usually go around with each other. Altogether I think Steinbeck does this to show the solitude and loneliness of a ranch worker, throughout their whole life.
The Bosss son is called Curly; Curly is a mean and a power craving little man. Because he is so small he tries to be very aggressive and strong, he takes boxing lessons as if to show that he might be short but he is better then everyone else, almost as if he is trying to prove his masculinity. He wears the high healed boots with spurs like his father, to portray his authority and power, but also to add to the height. Curlys name like most of the characters represents his physical appearance, he has Curly hair, and his fists are often described as being wound up, curled. Curly hates big guys- he has little man syndrome. From what all the characters say about him he is horrible, trouble and loves to show people how he is better then them. I think Curly does all of the boxing to make up for is height, to show that he might not be a strong working man, but he is better then that, he can look after himself and no one can stop him.
There are two main relationships in the novel, Curley and his wife plus George and Lennie, neither of these relationships last. It is almost as if Steinbeck is trying to say that even if you want to be with someone in this lonely life style it would be impossible. Once you start to work in this business it corrupts you, in each of those relationship one person dies. Steinbecks very pessimistic views probably come from when he was a ranch worker; he experienced the harsh reality of loneliness himself. Curly married a few weeks before George and Lennie arrived, the name of his wife is not written down in the novel one, she is referred to as Curlys wife, a possession, not a true person. It was a very sexist view, and that was what Steinbeck was trying to show by not giving her a name, that some of the Americans views were still very sexist.
Curly has no control over his flirtatious wife; they spend more time asking other members of the ranch where the other one is then they do with each other. They both realise that they are not suited to each other; Curly just likes the fact that he has something over the other men; he has something to do at night, every night if he wants, and what other men cant. To show this he wears a glove on one of his hands filled with Vaseline everywhere he goes, to flaunt it to the over men he has someone to touch. He tries to keep one hand soft for his wife (2) George thinks this is very dirty; it must be very degrading and embarrassing for his wife.
The whole relationship seems awkward, Curlys wife only married him because she was on the rebound from losing her dream, and she was confused about her mother and was upset about her missed opportunities. Curly sees a young pretty girl and likes the opportunity to have a wife to make him look better. This is the only role for women, to look pretty to stay at home, they had very little opportunities.
Curlys wife had a dream to become an actress, the ranch workers all share the American Dream, which is all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. (3) This dream was no longer possible in America due to the great depression. Curlys wifes dream was created by men, men who told her how fabulous she was, how they would take her away, put her in the movies. It all sounded amazing except none of it was true, they just used her.
George and Lennie build a future in their heads, a dream. To live off the fatta the lan to have their own house their own garden and animals, to be their own Boss, to live a free life and to be able to do what they want, which is impossible for them while working on the ranch. Their shared dream helps them through tough times and it also affects others like Candy, who is willing to pay for about half of the land on his own. But this is all a pretend future, George says I got to thinking maybe we would This could be because Lennie likes hearing it so much, he has convinced himself that it will come true, we know this as he starts telling the dream rhythmically, then monotonously.
George has other dreams, like having a girl, playing cards by a pool, having an easy life and panning for gold, but the only one thats truly idyllic (2) is the one he shares with Lennie because its impossible (2). It is almost as if the dream hides them from their lives, which could be described as beans with no ketchup, all they do is work and just about function, they have no fun, or luxuries, nothing in their lives is complete. The Dream is nothing but a trick, an illusion. I think Steinbeck was trying to say this about the real American Dream as well, that it is just a dream, something for people to cling to in times of need and despair. It is almost inevitable that George and Lennies dream will fail because of the cynical style of Steinbecks writing, and the continuous references to death and the destruction that is created by mankind, like the peaceful area by the river, that had recently been left with the marks of man, the men scare all of the animals away on top of the destruction they leave behind them.
The diverse range of characters show that not all ranch worker were the same. Not just men were effected by the economic collapse, women were thrown in to a mans world, Steinbeck creates three female characters in the novel to show the problem of their surroundings and their lifestyles. The novels characters consist of black and white men, some of them disabled, but all of them have a little power in their own way, for example most people would think that the nigger Crooks is the lowest person in the hierarchy of the ranch, but he can very easily annoy Lennie, so I think he has a little bit of power over Lennie this shows how the ranch society is self-destructive, in times of trouble they dont help each other they make things worse for each other. The workers live on a rota of work, play cards, sleep, on Saturday they go out to Cindys cat house and Sunday they get a day off. All of the characters bring something new or different to the novel, even Whit who is very young and shows the type of an enthusiastic new Brothel-crazy (2) man who is just starting to adapt to the ranch workers life.
Carlsons character is what the true ranch workers were like; I believe that Steinbeck included many different characters and their problems, to express the types of problems that America were facing at the time. The role between men and women is hard to understand, men looked down on women also the men stereotype the women, and the women stereotype the men, George says Shes a rat-trap if I ever seen one. Whilst Curlys wife says I seen too many you guys. as if she assumes they are going to be basically useless. (2) The great detail Steinbeck took into creating the divide between men and women show that he was trying to get us to understand all of their lives, to understand their personal problems and the problems that they faced by living in America at that time.
The people living on the ranch with the least amount of authority are definitely Crooks, Candy and Lennie, the three of them get relatively along quite well, they even start to talk about George and Lennies dream, Crooks and Candy want to join in, they offer their money and they offer to work for nothing. The optimism and hope in this briefly shared dream is shattered by Curlys wife (2). Curlys Wife does not like Crooks or Candy; she sees them as weak, they are only at the ranch to do simple, easy jobs. She treats them like dirty, calling Crooks a nigger'(2), Lennie a dum-dum (2) and Candy a lousy old sheep (2). Curlys Wife gets along with the men on their own, flirting with them and chatting with them, but when they are together she finds them defensive and competitive.
She believes she knows everything there is to know about men, their weaknesses for drink and women; she likes to put them down and threatens them with the power she has from being Curlys wife, I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it aint even funny (2). By acting and saying things like this it makes her feel better, like she has more power, not just some worthless girl living in her father-in-laws house with a short-bully for a husband. Steinbeck gives her so much attitude and certain characteristics to portray the emotional difficulties that faced American women at the time, to show that their lives were truly hard, they were treated differently to men and considered not as important, for example the men in Curlys Wife history only talk to her, and give her company because they want somebody that night. They do not consider the feeling of the young beautiful woman.
This is how it was in America in the 1930s because every one was losing money and struggling with the crops the less fortunate had to ask for jobs way beneath them, to have a home and a place to bring up their family. The American Dream was dead, due to critical economic collapse and the dreaded dust ball that swept the plains; no one could believe in the dream any more, it seemed completely impossible, they felt that it was inevitably not going to happen. The rich tried to hold on to their money, so the poor ultimately stayed poor. There were no unions to protect the migrant workers, so they lived by their own laws, like all the men wanting to shoot Lennie because during the novel he murdered Curlys wife. They made their own rules about the hierarchy, and followed it, similar to an unspoken promise; the Boss and his family were at the top, the rest followed in a big group unless there was someone with some natural authority, which was very rare.
The whole society was very violent and they did not have any concern for death, they shot Candys dog for little reason and there was no emotion involved in the process and Lennie easily killed the mouse in chapter one, and the puppy later on. Carlson has a Lugar, which is gun; he cleans it and keeps it safe under his pillow, showing how little respect he has for death. The disrespect for death is commented on throughout the whole novel, different members of the ranch end up killing something or someone.
Steinbeck clearly shows that predictably, something is going to happen at the end; we see this as the deaths increase and happen to higher people in the table of hierarchy. It shows that death was a large part of their lives, their lives were not memorable so they had nothing to fear when they died; lost memories, times or people they would sorely miss. It is as if Steinbeck is trying to say that they had nothing to look forward to, their lives came and went. Just like clock work.
Some of the characters on the ranch are friendly, for example Slim, he does not have a plan or a dream, it is as if he accepts his role in society and moves on, he never gets angry or shows much emotion, he is always calm and cool. He moves with majesty showing he knows what is to happen and does not fear it, he does not dread the future because he is intelligent enough to realise that it will happen no matter what he can do. He is very intelligent and this is probably why he out of all the men is able to understand his position. It is like Steinbeck is trying to say it does not matter if you are smart or friendly, once you start in this line of work you cant really get out, it is like a vicious circle; it traps everyone and releases no one.
Nature holds a strong power over men in Of Mice and Men, the beautiful setting at the start of chapter one is like a paradise, but it is an illusion. Lennie is often described as an animal, he himself says that he would go and live in a cave, he is almost better suited to the outside, as he would not be able to disrupt, or destroy the lives of other humans. It is almost ironic then that Steinbeck chooses Lennies death bed to be the floor of an almost enclosed area of woodland.
The time of day he dies is one of the most picturesque, dusk, the light is fading (2) everything is returning to its home, even the heron flies off. The pool side setting is a place of death, every time we visit the area in the novel there is death, whether it is a mouse, heron eating the water snake, or Lennies death. The Salinas River also has an air of destiny about it as George told Lennie to go there if there was trouble, almost as if he knew it was going to happen, which makes the novel so predictable and pessimistic. John Steinbeck makes the area feel pessimistic with all of the deaths, just like in America at the time, the people were losing hope because of the devastating economic collapse, and many crops were dieing because of the great Dust Bowl.
The men play solitaire, a one man game, which shows the continuous theme of loneliness throughout the novel. The solitude that comes with being a ranch worker, Steinbeck almost tries to defy that by bringing George and Lennie together, however some would argue that the relationship is not equal at all, Lennie is the little child that always get in to trouble where as George is the quick intelligent grown up, he has all of the responsibilities. Even though the two look out for each other, they still are lonely, George looks for other people to talk to and confide in as he knows that Lennie would not understand, or be of help to him if he got into trouble.
The relationship is still highly important, it highlights the fact that even those who went into the career expecting loneliness need someone, or something, and for example most of the ranch workers have their dreams to depend on. George and Lennie are completely different which is one of the reasons people struggle to come to terms with their relationship, I think George knows that he would not be friends with Lennie if they were not in this line of work as they are total different. The solitude in the novel is not only apparent in humans, but in the environment as well, the constant lack of sound, and awkward conversations in time of death make the whole atmosphere drop. The Salinas Rivers description contains a very limited amount of animals, and all of the animals leave at one point or another, so the setting becomes silent and cold. This shows the mens destructiveness and how they are feared as all of the animals run away when George and Lennie enter the clearing. It is the men who always are there and create the eerie silence, whether it means that they are scaring something away, or they are killing some thing or someone.
Of Mice and Men, was published in 1937, it was the 2nd most frequently banned book in the 1900s. It was criticised for the language, swearing, racism, morality and the violence contained in the novel, many members of the 1900s American society disagreed with the book and the writers views, Steinbeck was even known to have issues with the government and the FBI. There were many problems that came with the book, but the book also brought along the realisation of the troubles facing America during that period, the problems facing the black community, and the effects of the economic depression on the less fortunate areas of society. Steinbeck was hit from both the Left-wing and the Right-wing politicians, Right-wing saying that he went too far, whilst the Left-wing saying that he should have gone further, more on the delicate issues. However Steinbeck did not write the novel to rouse the Right or the Left, but to show his country, what was happening.
The novel shows us the terrible living conditions and basic desires that the ranch workers craved things that we would consider daily items. Steinbeck expresses clearly the attitude of the workers, and the lonely environment that they lived in. Some people would say that the way in which he writes and describes certain aspects of the workers lifestyles would make the reader biased by making them feel sympathetic for the people that live on ranches.
Steinbeck had such a pessimistic feeling towards the lives of the ranch workers because he had experienced how harsh it was as a ranch worker in California-USA in the 1930s, the style of work made him lonely and he even once said that he just needs to get away from being John Steinbeck for a little while (2) because being a public figure was too much, he was shy and liked privacy. He knew how the job affected the workers, mentally and physically, he was very good at adding subtle hints of these throughout the novel.
One of the reasons Steinbeck wrote the book was I think to educate the public about these problems in society, and to also tell the world how direr the ranch workers situation was, what they had to deal with and address. America was not the only country facing issues at that time, a civil war broke out in Spain, and the Nazis were in power in Germany, the whole of Europe was effected by Americas economic depression, especially because of the rise in fascism in Germany, Italy and Spain. The novel is not about all of these problems throughout the world, but nearly everyone could relate to the novel.
Before I read the book I knew nothing of the way the economic collapse affected the millions of less fortunate members of Americas society in such a harsh and incomprehensible way. I knew nothing of how lonely men and women could be. I knew nothing of the way the dust ball had such a vast devastation effect, not only to the crops, but also to the people and their profit. The novel is relatable, but I think that is one of the strong points about the book, because you could say that life in those days was predictable, you knew what position you were in, and if you were a ranch worker your whole life was virtually planned.
Steinbeck starts and ends the novel in the same place to show the cyclical style of the life of the ranch workers, he does this in many ways, referring back to the sun rising and setting, the working time, and the weekly visits to the cat house. This is another example showing how the lives were already laid out in front of them. I personally enjoyed the novel; I found it an interesting insight to the lives of itinerant workers, and the in-depth study of Americas agricultural history showed me how the workers existed and how they adapted to the dog-eat-dog-world, and how resilient we humans can be.
2. GSCE English, Of Mice and Men, The text guild. CGP, coordination group publications.