Loneliness is a state of being alone in sadness, resulting from being forsaken or abandoned. As I understand it, loneliness is when a person has no one to talk to, no one to confide in, nor anyone to keep companionship with. Loneliness also makes a person slip into a desolate state, which they try to conceal under a tough image, and is an emotion even the strongest cannot avoid. In his novel, Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck deals with loneliness by looking for comfort in a friend, but settling for the attentive ear of a stranger. Although they seem at ease and friendly on the surface, a deep sense of loneliness lingers in the hearts of Crooks, George, and Curley’s wife, to which they are desperate to find an escape from to cope with their seclusion from the rest of society.
Crooks, a lively, sharp-witted, black stablehand, who takes his name from his crooked back, leads a lonely life. He lives according to the rule that no black man is allowed to enter a white man’s home. Crooks’ loneliness is a result of rejection from everyone else on the ranch. He is forced to live alone in a barn, where he lives his life in isolation because of his colour, which was an issue in those days. When Lennie visits him in the room, Crooks’ reactions reveal the fact that he is lonely. As a black man with a physical handicap, Crooks is forced to live on the border of ranch life. He is not even allowed to enter the white men’s bunkhouse, or join them in a game of cards. His resentment typically comes out through his bitter, sad, and touching vulnerability, as he tells Lennie:
…A guy needs somebody–to be near him. A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t make no difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you. …I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an’ he gets sick. (Steinbeck 72-73)
Crooks’ openness of his inner self, and his ability to speak his heart’s desire to a stranger illustrates how lonely he gets, and admits that it results in sickness. Furthermore, as bitter as he is about his exclusion from other men, Crooks is grateful for Lennie’s company, and when Candy enters Crook’s room, it becomes difficult for him to conceal his pleasure with anger. The only relationship he can find is with his books.
When Lennie talks about his dream farm, Crooks hesitantly asks Lennie an alternative for him to escape his loneliness, “‘…If you…guys would want a hand to work for nothing–just his keep, why I’d come an’ lend a hand'” (Steinbeck 76). Crooks’ desperation to get out of his lonely spell prompts him to make such a drastic, but shy, suggestion. Crooks becomes so desperate for a relationship that he offers his services to George and Lennie for free, just to escape his loneliness. Crooks is not successful in overcoming his loneliness because Lennie dies in a matter of days, and no white man in his right mind would care to step foot in Crooks’ humble abode.
George, a short-tempered but loving and devoted friend, is lost in loneliness. At the beginning of the novel, George reveals his thoughts on loneliness in a story that he narrates about Lennie, himself, on a farm:
Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place…. With us it ain’t like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don’t have to sit in no bar room blowin’ in our jack jus’ because we got no place else to go. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn. But not us. (Steinbeck 13-14)
George realizes that loneliness attributes too much of his sufferings. George’s rough attitude to conceal his loneliness and to admit to suffering from profound loneliness is revealed when he reminds Lennie that the life of a ranch-hand is among the loneliest of lives. Migrant workers, like George, rarely have anyone to look to for companionship. To overcome his loneliness, George not only befriends Lennie, but he seems to find companionship with his co-workers as well. He eagerly accepts the invitation to go into town with ‘the boys’, leaving Lennie alone in the barn with the animals.
Towards the end of the novel, George feels an even greater sense of loneliness and guilt before he kills Lennie. Instead of being angry and reprimanding him, George, overcome by his forthcoming loneliness, responds to Lennie’s running away to the caves, “No … I want you to stay here with me” (Steinbeck 104). The wave of nostalgia and loneliness that engulfs George is so overwhelming, that he shoots Lennie instantly. In this way, George is not successful of overcoming his loneliness because he would mourn for the loss of his friend for a long time, leading him to feel even more guilty and lonely.
Curley’s wife, who walks the ranch as a temptress, hides a deep sense of loneliness behind the “tramp,” “tart,” and “bitch” masks that she puts on. For a young lady to wed at an early age, and then be left alone at home, would send one in a deep state of loneliness or depression. She is married to a man that gives her little attention and none of his time. Curley’s wife’s ‘mask’ of a prostitute hides the vulnerability, dissatisfaction, and loneliness in her life. Her first outburst in Crooks’ room tears down a wall of her image: –Sat’iday night. Ever’body out doin’ som’pin’. Ever’body! An’ what am I doin’? Standin’ here talkin’ to a bunch of bindle stiffs–a nigger an’ a dum-dum and a lousy ol’ sheep–an’ likin’ it because they ain’t nobody else. (Steinbeck 78).
Being the only woman on the ranch, Curley’s wife does not have another person to talk to who could emphasize with her. She has no friends, no future, no respect; she does not even deserve a name! Desperate to satisfy her need for belonging and love, she turns to strangers such as Lennie, Crooks, and Candy. Before her death, Curley’s wife reveals a lot about herself to Lennie, the only person that she feels she can talk to. She hints at her loneliness when she says, “Seems like they ain’t none of them cares how I gotta live,” (Steinbeck 88). Her aggravation and frustration about being lonely is being released, and she may be free, in a way, because she has finally released most of her innermost feelings and emotions before her death. She is successful in getting a person like Lennie to talk to and confide in, but it works out to her misfortune that she has to be mercilessly killed by his hands.
All three of the characters share the despair of wanting to change the way they are and attain a victory over their loneliness. Crook’s loneliness is hidden by his character, but eventually comes to surface while talking to Lennie. George’s loneliness is hidden by his rough attitude, which seems to disappear when narrating the story of the farm to Lennie. Curley’s wife’s loneliness is covered behind the mask of a portrayed prostitute, but the mask falls off during her conversations with strangers, including Lennie.
I think John Steinbeck’s message about loneliness and people’s attempts to overcome loneliness in the novel is to reveal to us the nature of human’s true existence. One cannot escape from being lonely, and the characters’ attempts to overcome their loneliness is to seek the desire and comfort of a friend, but settle for the attentive ear of a stranger. I feel that Steinbeck is not completely successful in delivering his message across because for a full realization, one has to dig deep into the story, as well as place themselves in the shoes of a character to emphasize with, as well as relate to them and perceive their misery.