How does Steinbeck present the characters of George and Lennie? During the Great Depression of the 1930s when America was plunged into financial crisis following the Wall Street Crash of October 1929, levels of unemployment and poverty were at an all time high. In this ear life was a struggle and the mentality of society became survival of the fittest, every man for himself. Migrant workers toured the country in search of labour to provide money for food typically sent to relatives living on the bread line elsewhere in America.
These men lead lonely and emotionless lives, which are reflected through Steinbeck’s portrayal of his characters in his famous, yet bleak, 1930s novella ‘Of Mice and Men. ’ In the novel, George and Lennie’s relationship diversifies them from the other ranch workers for the reason that they rely on each other for support and companionship ‘I got you and you got me. ’ In particular, the dream they share of owning their own land, reflects the American Dream of being the ringleader of your own life with a level of self-sufficiency.
Steinbeck first introduces the reader to George and Lennie at the beginning of the novel ‘a few miles south of Soledad’, in the evening of a hot day where rabbits sat ‘as quietly as little gray, sculptured stones. ’ Disrupting the tranquil atmosphere ‘two men emerged from the path’ as the place was newly ‘lifeless’ for a moment. At first, the author presents George and Lennie as typical migrant workers, both wearing ‘denim trousers and carrying ‘tight blanket rolls’ en route to their next ranch.
After creating the impression that the pair are similar, Steinbeck reveals that actually this is not the case ‘behind him walked his opposite. ’ George inhabits a small body with ‘strong, sharp features’ whereas Lennie has a ‘shapeless’ face and a ‘huge’ body. Irrespective of their appearance, it is inferred that both George and Lennie are victims of society ‘restless eyes’ and ‘dragging his feet’ constantly on guard as well as fatigued from both work and travel.
Further into the first chapter, we learn that George has a level of authority over Lennie and it could be suggested that he stands as a ‘father figure’ to him. As Lennie ‘snorts into the water’ George ‘sharply’ orders him not to drink so much and informs him to never ‘drink water when it ain’t running. ’ At this moment it becomes evident that Steinbeck intends to present George and Lennie as Master and pet; the only way Lennie can cope is to be like a tame dog, tethered always to his master George and never let out of his sight ‘God you’re a lot of trouble. As the pair settle for the night under the stars, Steinbeck uses Lennie’s character to portray that the pair desire simple possessions ‘I like ‘em with ketchup’ which they can only but dream of having ‘Well we ain’t got any. ’ In this scene Steinbeck intends to emphasise that George and Lennie are unfortunate and the reader is able to sympathise with them because basic amenities are taken for granted in society today.
The scene also exhibits the fact that although George and Lennie are migrant workers they do not fit the ‘typical’ profile, this being because during moments of violence George describes what life would be like if he did not have Lennie to take care of; if he was a lone traveller, a ‘typical’ migrant worker ‘I could stay in a Cat House all night or set in a pool room and play cards. ’ Although George sometimes sees Lennie as an inconvenience it is clear that Steinbeck wishes to present George a companion to Lennie ‘he looked ashamedly’ as well as loyal ‘I want you to stay with me, somebody’d shoot you for a coyote if you was by yourself. This is poignant because it demonstrates that although Lennie keeps George in ‘hot water’ all of the time, George continues to care for Lennie because he knows the consequences of Lennie travelling alone and perhaps is also frightened of being lonely himself ‘that ain’t no good. ’ In the same chapter, Steinbeck first incorporates the 1930s American Dream ‘An live off the fatta the lan. ’ Lennie makes George tell the familiar story of the small farm he intends to buy, delighting in hearing that he has a future.
Evidentially, George does not believe the dream will ever become reality as he rhythmically reels off the words to Lennie as a matter of habit rather than optimism. That said, it is clear that although George does not believe the dream will come true he is thankful to have Lennie by his side ‘somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us’ which perhaps implies that although Steinbeck presents the pair as victims, he also presents them as lucky in the fact that they have each other and care for each other enough to build a firm relationship.
To Lennie the dream is all about the rabbits he intends to keep and pet, rather than an engine of hope which drives George to continue the struggle. Lennie excites in the idea that one day he will own a rabbit hutch ‘An’ have rabbits’ because he is unable to see further than his own desires, however George dreams of simplicities such as ‘how thick the cream is on the milk’ implying that all he would like is a stable home. Regardless of their differences in the importance of aspects ncluded in the dream, their dream bonds them together in a shared goal which is to get a ‘stake’ so they can buy ‘a little house and a couple of acres. ’ Many migrant workers shared in dreaming of a better future but had nobody to share it with as everyman was for himself, making George and Lennie’s relationship a rare occurrence.
Towards the end of the first chapter, George tells Lennie that if he gets in trouble he should go and hide in the brush until George comes for him ‘I want you to come right here an’ hide in the brush. This is because George recognises the cyclic nature of Lennie’s behaviour and uses his clever nature to devise a plan, something which Lennie would never have thought of doing as he is unaware of his own strength therefore he needs George for survival in the same way a child needs their parents for protection from the outside world. When George and Lennie arrive at the ranch, George reminds Lennie that he is not to speak when they are interviewed by the boss because the boss will not allow Lennie to work on the ranch if he knows of Lennie’s mental instability.
George excuses Lennie’s silence telling the boss ‘he got kicked in the head, just ain’t bright’ and assures the boss ‘He’s a God damn good skinner. ’ Here, Steinbeck presents George as the voice of the pair and Lennie as the labourer, it could possibly be inferred that Steinbeck intends to present them as a team rather than George’s one man band with Lennie walking behind because Lennie is strong and can work twice as fast as one man alone, boosting their reputation leading to more work and more pay to add to their savings for the farm.
It is also noticeable that the boss has ‘never seen one guy take so much trouble for another guy’ which infers not only that the boss surprised by George and Lennie’s relationship but also that because society was hostile and selfish the boss assumed that George was ‘takin’ his pay away. ’ This further infers that relationships were far and few for migrant workers during this era and that Steinbeck intends to present George and Lennie in the way he does because many would overlook the idea of a level of humanity during the 1930s.
George’s companionship with Lennie staves of loneliness, but it also gives him a role in life; he has a clear task, looking after Lennie. When George explains the situation to slim in the second and third chapter ‘we kinda look after each other’, Slim offers the suggestion that ‘ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other. ’ Here the author offers the theme of violence because many people had lost the trust of those around them and were prepared to use violence to protect themselves, their belongings and any pride they had.
George is honest with Slim ‘Made me seem God damn smart alongside of him’ admitting that early on it made him feel superior and he forced Lennie to do stupid things for the fun of it. However as his sense of shame stopped him, George began to realise that he is dependent on Lennie as much as Lennie is dependent on him because who would fight George if they knew they would have to fight Lennie as well. There are positives of George having Lennie, they defy the ethos of everyman for himself and at this stage it appears this is a key asset in their work.
In the middle of the novella, George and Lennie both believe, for a short period of time, that their dream will come true ‘This thing they had never really believed in was coming true’ due to Candy’s offer of money for a place on the farm. Steinbeck demonstrates that although both men know their position, they easily become wrapped up in a fairytale unable to predict their fate of ‘grief and pain, instead of promised joy. ’ A significant part of the novel showing the devotion of George and Lennie’s relationship comes when Curley, bringing with him the theme of violence, picks a fight with Lennie.
Showing his sense of justice, George won’t let Lennie get hurt as he is innocent ‘Get ‘im Lennie’, whereas the other men are reluctant to take sides; thinking of their own safety first. Experience with Lennie allows George to recognise Lennie’s strength and to encourage or discourage the use of it when appropriate. As the novel passes the midpoint when George leaves Lennie at the ranch to go to the local brothel with the other ranch hands, Lennie sees the light in Crook’s room and curiosity leads him inside.
Crooks is not used to visitors in his room because of his black skin colour which he is heavily discriminated because of by the other ranch hands. He faces segregation and nobody ever wants to talk to him, this is why his bunk is away from the others. Lennie, being unaware of the social hierarchy ‘I thought I could jus’ come in’ is confused as to why Crooks is not wanted and so perseveres in conversation with him.
Obviously, had George been around to keep Lennie on his tether, the situation would have been avoided. Lennie tells Crooks ‘me an’ him goes ever’ place together’ through this it is apparent that Lennie is totally dependent on George which Crooks sees as an opportunity to frighten vulnerable Lennie ‘s’pose he gets killed or hurt. ’ It is at this point where Lennie shows his sense of protection for George ‘Who hurt George? ’ and he begins to lose control of his strength walking ‘dangerously’ towards Crooks.
Clearly, Lennie believes he should defend George because he is a friend, the man who is going to help him get the rabbits to tend; even when George is not around Lennie is constantly thinking about him and his safety, just as George worries for Lennie’s safety. As the novel draws to the end, Lennie’s lack of control over his strength becomes paramount. Stroking Curley’s wife’s hair, the atmosphere is relaxed and slightly playful as she prompts him to ‘feel how silky it is. When Lennie does not let go and Curley’s wife began to panic ‘struggled violently’ so does Lennie and he ‘began to cry with fright’ before he broke her neck and she ‘flopped like a fish. ’ Recognising that he has done a ‘bad thing’, Lennie acknowledges that he ‘shouldn’t have did that. George ‘ll be mad. ’ Significantly, Lennie has no moral judgement and things are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ to him depending on what George would think of them; George could be perceived as the voice of Lennie’s conscience. Without George to guide him Lennie is lost, the pair are essential for Lennie’s survival.
At the end of the novel, George becomes aware of the fact that Lennie has become a wild dog, needing to be ‘put down’ by his owner ‘I know, I know’ for the best intentions of both men. Features brought to George by his responsibility for Lennie, including his sense of shame and level of compassion and justice, all combine to force him to shoot Lennie and as Slim confirms, he ‘hadda. ’ Just before George releases the bullet, he encourages Lennie to think about the dream in order to ensure he dies in peace and happiness.
This is significant in the relationship between George and Lennie as the other men from the ranch have no mercy for the ‘poor bastard’ it is only George who believes although Lennie should die, he should die a painless death. Overall, it is clear that Steinbeck presents George and Lennie as accepting victims of the economic crisis of 1930s America. He gives them a dream which should be realistic but is unfortunately out of touch and offers nothing but a chance of hope for better things to come, a reason to keep going.
Ultimately, Steinbeck presents the pair as dependent on each other for their own needs. The reasoning behind Steinbeck’s use of George and Lennie comes from his intention to provide a novel that demonstrates that in the end fate is ways the winner no matter how you plan to avoid it. In this fiction, Lennie was like the mouse in the title; destined to die from the start as he is not fit for society and unfortunately George has to go on alone for himself because he recognises that with Lennie his too is closer to the hands of fate.
Courtney from Study Moose
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