Prejudice of many groups of people was prevalent in America during the Great Depression era. In the 1930s when the book took place, there was an extreme amount of racism and sexism, little to no knowledge of mental disability, and assumedly a great deal of ageism. In _Of Mice and Men,_ John Steinbeck uses prejudice to illustrate the theme of alienation through ageism, racism, sexism, and ableism.
Candy was an old man who lived on the farm who lost his hand in an accident while working. The ranch hands constantly tortured Candy by telling him that his dog was too old for his own good, and that he would be better off dead. Candy takes this personally, assuming that they were insinuating that he was also worthless to the ranch, and too old for his own good. The old man realizes that this is the only job he’ll ever have, considering he only has only had one hand and is too old to do hard labor and said, “‘When they can me here I wisht somebody’d shoot me… I won’t have no place to go, an’ I can’t get no more jobs'” (60). The other men understand this and exclude Candy for his differences. Slim, another ranch hand, talking about Candy’s dog said, “‘I wisht somebody’d shoot me if I got old and a cripple'” (45). Candy’s dog is an obvious parallel to Candy and his physical conditions that prevent him from working.
To show racism, Steinbeck uses the character Crooks, a black stable buck who lives on the ranch. Although sometimes in the book it seems that Crooks isolates himself, it is clear towards the end of the book that the other men avoid associating with him because of the color of his skin. Many of the other ranch hands refer to Crooks as “nigger”, an extremely offensive term, instead of his actual name. Crooks avoids getting into trouble by staying in his room (which is in the barn with the animals) and staying out of the way of the rest of the men.
At one point, Crooks aggravates Curley’s wife, and as a response she threatened, “‘Well you keep your place then, nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree so fast it ain’t even funny'” (87). When Crooks is talking to Lennie and Candy, he confides in them about his loneliness, admitting, “A guy sets alone here at night, maybe readin’ books or thinkin’ or stuff like that. Sometimes he gets thinkin’, an’ he got nothin’ to tell him what’s so an’ what ain’t so” (73).
Sexism is another major part of the novel, and it is shown through the character of Curley’s wife. Curley’s wife, is who she sounds like she is, because she’s married to Curley, the son of the head of the ranch. She is never given a name, which was probably to show the reader that the only relevance she had was that she was Curley’s possession in a way, because she was his wife and was not allowed to talk to anyone but him. Curley’s wife constantly cries for attention because she, like many of the other characters in this novel, feels lonely most of the time. The men do not understand why she does, and take it as thought she is just being “slutty” in a sense because she didn’t like Curley.
George is talking to Candy when he says his first impression of Curley’s wife. George said, “‘Well, seems Curley’s married… a tart,'” because he didn’t empathize Curley’s wife’s loneliness (28). In turn, Curley’s wife is alienated for her gender, and admits to Crooks, Lennie, and Candy that she wishes she had people to talk to and have conversation with. While talking to the three other “outcasts” on the farm she admitted, “‘I can’t talk to nobody but Curley. Else he gets mad'” (87). It is more and more apparent throughout the book that the other ranch hands don’t want to make Curley upset by talking to his wife, but in the end she is still alienated because she is a woman.
The most recognizable prejudice in this novel was the ablelism toward Lennie. Lennie, the main character of the book, had some type of mental disorder that prevented him from remembering things and also from controlling the motor function and decision making concerning his hands, but of course in this time period there was no knowledge of such diseases. Lennie was the most kind-hearted, innocent character in this book because he doesn’t understand superficial alienation or prejudice toward someone because of their sex, race, age, etc. He can’t take care of himself, so his best friend George tells him what to do. During one part of the book when George is talking to Slim, George talks about how he used to treat Lennie: “‘I used to have a hell of a lot of fun with him.
Used to play jokes on ‘im ’cause he was too dumb to take care of ‘imself'” (40). Soon after, George told Slim that he stopped messing with Lennie because he told him once to jump into a river, and Lennie almost drowned and died because he didn’t know how to swim, and didn’t know any better than to just listen to what George says. At the end of the book when Curley found out that Lennie had killed his wife, he took it out in anger because he did not understand that Lennie couldn’t control himself, ordering, “‘When you see ‘um, don’t give ‘im no chance, shoot for his guts'” (97). Lennie is alienated in this novel because of his disability and is isolated (and killed) as a result.
In sum, Steinbeck uses ageism, sexism, racism, and ableism to convey the theme of alienation in _Of Mice and Men_. In the scene with all four of the alienated characters in Crooks’s room, Curley’s wife said in frustration with the fact that she has not one to talk to, “‘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 got nobody else.'” (78) This line is very significant because it shows that even though they are all excluded from the majority of the ranch hands, and from society in general, they realize that they can turn to each other when they feel lonely.