A central focus in the novel “Of Mice and Men” is the idea of inherent human loneliness. This manifests itself in many different ways for each character, but is collectively expressed as an unshakeable sadness or worry. Crooks states early on in the novel “I seen hunderds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an’ that same damn thing in their heads. Hunderds of them. They come, an’ they quit an’ go on; an’ every damn one of ’em’s got a little piece of land in his head. An’ never a God damn one of ’em ever gets it. Just like heaven.
Everybody wants a little piece of land’. I read plenty of books out here. Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land. It’s just in their head. They’re all the time talkin’ about it, but it’s jus’ in their head” This is an accurate representation of the general feeling of never-ending sadness expressed by the characters in this novel. Steinbeck’s approach to this feeling ventures outside the realm of just a plot device, because he uses it as a way to enable the reader to better understand each character’s self discovery and viewpoints on the world they live in.
One of the most intriguing characters in the novel is Curley’s wife, who is never given a name, as to represent the treatment of women during the era. She is introduced as a character you are meant to dislike, promiscuous and seemingly out for trouble. Throughout the novel in the time leading up to her murder, we learn that she is not working to harm the people around her, but rather working to satisfy the sadness that stems from her lowly place in the world.
She expresses this feeling when she states “Seems like they ain’t none of them cares how I gotta live. Explaining how her “promiscuity” is actually just a cry for attention, showing that she isn’t the happy flirty woman she is made out to be, rather a fairly depressed and unhappy woman who wants to find ways to lift herself up. Moreover, it is hard for some people reading the novel to relate to the sadness felt by Curley’s wife, because it is seemingly warrantless, but Steinbeck does a commendable job of appealing to a broader audience with the character Crooks, an unhappy African American farmhand who feels isolated and melancholy because of his depressed status on the farm due to his race.
He finds great joy in Lennie and George’s dream, and we see it become a savior for him, and outlet for all the anger and sadness he feels because of his position in the world. His depression is more obvious to the reader and also more relatable to anyone who has felt marginalized in their life. His sadness is very raw and clear, but he never acts upon his sadness. This shows a level of self control that isn’t seen in the other characters, and it very clearly differentiates his role within the world he lives in.
In contrast to the reserved nature of Crooks, Curley’s sadness is expressed in his aggression that is rooted in his deep insecurities about himself. He acts out of rage and to assert his dominance to the characters around him, in an attempt to cure himself about his extreme lack of self confidence. This is proven to be an ineffective method for him, because no matter what he does he is seen with a bigger ego, but never seen liking himself anymore than before.
Steinbeck writes him to be a short and stout man , which I believe is a representation of how trapped and unhappy he feels on the inside, almost as if he is being so oppressed by himself that it becomes physically manifested. His sadness affects me the most of all the characters in this novel, because it is the most unresolved. You get the sense that he does not even recognize his own sadness, which is something very tragic. In contrast to most of the characters in this novel, there is one that seems to be at peace with himself, and who also seems to recognize everyone else’s sadness, and has no problem accepting it as his own.
I believe that slims character was added by Steinbeck to be a sharp contrasts from every other character, as well as a method of giving the reader hope that not all dreams die, and sadness is not permanent. Slims lack of internal or external conflict gives him an interesting perspective on the other characters, and made him my favorite character in the book. He handles the depression and the loneliness around him so effectively that it almost makes him appear to be superhuman. He is an educator to the others in the book, as well as an educator to the reader.
He teaches everyone that our insecurities and our unhappiness doesn’t have to last forever and doesn’t have to define who we are as people. In conclusion, Steinbeck teaches us through “Of Mice and Men” that sadness is universal, but it doesn’t have to be an end all. It manifests itself in different ways for all of us, but the causes are never very different. We can learn to accept it and grow from it, or we can let it consume us, but either way it will always be there, and we just need to work to find the little things in life to help us persevere.