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All characters in the novel ‘Of Mice and Men’ are either lonely, bored or in need of escaping from the soulless existence of the itinerant labour. It is based on a society of men leading empty lives, trapped in a lonely life, consisting mainly of hard physical work. There was not enough happiness, love and affection in their lives. The novel is set in California, the Southern states of America, in the 1930’s around the time of the ‘Great Depression’. The ranch is based in ‘Soledad’; which is the Spanish word for ‘Loneliness’.
The bunkhouse that the men sleep and live in is a long and rectangular building. The walls are white washed and the floor unpainted. In three of the four walls are small, square windows. In the fourth one was a solid door with a wooden latch. There are eight bunks, all with a nailed apple box over them with the opening forward. This made two small shelves for the personal belongings of each ranch hand occupying the certain bunk. On these shelves were little articles, soap, razors, talcum powder, Western magazines, medicines, little vials, combs and a few neckties.
There was also a black cast iron stove, and a big square table in the centre of the room, with scattered playing cards across it, and surrounding the table were boxes for the men to sit on. The bunkhouse also had lice and roaches in it! Carlson and the other ranch hands all dream of owning their own land and living and working from this, resulting in wealth and happiness. This was known as the ‘American Dream’, this is shown as an opportunity to all people no matter how rich or poor they are.
There is a lot of government propaganda, informing people that if they work hard and push their ambitions to the limit, they can make this dream reality. However they all knew, no matter how hard they worked or how successful they were, it was very unlikely of this dream ever becoming reality. Their way of escaping this disappointment was to collect their fifty bucks at the end of the month and of a weekend spend all of it on women and alcohol, usually at the nearest ‘cat-house’. During the week they play cards games or horseshoes. Crooks is very lonely, this is due to the fact that he is coloured and everyone knows him as a nigger!
He is treated completely differently to all the others, an outsider. He is also crippled, after a horse kicked him and severely damaged his back. In the 1930’s it was very racist in America and the coloured people weren’t allowed to speak up or were too scared to defend themselves in fear of what the white people would do to them. This is the situation Crooks is in. However he is the only coloured person at the ranch, so he has to accept all racial comments on his own. He has his own separate room, which isn’t even a room it is a shed that leans off the side of the barn wall. He is isolated from everyone else, therefore unable to socialise.
On one occasion Lennie entered the barn to see his pup. He saw Crooks’ light shining and stood in the doorway of Crooks’ room. Crooks saw him and said sharply ‘”you got no right to come in my room. This here’s my room. Nobody got any right in here, but me. ” He then followed with “I ain’t wanted in the bunkhouse and you ain’t wanted in my room”, “they play cards in there, but I can’t play because I’m black. They say I stink. Well, I tell you all of you stink to me. ” Crooks reads to amuse himself when he has nothing better to do. This keeps his mind off of the atmosphere and situation he is surrounded by in his everyday life.
Curley’s wife is perhaps one of the loneliest characters, trapped in her strict and original woman’s/wife’s role. Her daily routine only ever consists of her doing housework, such as cooking Curley’s dinner, washing Curley’s clothes, making Curley’s bed, cleaning Curley’s house, etc. If Curley catches her talking to the ranch hands he is always very annoyed by it, she is to stay in the house. She is known as ‘Curley’s wife’, no one knows her name so they cannot call her by it. One time when she enters the bunkhouse and begins to talk to the ranch hands, Crooks suggests ” Maybe you better go along to your own house now.
We don’t want no trouble. ” It is this idea that she is ‘trouble’ that makes Curley’s wife so upset and angry. ” Well, I ain’t giving you no trouble. Think I don’t like to talk to somebody ever’ once in a while? Think I like to stick in that house alla time? ” Having a husband even makes her loneliness worse, because Curley is so strict about whom she socialises with and what she does. She calls him sarcastically a “Swell guy”, who ” Spends all his time sayin’ what he’s gonna do to guy’s he don’t like, and he don’t like nobody.
” Curley’s wife tries to escape her loneliness and sadness by dreaming of being an actress or a model. She had been offered the chance before “I tell you I could of went with shows” ” An’ a guy tol’ me he could put me in pitchers”. Curley’s wife is also very good at flirting, this attracts male attention. Therefore just for a moment she is listened to and is the centre of attention, this moment matters so much to her because she is being paid attention to for once, that she makes a very bad habit of it. However the ranch hands have got used to her scheming ways and do not want to risk getting “canned” because of a “tart”.
However Lennie and George are different to the other ranch hands, they may live a lonely existence, but they have each other. Other than the other ranch hands expressing their feelings about their hopes, dreams, lonely lives etc, George and Lennie are the only characters we really get to know. All other ranch hands haven’t got a family or anything to look forward to, but it is different with George and Lennie; they believe they have a future and as long as they have got each other, it doesn’t matter whether they have a family or not. These men love each other.
They talk to each other and know that the other cares for them, because George looks after Lennie, and Lennie looks after George. However, George has a much greater job in looking after Lennie, than Lennie has in looking after George. Lennie is a bit of a dunce and is always forgetting things, but George has the brains. They both are physically well built, but Lennie does not realise his own strength sometimes, he is dangerously strong. Lennie is the physical side of the pair, whereas George is the mental. The fact that they have each other gives them more of a chance of success, than the other ranch hands.
Lennie loves George to tell him what; one-day things will be like. Their dream is to one day buy a little house, with a ten acres, a “win’mill”, a kitchen, an orchard to grow “cherries, apples, peaches, ‘cots, nuts, and a few berries”, a section on the land to grow alfalfa that Lennie will use to feed the rabbits with, hutches and pens full with pigs, chickens, cows, goats, cats, pigeons, a dog and rabbits that Lennie could pet, a smoke house so they could kill the pigs and then smoke it, for smoked ham and bacon etc, and for them to literally “live off the fatta the lan'”.
They would only work six or seven hours a day. Lennie likes to pet, smooth, soft, furry things, as a kind of comfort. Other than for George and animals, love and affection are withheld, not only from Lennie, but also for all the ranch hands. This is why they have their own individual comfort or way of escaping from the repetitive daily routine and loneliness. Candy is a dissimilar character from the other ranch hands. He is very lonely and sad. He has no hand, but a very old dog that he cares for very much. This dog is similar to Candy.
They are both very old and when Carlson shoots the dog, because it smells, has no teeth, he cannot eat, is stiff with rheumatism, is nearly blind and Carlson thinks it will be better to put the dog out of his ageing misery. Candy wants people to treat him once he is canned like this. This is because he “won’t have no place to go, an’ he can’t get no more jobs”. The other ranch hands say that he can replace the dog with one of Lulu’s pups, but of course that wouldn’t be the same, never is anyone or anything the equivalent, everyone and everything is unique.
Candy seems to think that when he is dead, people will say the same thing about him. When a new ranch hand comes and replaces him, he’ll be forgotten. For obvious reasons Candy is upset and hurt by this. It is as if the characteristics of his dog and the way the other men treat the dog, symbolises Candy. Candy wants to join George and Lennie in their ‘dream’. Candy has already got three hundred bucks and another fifty coming at the end of the month, when the men get paid. He explains that he “ain’t much good, but I could cook, tend the chickens, and hoe the garden some”.
Then when George and Lennie get their fifty bucks each at the end of the month, they will have four hundred and fifty bucks, and although the woman wants six hundred bucks, George thinks she will accept their offer as a deposit and then George will get a job and start to collect the rest, while Candy and Lennie could work on the land as well as sell eggs etc, making more money. This is Candy’s route of escaping. Everything seems to be falling into place and their dream looks like it could become reality. This is everything a man wants and Candy is thrilled he is part of it.
However much their dream looks real, it all ends when Curley’s wife tries her old tricks with Lennie. Curley’s wife enters the barn, as Lennie sits there mourning over his pup, he has just accidentally killed! George has already warned Lennie about Curley’s wife, says she is trouble, so Lennie refuses to talk to her, “George says I ain’t to have nothing to do with you- talk to you or nothing”. Curley’s wife says in a innocent voice, “All the guys got a horse-shoe tenement goin’ on”, so “Why can’t you talk to me? ” She eventually persuades Lennie that it is safe to talk to her.
They talk for ages and Lennie tells her how he “likes to pet nice things with my fingers, sof’ things”. She tells Lennie to “feel right here”, on her hair. Lennie was enjoying stroking her hair until she warned him not to “muss it up”. She then got angry because Lennie wasn’t listening to her. She went to pull away and Lennie clasped his fingers tightly in her hair and wouldn’t let go. She began to shout, “you let go”. Lennie began to get scared because he thought George would hear and go mad. He covered her mouth and nose to prevent her screaming, and continued to beg her to be quiet.
She continued to struggle and he shook her. Suddenly “her body flopped like a fish”. She was dead! Lennie ran to the brush that George had told him to hide in when they first arrived in Soledad if he ever got into trouble. When Candy found Curley’s wife dead and told all the ranch hands, they all knew it was Lennie! Most of the men wanted to kill Lennie, but George got there first. George knew that Lennie would be scared if half a dozen men ran towards him shooting, but if George was to do it at the back of his head, just like Candy’s old dog it would be pain free.
When George found him, Lennie asked for the story of their dream to be told to him and questioned George why he wasn’t mad at him, but obviously if this was George’s last moments with Lennie he didn’t want to be mad at him. As George told the story and paused every so often, Lennie would say “go on” or “Gonna do it soon” as if he knew what George was about to do and was encouraging George to get it over and done with. George finally shot Lennie. Lennie jarred forward and the settled peacefully as he lay on the sand. George just sat stiffly and silently n the bank, looking at his hand that had just pulled the trigger disgustedly.
George knew it was for the best, where ever they were to go Lennie’s unrecognised strength would lead to trouble; it had already, both in Weed and Soledad. Lennie was trapped by his strength. Although, Lennie has now been released from pain by no longer being able to kill others and from not getting shot by half a dozen men cruelly, but peacefully by George. The upsetting thing is, that Lennie was so afraid of being alone and away from George, and now he was just that. It was all over!!! George is now free; he is no longer trapped by his want of freedom, of constantly looking after Lennie.
I think the novel tries to give us the message that people try to lead their lives as successfully as possible, in order to result in the best possible outcome. However this is very hard to succeed. The ranch hands wanted the ‘American Dream’ to become reality, but is very unlikely and as shown does not happen. The novel gave a very positive view of the ‘American dream’, but this is erroneous and does not come true. The chances of finding true, lasting friendship and happiness are also very unlikely as it is always spoilt by misfortune, arguments, inconveniences and sometimes death, as in this case.