Of Mice and Men (to now be referred to as M+M) is full of human suffering for a number of reasons. The foremost is that Steinbeck wants to paint a picture of the real life for men, and women, working in the unstable environment that was 1930s America. His book, although it is fiction, is based upon the reality of ranch life during the Great Depression. As Steinbeck released M+M in 1937, he would have had ample fact to base the novella upon truths. The book centres on the real tragedies of real men and the dream that was fantasised about and yet rarely achieved.
By using reality as a base for his novella, Steinbeck allows the reader to empathise with the harshness and fear that is represented by ranch life. Although some parts of the book seem as though the characters have been through unbelievable scenarios, we must remember that to create the feeling of real human suffering, Steinbeck used a microcosm of all ranch workers. This is so we can see the full extent to which ranch life, the Dust Bowl and 1930s America, actually affected the masses. A main aspect of this suffering is the loneliness which all of the characters, bar George and Lennie, experience.
In M+M Steinbeck has a small, yet effective, cast of characters, all of whom embody suffering in one way or another. The main characters are George and Lennie and Steinbeck uses them to express the longing for freedom. George is a victim of suffering in many ways. He suffers because he is bound to Lennie and must look after him. Although at points in the book, George expresses regret about having Lennie; he will not let him go for fear of being alone. George would rather look after Lennie than be on his own. “‘Cause I want you to stay with me.
” George experiences the loss of jobs and therefore the loss of money through the Great Depression and also Lennie’s naivety, which often causes trouble for the pair, especially when coupled with Lennie’s strength. Reasons, for which, the pair was forced to run away from jobs in Weed. This, in turn, makes their lives harder as they struggle to stay financially stable and to find a place in which to live in relative comfort. George also suffers the loss of a dream. For a time, George has envisioned a house of his own in which he lives with Lennie.
It has become a reassurance for the men, that everything will turn out right and that they should keep hope. It is the opposite of their suffering. “We’re gonna have a little house… ” When George shoots Lennie all of this becomes false. There is no longer a sanctuary for the men because without Lennie the microcosm, their microcosm, of the American Dream cannot, and will not, come to fruition. This is where George experiences the mental anguish and suffering at losing both his best friend and his hopes for the future.
Psychologically the suffering overwhelms anything that George has felt before and Steinbeck shows us the fragility of life and the unpredictability of the ranch. For Lennie, the suffering is that of a different kind. Due to his mental disabilities, he isn’t affected by a fear of loneliness as the others are. To him, George will always be there. This does not mean that he feels no suffering throughout the story; in fact he perhaps suffers the most without realising it. Lennie is angry and scared when Crooks suggests that George might not come back.
This is where Lennie suffers the most, he is victimised by Crooks and he doesn’t know what to do. Crooks chooses Lennie to attack because he cannot do it to anyone else. In this there is a certain irony, as it is Lennie’s innocence and naivety which lend themselves to Crooks in bullying him. “S’pose he gets killed or hurt so he can’t come back. ” Lennie shares the same ideals as George, especially that of the dream home they could have. In Lennie’s case, he is more preoccupied with tending the rabbits than what the benefits of not working could bring him.
“How I get to tend the rabbits. ” Lennie suffers as a child suffers; this is because, mentally, he is a child, despite the fact that he is physically a grown man. We see evidence of this child-like suffering when he blames himself for what has happened to their jobs, when he hallucinates by the brush. “You do bad things” He suffers from grief when he kills his mouse and his pup by accident and he also suffers at the hands of Curley, although he fights back, he still feels scared and vulnerable, as a child would. George is the one who tells him what he should do.
“Get ‘im Lennie!….. I said get him. ” It is easy to assume that George uses Lennie for his own ends but, as we see in the story, this is not true. In fact when it comes to the ultimate suffering, Lennie’s death, George makes it more bearable for Lennie and shoots him with mercy. Steinbeck is trying to show that although ranch life was full of suffering, there were cases where true friendships/relationships might occur. However, Steinbeck also uses Lennie’s death to mean that hardly anything survived life on the ranch, whether it were friendships or people themselves.
Slim and Carlson do not have their own cases of suffering, instead they symbolise the average ranch workers’ life. They suffer from low pay, poor quality of life and loneliness. The hardships of the ranches are shown in Carlson especially, as he has no feelings for Candy’s dog or Candy, only that the dog is making his life worse than it already is. “God awmighty, that dog stinks. ” Although Slim suffers from the same difficulties as Carlson; he reacts in a different way. He is calm and considerate, embodying those who were kinder in the harsh life of the ranch.