Loneliness in Of Mice and Men Essay
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Explore the issues connected with loneliness in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
Loneliness is examined carefully in Of Mice and Men. In the world of itinerant ranch-hands, loneliness is an inescapable part of life and Steinbeck records this through the plot and characters in his novel. Being lonely is the lack of an emotional, mutual bond, which leads the characters to lose a sense of self-worth and dignity. This essay explores what Steinbeck discusses about loneliness in Of Mice and Men and how he uses the characters of Candy, Crooks, George, Lennie and Curley’s wife to express these views.
George and Lennie are the most interesting starting point for such an exploration since they are the only two characters in the novel who are defined by their companionship rather than loneliness. George proclaims proudly to Lennie in the early pages of the novel, that itinerant ranch-hands, typical of the economic Depression in the USA in the 1930s, “are the loneliest guys in the world” but “with us [them] it ain’t like that”. Both George and Lennie know that their friendship gives them a future and gives their life purpose and significance.
They want to own a farm where they can “live off the fatta the lan'” and rear animals; where their feeling of self-worth will not stem from gambling and prostitutes, but from their camaraderie-their importance to each other. On the other hand, other wandering workers “got no family” and they “don’t belong no place.” George and Lennie know that their companionship sets them apart-it makes them dignified enough to have a dream and think about putting down roots, a dream that most ranch-hands would have had at the time, but would never achieve. Other ranch-hands’ remained as ‘islands’, their lives cut off from anybody else’s.
The fact that the bond between George and Lennie would have been rare-it is the only instance of true friendship between men in the novel-shows that at the time of the Great Depression, every man was for himself. Indeed, a few characters are suspicious of their friendship, thinking it financially exploitative: “You takin’ his pay away from him? … Well, I never seen a guy take so much trouble for another guy.” The only reason their friendship exists is because Lennie is so simple; his vulnerability and dependence on George make him loyal and trustworthy, unlike any other ranch-hand. Although George says, “When I think of the swell time I could have without you, I go nuts,” he knows that Lennie’s presence makes him feel more important and confident than an average itinerant worker like him would normally-being in charge with Lennie makes him feel in charge of his life.
Tragically, however, by the end of the novel this is what George becomes-an average itinerant worker; he has to kill Lennie and after losing the only emotional human connection he had, George’s dream and dignity are both destroyed: “He usta like to hear about it so much I got to thinking maybe we would [be able to have the farm.]” The fact remains that such an honest friendship has a flawed foundation-Lennie’s mental debility, although making a friendship possible, also makes him too vulnerable to make prudent decisions. Loneliness is thus inevitable for George and all his fellow wanderers.
In many ways, George and Lennie’s relationship is mirrored by that between Candy and his dog. Again, Candy is able to gain true loyalty and trust only from a dog-a one-dimensional, vulnerable being. When the thick-skinned Carlson asks, “He ain’t no good to you … Why’n’t you shoot him Candy?” the only answer Candy can produce is that he “had him so long”. Over the years, Candy has developed a special bond of care, as opposed to simple utility, with his dog. To Carlson, who can only understand the value of a person in terms of their practical usefulness, due to his experience of the Great Depression, this bond is meaningless.
After his dog is shot, Candy is reduced to a useless old cripple, also encapsulated in solitude. The dog’s companionship had allowed Candy to cherish his past and be hopeful for his future, but now he has nothing to look forward to: “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.” The dream farm tempts Candy, too, because he feels that owning a place will prevent him from becoming a lonely monument for passing ranch-hands to observe. His desperation for the farm is so intense that even after Lennie’s death he hopes George may work towards it, but to no avail-Candy too is destined to be alone, unknown and uncared for once he can no longer serve a practical purpose.