There are a number of characters in Of Mice and Men who have dreams of a better life. These characters include George, Lennie and Candy, who dream of a farm of their own, and Curley’s wife, who dreams of becoming a glamorous Hollywood actress. In this essay I will discuss their dreams and the effects on the novel’s characters when their dreams are unfulfilled. The central characters in Of Mice and Men are George and Lennie. Their dream is introduced to the reader in the first chapter, ‘OK. Someday we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and –
‘An’ live off the fatta the lan’,’ Lennie shouted. ‘An’ have rabbits. ‘ George and Lennie’s dream is to leave behind their lives as travelling workers and have a place of their own where they can settle down. For Lennie the dream of living on their own farm is closely connected to looking after rabbits. Perhaps this is because the only way that Lennie can actually relate to the dream is through the idea of something practical and touchable which relates to his tactile qualities. Clearly, the material aspect of owning his own land means very little to Lennie.
At the start of the novel we learn that Lennie likes to pet soft things, like mice and rabbits. It is this trait that eventually leads to Lennie’s downfall when he tries to smooth Curley’s wife’s soft hair. However, for George the dream of the farm has other benefits. Firstly, George can see the practical, economic advantage of owning their own place. ‘If I was bright, if I was even a little bit smart, I’d have my own little place, an’ I’d be bringin’ in my own crops, ‘stead of doin’ all the work and not getting what comes up outta the ground. ‘ Yet it is not just the practical benefits of owning a farm that attract George to this dream.
We learn that George has no family – ‘I ain’t got no people’, and it seems as though the dream of a farm also represents the notion of ‘home’ to George. ‘An’ we’d keep a few pigeons to go flyin’ around the win’mill like they done when I was a kid’… ‘We’d jus’ live there. We’d belong there. ‘ So, for George, the dream of a farm offers a psychological antidote to his rootless, travelling life and gives him a sense of belonging. Another attraction of the farm dream is that it gives George the promise of some sense of control and autonomy in his life. In his conversation with Candy about owning a farm, George says:
‘S’pose they was a carnival or a circus come to town, or a ball game, or any damn thing. ‘ Old Candy nodded in appreciation of the idea. ‘We’d just go to her,’ George said. ‘We wouldn’t ask nobody if we could. Jus’ say ‘We’ll go to her’, an’ we would’. This shows how powerless George feels in his life and how much power employers exercised over their workers at that time. Another example of George and Lennie’s powerlessness is shown after Lennie’s fight with Curley, the boss’s son; when George’s immediate concern is that they will be ‘canned’ or dismissed.
However, in this situation, they retain their jobs because Slim steps in and persuades Curley to say he got his hand caught in a machine. In Chapter 2 when George and Lennie discuss their dream they are overheard by Candy, the old swamper. Candy is immediately swept up with the idea of owning their own farm and offers his savings to them to make the dream come true. At this point in the novel it seems as if the dream could actually become a reality. They fell into silence. They looked at one another, amazed. This thing they had never really believed in was coming true. George said reverently, ‘Jesus Christ!
I bet we could swing her. ‘ His eyes were full of wonder. What is interesting is that at this point in the novel the dream of the farm actually moves from being a pipe dream which will probably never happen, to an achievable goal which is actually within their grasp. It is Candy’s involvement that makes this change take place. Although Candy shares George’s reasons for wanting a farm, there is also an extra dimension for Candy wanting to live on their own place. We get the sense that Candy feels redundant, useless and vulnerable because he is old and has lost his hand.
Candy feels uneasy about his future: ‘ “They’ll can me purty soon. Jus’ as soon as I can’t swamp out no bunk houses they’ll put me on the county. “‘ So for Candy the dream of the farm means independence – ‘nobody could can us’, because in his present situation he is entirely dependent on the boss’s tolerance and charity. In the novel, this is partially demonstrated by Carlson shooting Candy’s dog earlier that evening. In an echo of Candy’s own situation of the ranch, Carlson, without much pity or concern, shoots Candy’s dog because he is old and it is inconvenient to keep him because of the smell.
It is not hard to imagine that Candy feels there is a parallel between his own situation and his dog’s. Candy’s attachment to the dream of their own farm is demonstrated in Chapter 5 when he realises that all hopes of the dream have come crashing down when he discovers Curley’s wife’s dead body: ‘You God damn tramp’, he said viciously. ‘You done it, di’n’t you? I s’pose you’re glad. Ever’body knowed you’d mess things up… ‘If they was a circus or a baseball game … we would of went to her … Never ast nobody’s say so. ‘