Of Mice and Men & Death of a Salesman by John Steinbeck Essay
Of Mice and Men & Death of a Salesman by John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck was born in California, Salinas February 1902. In spite of the fact Steinbeck came from a wealthy background he also showed curiousness toward the farm workers and spent his own time working with them. The experience he had gained from working with the farm laborers was then applied as matter for his writing. This certainly adds a sense of realism to his texts. Steinbeck produced numerous novels about poverty-stricken people who have a dream. One of the novels is the well-known ‘Grapes of the Wrath.’ During the late 1920s the Wall Street crash took place, forcing millions of Americans out of work; this then led on to the Great Depression, an era in which people lacked any economic opportunity. The main cultural trends that occurred throughout this period of time were poverty and unemployment.
The characters in the novella, “Of Mice and Men” can relate to this trend as it is set during that era. All the characters in the book are experiencing poverty at the time and are working to continue existence and to vanquish the Great Depression, so that they can obtain the dream. It is shown here – “Look, if me an’ Lennie work a month an’ don’t spen nothing, we’ll have a hunderd bucks. That’d be four fifty. I bet we could swing her for that.” The American Dream is striving for freedom, status, and success, and as this quote suggests it is often bound up with issues of a financial nature. The American Dream associates with all characters in, “Of Mice and Men” but mainly with Candy, Crooks, Lennie, George and Curley’s wife, who at one point says, “He says he was gonna put me in the movies. Says I was a natural.” Quotes such as this remind us of the unwavering confidence that American citizens had in their version of the American Dream, and they often read ironically.
This is because, as readers, we know that the character is disillusioned, and falling for the false promise of prosperity. Racism is posed throughout the novella; in the 1990s segregation laws were approved, whereby the rights of black and white people were divided; black people generally had the things lacking in quality, i.e. Crooks’ inhumane segregation on the ranch. Habitual use of racism, for example flippant use of the word ‘N****r’ are prevalent in this novella. There were also groups of people who were explicity posed against blacks, for example the KKK, who presented violence towards the black minorities, by ambushing them and/or lynching them.
They would also strike any person who dared to associate with blacks. This may stand to elaborate why nobody socializes with Crooks – they’re frightened to step outside of social parameters. For example we learn that, ‘Candy stops at the door and takes a step back.’ The fact that Crooks is black demolishes the possibilities of his dreams actually being accomplished; they are not assigned the same rights, and In turn dreams as the white people. This is ironic because we know that Crooks used to ‘live the dream’, and live amongst “the white kids;” perhaps this is Steinbeck making a comment on how society has regressed for the worse.
The tone Steinbeck creates is mellow and calm especially in the opening paragraph. I know this because Steinbeck uses words such as “twinkling” and “golden foothill slopes curve. ” creating a dream-like atmosphere. Both these quotes represent colours that indicate summertime, a long season whereby people and animals revel in the tranquillity of the outdoors. In addition to this Steinbeck says that the, “foothill slopes curve” this gives the impression the walk is effortless trip. However, this calmness is instantly interrupted and starts to show rupture as the George and Lennie near. This may be Steinbeck commenting on how the futile nature of dreaming will always become apparent. Steinbeck states that the two men “hurried” and “pounded” down the river; both these verbs are starting to stipulate the start of a battle.
By the writer creating such a subtle scene, which is then ruined, could represent the fact that people whose lives come across cheerful and composed, also have holster sadness. I feel that Steinbeck wanted the audience to know that ‘the best laid plans’ didn’t have the outcome that was anticipated; in fact the dream of ‘livin off the fatta the lan’ near enough every time fails, results in relationships vanishing and lives wrecked. Lennie is very broad and heavy handed. On the other hand George is small, so it is also ironic that Lennie’s surname is small. The text readers, “Behind him walked his opposite, a huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes, with wide, sloping shoulders; and he walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws. His arms did not swing at his sides, but hung loosely.” The writer says that George has “restless eyes” meaning that his eyes are defined, whereas Lennie’s are described as “pale.”
This colour is not vivid nor is it harsh, so it is almost sympathetic and tender. Lennie’s eyes do not suggest strength, so maybe Steinbeck is presenting Lennie as having a monotonous, good-natured personality. Steinbeck is not trying to make George and Lennie seem alike, but completely different; this is to show how dependent two opposites are in needing each other. Without one another George would have been a lonely ranch worker, meanwhile Lennie would of probably contained in a mental institution. Lennie is referred to a bear, straight away this tells the audience that Lennie is physically strong, pretty large and hostile. Despite this, it also shows that Lennie would only fight when he has to, he wouldn’t do it without an intention.
Research has shown that bears only attack when they feel in danger, therefore a bear symbolizes Lennie best as he tend to lose control a lot. Lennie is always willing to attack when the dream is compromised, showing how important the vision was to American citizens. Lennie says, “I remember about the rabbits, George.” and George responds, ”The hell with the rabbits. That’s all you can ever remember is them rabbits.” This is the very first time we hear about Lennie dream. Even from the beginning of the novella, the impression is given that Lennie is more enthusiastic than George about the dream. George’s simple eradication of the words “them rabbits” shows signs that he thinks the whole situation is foolish. This tends to get intricate as we to register that George might just be as animated for the dream as much as Lennie. it comes across that George is extra wary about that excitement, this makes sense as he’s also more aware of his surroundings compared to his other half.
The American Dream as whole is impossible of fulfilment, the death of Lennie is figurative of that – concluding that all good things most come to an end. Lennie only wanted to “tend the rabbits,” nothing more, nothing less – it was George who came up with the entire dream therefore Lennie is not to blame for everything. The dream was presented to Lennie like a story, in a childlike manner. “…God a’mighty, if I was alone I could live so easy. I could go get a job an’ work, an’ no trouble. No mess at all, and when the end of the month come I could take my fifty bucks and go into town and get whatever I want…”
At this point George lashes out at Lennie raging about what the life of a migrant worker would be like without any heavy loads i.e Lennie. From this piece of text it seems that George is imagining a nonchalant existence and that Lennie is just an obstacle in his way.What George had highlighted here is far-seeing because of what happens in the end of “Of Mice and Men.” George uses the dream so that they both have hope later on life, after the ranch workers knew about their dream they wanted to have one too. This reveals the value of dreams entirely in the novella, and for those alive during the Great Depression, sitting in the same position as the ranch workers.
Once George creates a full account of the farm, its heaven garden-like qualities become even more obvious; Everything thing they want will be in front of their eyes, without any literal effort. Just as Lennie states: “We could live offa the fatta the lan’.” I think that when George shot Lennie he was right in doing so. One of the reasons I think this is due to the fact that he would have been killed by Curley or the rest of the ranch men anyway. Lennie had unexpectedly killed Curley’s wife; therefore, it would of resolved in death either way. The author lets the reader know that Curley would of killed Lennie when Curley says – “I’m gonna get him. I’m going for my shot gun. I’ll kill the son-of-a-bitch myself.” If Curley killed Lennie, it would of resolved in a slow painful, death. In my opinion, it was better his best friend killing him than his enemy.
This killing can be compared to a mercy killing or linked to euthanasia in many ways. George killed Lennie for all the right reasons; the only downfall in this is that George has to go on and live a lonely life, with no companionship. George kills Lennie by Salinas River ‘Salinas’ means lonely, which is what George is now. George and Lennie fail to register that their dream is like thousands of other ranch workers, Crooks summarizes their dream when he quotes: “Seen hundreds 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. Hundreds of them. They come an’ they quit an’ go on, every damn one of ‘em’s got a little piece of land in his head. An’ never one of them get it.” The men on the ranch have this futile dream about owning their peace of land, but its unachievable because of their circumstances.
In a similar manner, from beginning to end Miller depicts the American Dream and how Willy Lowman and his family fail to achieve it. Arthur Miller was born in New York, Harlem October 1915. Miller wrote Death of a Salesman whilst working for his father’s company at the age of seventeen. Miller had said that everything he wrote was based on someone he knew or had seen. After Miller wrote the script he wrote a postscript saying that the real-life salesman, who the play is based on had killed himself by jumping in front of a subway train.
Willy has been attempting to achieve the American Dream for such a long period of time that he actually believes it’s achievable. Throughout Willy’s life he has prolonged numerous lies to himself and to his family, this has persuaded him that his dream has become an possibility. He constantly reveals to his family that he’s on the verge of huge success, meanwhile he contemplates to himself as to why he hasn’t reached the dream he knows he is capable of – Willy says that “There’s more people! That’s what’s ruining this country! The competition is maddening! Smell the stink from that apartment house! And one on the other side… How can they whip cheese?”
Willy says this in Act one, this quote suggests that Willy is blaming the over populated country, America, on his lack of success – the truth is that its down to his belief in the assumption of the flawed American Dream. Its seems to me that Willy is just trying to come up with excuses, to cover the fact that he, himself, failed at the American Dream. The fact that Willy is always in need of a scapegoat , shows us that the dream Is, by nature, completely unachievable. The use of explanation marks in this quote express Willy’s feelings about the people and the impact its having on his ability to achieve the American dream.
Miller makes an abstract comment on how America is guilty of selling their citizens a dream to failure, but who do we blame? On one hand we should blame the scapegoat, America as a nation, but it seems the readers can’t help but blame Willy, it’s almost as if the readers have fallen for the same myth – blaming Willy and not American society.
Willy convinced his sons that in order to achieve the American Dream you need to be “well-liked”, not just liked. It seems that Willy is implying that being admired and the quality of arousing interest is the most important thing that will enable you to achieve the American Dream. He puts being “well liked” first over any other quality. According to Willy, being well liked amounts to the bare matter for reaching the American Dream. Being well liked is a quickened way of achieving something without as much hard work.
In act one Willy says to Happy that he’ll be “Bigger than Uncle Charley! Because Charley is not liked. He’s liked – but not well liked.” The exclamation mark is to emphasise the fact the he’s going to be bigger than Charley, Charley is prestige and has status. The dash creates the effect of a dramatic pause to make it clear that Charley was not well liked, but at the same time Willy is implying that he, himself, is well liked, when evidently we know this is just a delusion.
Willy completely thinks that anyone who works hard in America will become successful without doubt. He says, “Biff Loman is lost. In the greatest country in the world a young man with such- personal attractiveness gets lost. And such a hard worker. There’s one thing about Biff – he’s not lazy.” This is another encapsulation of the American Dream fooling the American man, it’s evident that it’s futile and ends up killing Willy. It’s almost like Willy sees the American dream as a given right of an American, Willy’s death is such a horrendous one, as he commits suicide and so this serves to show us how destructive the American dream can be for the average American man.
In act one, Willy indicates that Biff can even get let off with purloining a ball because of how popular he is with his coach. This supports the notion that Willy places upmost importance on being “well liked” In Act One Willy says to his sons “Tell you a secret, boys. Don’t breathe it to a soul. Someday I’ll have my own business, and I’ll never have to leave home anymore” Here Willy is secretive and possessive, just like in of Mice and Men when George let Candy participate in their dream. Willy wants to own a business just like George and Lennie, although Willy’s dream and George and Lennie’s dreams are completely different, they are similar at the same time, as they both are striving to achieve financial independence, they both have this unwavering image of a dream which they believe to be achievable, but the irony is the reader sees this as unachievable.
The difference in these dreams is evident through what is they want to achieve; George and Lennie aims for and simple, agricultural success, whereas Willy is positioned in a contemporary situation in which he seeks to corporate success and material gain. Here it’s worth realizing Biff and Happy endeavour to achieve and reality which is more similar to George and Lennie in terms of its simplicity, however his father’s obsession with corporate wealth means that this is not possible.
The above can be seen when Happy says, “That’s what I dream about Biff. Sometimes I wanna just rip my clothes off in the middle of the store and outbox that goddamned merchandise manager. I mean I can outbox, outlift and outrun anybody in that store, and I to take orders from those petty, common sons of bitches till I can’t stand it anymore.” Here we see Happy rejecting his father’s wishes to follow a corporate lead American dream, in favour of a more primal like competition.
However he releases the idea that business competition, similar to the type his father promotes will bring him success; he can’t escape the rat race of American capitalism. This is similar to the inescapable, futile situation that Lennie and George find themselves in; they move from ranch to ranch, with seeming direction, but the irony lies in the fact that their life is totally directionless. The final bitter blow lies in Lennie’s death.
Although culturally, the direction toward which the pursuers of the American Dream changes over time (from dreams of living simply via agriculture, to dreams of achieving corporate success) it is interesting to see that Willy says to his wife, “You wait, kid, before it’s all over we’re gonna get a little place out in the country, and I’ll raise some vegetables, a couple of chickens…” This suggests that the direction of the American Dream has not changed much, and material/corporate success only serves as a temporary means to fulfil the original view of owning one’s own ranch and living from the land. Here, Willy’s vision is almost identical to George and Lennie’s, which is interesting due to the difference era both are set in/written in. The ellipsis in this quote represents the never ending possibilities of what they can acquire.
This aforementioned idea of Willy obsessed with being well liked is something he unfortunately passes down to his children in a typical cyclical way. In a conversation with his parents Biff and Happy reveal they are interested they are looking for work that is simply bearable. Happy says, about his “business idea” that, “…it wouldn’t be like a business. We’d be out playin’ ball again…” Despite this, Willy is completely fixated on ensuring that the boys possess job security in a lucrative profession, which he believes will lead them on this path to greatness, and most importantly, financial security. We may accuse Willy of not being very supportive of his children, as he seems to be prioritising pursuit of the American Dream over his children. This is a true reflection of his blind faith in the idealised dream.
Linda’s attitude toward the American dream is contradictive. Linda does this by motivating Willy into believing his dreams are real, even though she recognizes his dream is conclusively futile and bound to stay incomplete. Linda doesn’t have as many dreams as Willy, but her main one is to live a undemanding, quiet life with her husband. Whereas he would prefer to travel, be recognized and remembered by everybody. Linda would prefer to sit back in her aging jacket with him and to have him employed in the city. This is illustrated when Linda says to Willy ‘can’t continue this way’, and encourages Willy to put himself forward and ask Howard for a job, so that he does not have to travel and so he can pay for the insurance premium.
At this stage the audience gather that Linda is very concerned for Willy. Linda never manages to attain her dream since Willy would be more willingly to commit suicide than to surrender his job as a salesman. In addition to this, Linda yearns to safeguard Willy. A case of this is whilst speaking to Ben she shouts at Ben and says, ‘don’t say those things to him! ‘Afterwards, it is clear that she is shielding him; even though the stage directions interpret Linda as being ‘frightened of Ben’, she becomes assertive for Willy’s benefit. She fails to shade Willy as he objects, resulting in the worst case scenario whilst under her belt.
Willy committing suicide. As the play concludes, it’s evident that Willy was lost and didn’t actually know himself. We already knew this, the point being hardly anyone attends his funeral. It is here Biff registers that his dad was lost, entirely and travelled down the wrong road, we know this as he says “He had the wrong dreams. All, all wrong.” It is obvious the Biff will no longer follow the same route as his father. However, Happy, decides to secure his father’s ill-advised visions and takes them on-board himself, he says so himself toward the end of the play “I’m gonna win it for him.”
Comparison of “Death of a Salesman” and “Of Mice and Men”
The novella ‘Of Mice and Men’ and the play ‘The Death of a Salesman’ paint a picture of the vanity of dreams, the main one is the American dream. Both authors, Arthur Miller and John Steinbeck use numerous linguistic and literary methods, so that the audience can see how impossible dreams were during that era. Of Mice and Men and Death of a Salesman are set during the 1930s-1940s, the writers permit the context of the literature in order to help them tour the futility of the ‘American Dream’.
The American Dream is never achieved. The working-class people -Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, ends up disenchanted and kills himself. The Lomans are alike Lennie and George, They both try to repudiate that they’re just a minority in the world they’re living in, but their American dream is invariably just a step away.
At one point, in Of Mice and Men and Death of a Salesman they contrast as Willy wants to be successful and “well liked” in order to gain status, whereas Lennie and George don’t want status they want to own a piece of land and belong somewhere, I know this as George says ‘it’d be our own, an ‘nobody could can us’.
Willy is lost in this delusion about being successful and gaining status that he would rather die than be known to failure of the American dream. When Willy and Ben are speaking Linda yells at him saying, ‘don’t say those things to him!’ Here it is clear the Linda is shielding Willy. The way Linda presented herself to Ben is almost identical to the way Lennie reacts when its things resulting with George. For example, When Crooks expressed the possibility of George being injured, Lennie ‘walked dangerously towards’ him, questioning ‘who hurt George?’
The word ‘dangerously’ is used to narrate Lennie’s negative, forceful charge toward crooks, this shows how far Lennie will go, having the only intention of making sure George is safe and not thinking about the outcome when doing so. Likewise, when Ben indicates Willy isn’t doing so well at work Linda reacts in a menacing manner toward him.
In the stage directions Miller says how Happy was ‘almost ready to fight Biff’ As we know, Happy’s dreams are what his father’s are and when Biff decides to ask what applicability Willy’s dreams are it results in a battle nearly commencing. The reason being as to why Happy was ready to challenge Biff is because as stated above (Happy’s dreams are his fathers). What happened here is similar to what occurred with Lennie and Crooks. In my opinion Steinbeck and Miller, both display how the characters will assert one’s over another in an arrogant way, to make the audience grasp mentally, that no matter how much you try to protect your dream it will always be captured.