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Of Mice and Men is a well-crafted novel that shows readers the grim cycle of natural human existence. That all the characters in the novel eventually admit to suffering from profound loneliness. Each desires the solace from a companion but will settle for the attention of a stranger. Throughout the book, John Steinbeck uses the theme of solitude to reveal each significant figures’ unique manifestation of isolation. It shows readers how, even when surrounded by people, one can still be consumed by loneliness.
Early on in the novel, George sets the tone for these confessions when he reminds Lennie that “guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world”(Page 13).
Men like George, who are forced to constantly migrate from farm to farm searching for work, often times don’t have a people to provide comfort and companionship. Even though he has Lennie, George is still alone because he has no one with the same intellectual level that he can interact with.
A symbol that Steinbeck uses to express this is the card game solitaire. Solitare meaning “to be alone”. Even though he has Lennie, he chooses to play alone because if he played with Lennie they wouldn’t be able to get anywhere. This reflects not only on the card game but also his life as well. Because he has to constantly take care of Lennie, he remains stuck in the progress of his own life. This can be seen when George becomes enraged at Lennie for wanting ketchup and begins to rant about how easy life would be without him.
“God a’mighty, if I was alone I could live so easy, I could go get a job and’ 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. Why, I could stay at a cat house all night. I could eat any place I want, hotel or any place, and order any damn thing I could think of.” (Page 11).
Though these words are harsh, they are unquestionably true. Life would be a breeze if Geroge didn’t have the bother of Lennie around however, the human instinct to favor companionship overpowers all else. In the end, George’s hope of such companionship dies with Lennie, and true to his original statement, he will continue through life alone. Furthermore, Crooks presents the theme of loneliness because he is constantly alone in his room. As the only black man on the ranch, he is forced to sleep in separate bunks and even in daylight, the other ranch hands prefer not to interact with him. Crooks is very aware of the fact that his skin color keeps him separate from the others. And even though he was born in the state of California, he will still remain an outcast in the eyes of his fellow workers. This outsider status has caused the stable buck to grow cold and cynical. In his brief interaction with Lennie, he begins “S’posing” (Page 71) that George won’t come back. To a certain extent, his misery and isolation have caused him to find delight in the loneliness of others.
He criticizes Lennie’s dreams of a farm and his reliance on George because it makes him feel powerful in contrast with his normally low self-worth. It can also be assumed that Crooks is a more educated man. When describing his room, the author wrote that he had “a tattered dictionary and a mauled copy of the California civil code for 1905” (Page 67). A civil code is a book made up of “statutes which govern the general obligations and rights of persons within the jurisdiction” of the said state. This suggests that even though he humiliates others for their outlandish dreams, he wants to someday achieve freedom. Further, in the novel, Candy and Lennie let Crooks in on their dream of “livin’ on the fatta the land”, however, he was reminded of his harsh existence when Curley’s wife threatened to have him lynched for talking back. Jolted back into reality, he accepts that he will always live with discrimination. It can be seen that Crooks defines his own self-worth not based on his beliefs, but on knowing that, no matter how he feels about himself, others will always see him as less. And as quickly as he became enthusiastic about the dream, he abandoned it, claiming that he was “Jus’ foolin” about wanting to obtain freedom and happiness.
Unlike the others, Curley’s wife is very vocal about her loneliness. In one scene, she enters Crooks’ room in search of Curley. The men proceed by telling her to leave because she’s married and shouldn’t fraternize with other men. She responds with “Sure I gotta husban’. You all seen him. Swell guy, ain’t he? Spends all his time sayin’ what he’s gonna do to guy she don’t like, and he don’t like nobody. Think I’m gonna stay in that two-by-four house and listen how Curley’s gonna lead with his left twicet, and then bring in the ol’ right cross? ‘One-two,’ he says. ‘Jus’ the ol’ one-two an’ he’ll go down’” (Page 78). This shows how even though she’s married, she doesn’t love him. He doesn’t give her the kind of affection she so desperately wants, as a result, she goes around the ranch seeking attention from anybody to satisfy her need for a companion. This behavior eventually earned her the nickname of a “tart”. As the story progresses, she expresses her frustration to Lennie. “What kinda harm am I doin’ to you? Seems like they ain’t none of them cares how I gotta live. I tell you I ain’t used to livin’ like this. I coulda made somethin’ of myself” (Page 88).
The fact that she confesses her entire life story to a complete stranger only further shows her desperation for affection. This holds extreme significance because, throughout the book, Curley’s wife hasn’t been portrayed as anything but a flirt. She didn’t have any character and was simply a tease that would go around causing trouble. However, this is the only moment that she reveals her personality to the audience, and ironically, gets killed for it. In the end, the love, and affections she has wanted all her life is unreachable. In the lonely town of Soledad, every character suffers from unique cases of isolation. To a certain extent, George chooses to be lonely. By staying with Lennie, he knew he’d have to give-up living an easy life. For Crooks, he is strongly discriminated against because of the color of his skin. Forced to sleep in separate bunks and constantly excluded from group activities, he has gradually lost faith in other people’s morals and questions their every intention. And lastly, Curley’s wife, the only women ever mentioned in the novel. Although she’s married, she feels unloved and treated like a mere possession. In the end, Steinbeck shows readers that, no matter how hard they try, the companionship that all of them seek is unattainable.
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