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I think Steinbeck has his characters use racially derogatory terms to show that prejudice based on race was still a widespread issue, even though slavery and racial discrimination had not been legal for some time. Derogatory terms were mainly directed at Crooks due to his race. He says, “‘Ever’body out doin’ som’pin’. Ever’body! An’ what am I doin’? Standin’ here talkin’ to a bunch of bindle stiffs – a nigger an’ a dum-dum and a lousy ol’ sheep’” (Steinbeck 78).
These words used describe how Crooks is treated by everyone else at the ranch, showing that the men are very racist people. The word “nigger” is used to emphasize how bad racial prejudices were. Even in present day, it is a relevant matter that this book brings to attention. Causing us, as readers to realize that the issue of mistreatment due to race is an issue that has not disappeared over time. In the Steinbeck documentary, it is stated that he had an issue with class but did not have a problem with the color of one’s skin.
This is shown in the book Of Mice and Men by the characters viewing wealthy people as brutal and harsh.
Curley’s wife is never called by her own name as a way of depicting her lack of independence. By only referring to her as Curley’s wife, her identity is confined to the limited role she must play in her marriage. It makes her seem like a possession of Curley, with no freedom of her own.
Also because she isn’t called by a name, it makes her feel unwanted since she has almost no ability to feel fulfilled as an individual. Leaving her nameless also shows how the men on the ranch feel about women in general, especially Curley’s wife. I also think her lack of a name is simply rooted in realism. It could be the way that the workers refer to her simply because they do not know her name. Another reason why nobody referred to her by her name could be because they were afraid of Curley himself. Even if the men knew her name, maybe they didn’t dare use it for fear of offending Curley because of his hotheadedness; so they played it safe. Leaving Curley’s wife nameless could possible reveal that Steinbeck was making a feminist point by withholding her name.
Crooks is isolated mainly due to his race. He is excluded from the other workers because he is black and disabled. This isolation is not only a mental one for Crooks but also a physical one as he has to sleep in the stable. He also thinks that most people are out to harm him so it is difficult for him to form any relationships, even if they were available to him. It was hard in those days to be accepted for who you are not your color. Being an old black man living in the barn all by himself, he is forced to read books to make his life seem less lonely. When he gets an opportunity he lashes all his anger out on Lennie and tells him that George won’t come back, making Lennie feel upset. ‘Crooks face lightened with pleasure in his torture… ‘Well s’pose, jus’ s’pose he don’t come back. What’ll you do then?” (Steinbeck 70-71). These words show that he wanted Lennie to join him so he can have a companion instead of being all alone. He says that he would like to be part of the dream but quickly retreats himself as he knows he will not be accepted.
Candy is isolated because after the loss of his dog and his broken arm he is unable to work and doesn’t feel wanted by the other men. Once his dog is shot, he feels as if he has lost a part of himself. The person who shot Candy’s dog did it without any remorse but deep inside Candy knows he should have shot the dog himself. “‘I’d make a will an’ leave my share to you guys in case I kick off, ’ cause I ain’t got no relatives nor nothing’” (Steinbeck 59). This statement shows that Candy is very willing to give all his money to George and Lennie once he dies. He does this because he doesn’t have any relatives which shows that Candy has been very lonely and would do anything to break that loneliness. Being a part of George and Lennie’s dream is the only way for him to have some company so that he is not completely alone once he would get fired.
Lennie’s intellectual disability is the main reason he is lonely in Of Mice and Men. Unlike the other workers on the ranch, Lennie’s mental disability prevents him from creating friendships with the other workers. With the exception of George, Lennie is isolated from the other workers on the ranch and spends the majority of his time playing alone with his new puppy. In chapter four, George and the other workers leave the ranch and head into town and Lennie is left behind, with Candy and Crooks. Lennie also has a difficult time interacting with Crooks, who eventually warms up to him after feeling threatened. The only other character who tries to have a positive social interaction with Lennie is Curley’s wife. Sadly, Lennie accidentally kills her after he gets panicked while not being able to stop touching her hair. In addition to Lennie’s mental disability he is also lonely because of his lowly status as a migrant worker. Similar to other migrant workers, Lennie does not have a permanent home either and his Aunt Clara died too, leaving him without a family.
George is a lonely character for many reasons. First, he is constantly traveling and has no family of his own. He works and tries to save money because he would like to own his own house one day. But this is a problem for him because he has to take care of his Lennie, who is mentally disabled. Lennie constantly causes problems that cause them to have to move. They are never in one place too long, therefore he does not get time to form relationships with others. When George is forced to kill Lennie, at the end of the book, he must have felt immense loneliness because Lennie was close to him and they were almost like family.
Curley’s wife is mainly isolated because she is the only woman on the ranch. She doesn’t even get a proper identity and is referred to as “tramp,” “tart,” and “bitch”. She is viewed as her husband’s property and doesn’t get any attention from anyone. She exists in a place of lonely men with incomplete, shattered dreams. The men can share their pain by talking to the other men but Curley’s wife must go through her problems all alone because no one likes her. She is ignored and mocked by the men, and her only option is to go place to place looking for someone to share her pain with. Also, Curley prefers she not interact with anyone even though he really doesn’t like her, causing her to want to talk to someone even more. By this point she is so desperate for someone to notice her that she tries to gain attention from the men with her femine charm by flirting with them. “Think I don’t like to talk to somebody’s every’ once in a while? Think I like to stick around in the house alla time?’” (Steinbeck 77). When Curley’s wife says this statement it is clear that she receives harsh treatment from the other men on the ranch, and that no one cares about her feelings. She is seen as a trouble-maker and weak mainly due to the fact that she is a woman, and because of this assumption she is left hurt and lonely. This also means that Curley’s wife suffers severe loneliness and all the men on the ranch don’t give her a second thought when they ignore her. She is truly alone.
I think Steinbeck chose to end Of Mice and Men the way he did because he wanted to display the fourth naturalistic concept that the weak and vulnerable cannot survive. I also think that because George is forced to kill Lennie himself, Lennie’s death is not only the death of a single person, but also the death of their special and unique friendship. Throughout the novel, George and Lennie have viewed themselves as special and lucky because they aren’t lonely like the others; they have each other to depend upon, but in the end, all this means is that George must be the person to kill Lennie. This conclusion could also suggest that for the weakest and most isolated people, lasting friendship is a dream that is almost impossible to achieve.
Technically, of course, George the person who pulls the trigger and kills Lennie, is George. However, I would argue that Lennie is responsible for his own death sentence due to his total incapability to control the triggers in his environment. This incapability led him to taking the life of Curley’s wife. The fact that he gets to that point is quite dangerous, making it understandable, though not entirely justifiable, that George just decided to mercy-kill Lennie, rather than have him get lynched by Curley’s gang that was coming to get Lennie. Lennie is a not-so-gentle giant with immense strength. The problem is that he operates purely out of impulse, due to the fact that his mind hasn’t developed properly and he doesn’t know what to do in panic situations. As a result, he destroys many things in his way, although he does not do it on purpose. It is his mind versus his strength. He wants to be careful with things but his strength deceives him. Realistically speaking, he is out of control and George can’t do much to control Lennie’s actions.
During the 1930s for most white Americans, racism was normal. African American people were considered inferior to white people according to the popular prejudices of the time. The realism of dialogue in Of Mice and Men highlights racism at the time well. Steinbeck imitates the way the ranch hands really spoke giving us an accurate insight into the context of the novel. In the book, Crooks is referred to as ‘nigger’ quite a few times. When Candy mentions Crooks for the first time during the book, he says “Ya see the stable buck’s a nigger” (Steinbeck 20). However, he immediately follows up by saying that Crooks is a “Nice fella too” (Steinbeck 20). This perfectly displays the normality of racism in the 1930s. Racism against African American people is still present today, but on a much lesser scale than previous years.
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