John Steinbecks story is set in California in the mid 1930s where a formidable amount of American men were genuinely lonely and had the tragedy of dispossession. The story centres around two characters, George and Lennie, two bindle stiff workers who are sent from ranch to ranch harvesting wheat, barley and sugar beets. The economical situation was oppressive to the extent that agricultural labouring was the only answer for men like these. In these times the wages were low and living quarters squalid.
The powerlessness of the Californian labouring class loomed indefatigably and the opportunity for advancing in society was practically non-existent. Steinbeck’s examination of the reality in ‘Of mice and men’ sets the story a few miles south of Soledad. Soledad is Spanish for “solitude”, the intense loneliness and anger engendered by hopelessness. The reader is drawn in by the doomed appeal of Lennie and George, which inevitably shapes their friendship and their dream.
The story begins and ends with tranquil settings, Salinas River close to a hillside bank that runs deep and green, this gives the reader a feel of calm and optimism.
The structure of the story is ironic in the way Steinbeck uses descriptive language with smell, colour, light and sound, at the beginning and end. But the circumstances that Lennie and George find themselves in at the beginning and the end is of total opposite. This gives the reader a feel of inevitability to life and that the revolution of Lennie and George was one of insignificance, that we are no more fortunate than mice and nature and man has something in common.
Lennie’s character is firstly described by Steinbeck as “a huge man, shapeless of face, with large pale eyes, and wide sloping shoulders; walking heavily, dragging his feet, the way a bear drags his paws” this gives an indication to the reader that Lennie is a docile man. Steinbeck uses animal like descriptions, which gives the reader an idea that Lennie is also a strong man. He’s like a small child trapped in a big mans body. He has relied on George ever since her was a kid. Lennie forgets things easily, which gets them into a spot of bother now and again.
George sometimes asks Lennie not to speak, due to him not making sense or not being able to keep a secret, but Lennie is unable to. George is described as “small and quick, dark of face, with restless eyes and sharp, strong features” the total opposite from Lennie. George is definitely the brains of the outfit and the one with the grand scheme of things within his sight. George knows that Lennie is capable of harming people especially nice things that Lennie likes to stroke. This is why George tells Lennie to go back to the brush if anything bad happens. George is clever in pre-empting any situation that might occur with Lennie.
The relationship between George and Lennie is one of companionship and genuine friendship but this is burdened by Lennie’s mental age defect. George is also a father figure to Lennie having to supervise him most of the time. More characters begin to emerge soon after George and lennie arrive at the bunkhouse. Candy the old swamper, a tall, stoop-shouldered man. Candy, with only one hand has a job as a general cleaner with his old sheep dog, which keeps him company. The other main characters are Curley, the boss’s son, a young man, thin with tightly curled brown hair and brown eyes.
A nasty jealous man who has a complex about his size and likes to pick on bigger men to satisfy his ego. Curlys wife as described by steinberg is a troubled and lonely woman who invariably causes trouble for everyone, but she does not see how talking to other men can be so wrong. When talking with other men she has a habit of saying how she could of been a famous actor and how she thought at first that different men would help her obtain her dreams. She says ‘I met one of those actors. He says I could go with that show. But my ol’ lady wouldn’t let me’.
She’s described by George as a tramp but as she stays in a house by herself, just makes her a lonely character. The character slim is a cool customer with consideration and thought for other people’s feelings. A tall man with long black hair, blue jeans and a denim jacket. He is a jerkline skinner, a supervisor of the team with a tremendous amount of respect from the other guys. One of the themes in this novel is of loneliness. Steinberg shows a pessimistic view of life by making the characters show feelings of negativity. Curl’s wife is a victim of this and also Lennie.
Crook’s the stable buck is probably one of the loneliest characters. Being a black man in those days had many disadvantages. One of which was segregation. But Crook’s is described as a proud, aloof man. Crook’s description by Steinbeck has an air of sympathy to him. His mauled copy of the Californian civil code emphasises his struggle. This is a man of few possessions. Even though he is discriminated against and his thoughts of men’s dreams are hopeless. He still hope’s of being part of George and Lennie’s scheme. John Steinbeck’s purpose within this novel was to emphasise the struggle of men and their hopes and dreams that they held.
Most of the language used is colloquial; this gives an authenticity to the book and a real feel for the characters. The story takes a sinister twist when George decides to take time out with slim. Lennie is left alone in the barn whilst tending a pup he had accidentally killed. When approached by Curley’s wife he becomes transfixed on her and in a state of panic he breaks her neck. One of the key moments of hope for me in this book was when George realises he could obtain his dream as he says repeatedly; I could swing her! At this point the possibilities of their dream are real.
The realisation of George killing Lennie only came into mind, for me when George reached inside his pocket and pulled out the slugger; sat at the hillside bank. Steinbeck makes the novel more powerful by not letting the reader figure out the plot right until the end. This for me was a good ending considering the circumstances. And still the possibilities of George, Candy and the stable buck dreams, are real. The only thing that disappointed me was Lennie’s carelessness, nevertheless, I feel the novel was gripping and gave suspense, a thriller.
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