John Steinbeck, the author of the book “Of Mice and Men” was born in Salinas, California in 1902. His books were based on real-life experiences: his own and the people he worked with. During his working life, Steinbeck met many people hoping to achieve what was known as the “American Dream”. Many Americans shared this dream, although it meant different things to different people.
The novel “Of Mice and Men” was written in the 1930s, this period of time was known as the “Great Depression”. Before this decade came the 1920s – the “Roaring twenties” as this was called. At this time America was a newly discovered country, with plenty of money, cars, planes and industrial work.This all changed on the 29th October 1929 with the stock market crash. Unemployment during this time rose to 30% and 50% of commercial banks failed. The “Great Depression” destroyed the lives for many Americans, it left people homeless in poverty and despair. The workforce was largely male and stayed this way until after the war had ended.
The “Great Depression” is what caused many people to want to begin to search for the “American Dream”, thus causing many to migrate to California – the promised land of wealth. Steinbeck presented this in “Of Mice and Men” with two migrant workers – Lennie Small and George Milton.Lennie and George were two workers who travelled together working on farms and ranches. They both shared the same “American Dream”; there dream was to “get that little place an’ live on the fatta the lan'”, to have an easy life where they have their own farm and work only for themselves, where they would not be forced to move on or be exploited by bosses. We are constantly reminded of this dream throughout the book; Lennie always wants George to “Tell about how it’s gonna be”, although it always seems to be myth like but George uses the dream to motivate them to keep on working, to try and achieve this dream, he also uses it to give Lennie hope.
George doesn’t seem to believe the dream, he finds it demoralising because he does not think it is possible as they are so far from the dream.George only starts to believe that the dream could be achieved in chapter three when Candy offers them money; “They fell into a silence. They looked at one another, amazed”, the dream had started to become more of a reality.
Just after this happened Curley and Lennie have a fight which cuts off the positive mood, the fight scene coming straight after them talking about the dream is ironic because the ranch world is what they wanted to escape from. It is unusual for two people like Lennie and George to travel together, George recognises this when he say “Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place… With us it ain’t like that. We got a future.
.. because I got you, and you got me to look after you”, they both seem to take care of each other and as Lennie is not very bright he looks up to George for guidance.Candy is an important character in “Of Mice and Men” he lived and worked on the same ranch as Lennie and George, and like them he too wanted to achieve the “American Dream” for him this meant freedom – a place to live out his days in dignity when he can no longer work on the ranch. Candy was a lonely person his only companion was his old dog; “Had him ever since he was a pup”, the shooting of his dog was because he was said to be suffering from his old age this is used as a metaphor of Candy himself, it seems that Candy wishes the same will happen to him, that he will die to end his suffering as he is old and is not in a great physical condition; “Out of his sleeve came a round stick-like wrist, but no hand”, Candy knew he could not get another job because of his condition and even with his dream, he didn’t believe he would ever escape ranch life until he died.When he hears about Lennie and Georges dream, he sees an opportunity to achieve his own dream and keep his pride in old age. Candy offers George and Lennie “three hundred an’ fifty bucks” to let him be a part of it, only then does this dream start to seem more like a reality.
At this point the content of the dream changes, “His eyes full of wonder. “I bet we could swing her,” he repeated softly.” At first it seemed a myth and then it changed to being possible and within their reach, George seems to be amazed at how they could finally achieve the dream after such a long time.
During the time this book was written, racism was still a problem. Steinbeck uses the character Crooks to present what it was like for people of colour to live in American at this time, they don’t have any rights and are treated very unfairly, which makes it almost impossible for Crooks to achieve his dream, “I can’t play because I’m black. They say I stink”, this enforces Crooks to detach himself from everyone else. Crooks’ dream was to live somewhere where he is not discriminated, to find friendship and feel safe and independent.His dream is destroyed by the racist attitudes of people around him but mostly by Curley’s wife when she said to him that she could “get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny” he knows not to disagree with her which is why he tells Candy that “What she says is true”, he doesn’t have any self confidence especially because of his childhood memories. Lennie and Candy tell Crooks about their dream being so close to reality, Crooks asks them if they “would want a hand to work for nothing”, he too wants to achieve his “American Dream”, although his is seen as impossible and a dream that would never be achieved because he would never be accepted in society because of his colour, he realises this after what Curley’s wife says to him, which is what makes him change his mind about going with Lennie, George and Candy.
Curley’s wife has a dream of one day becoming an actress. She remains nameless throughout the story, this signifies the second class citizen status of woman in this period of time. She tells Lennie of the opportunities she had about “a guy tol’ me he could put me in the pitchers”…
“the guy says I coulda. If I’d went, I wouldn’t be livin’ like this, you bet”, to the reader this is seen as more of just a line of flattery rather then the “guy” actually meaning he will put her in a movie, it shows how her dream is so far from ever being achieved. She is also saying how if she had not married Curley she would have been able to reach her dream and her life would be different and as long as she is married to Curley, she will never get to her dream. Her marriage and her gender – being the only female on the ranch, make her feel trapped.The men on the ranch all seem to be scared of the power Curley has being the bosses son; “You gotta husban’. You got no call foolin’ aroun’ with other guys, causing trouble.” Curley’s wife seems to get lonely a lot, especially since she is the only female on the ranch, she tries talking to some of the workers; “Funny thing”.
.. “If I catch any one man, and he’s alone. I get along fine with him. But just let two of the guys get together an’ you won’t talk”, they all seem to be scared of each other and what someone might say if they’re seen talking to her because Curley does not like any of them talking to his wife.In conclusion the “American Dream” is presented as a myth in “Of Mice and Men”.
In my opinion Steinbeck ended the story without any of the dreams being completed to show what was happening in America at the time, with millions of people hoping, but never achieving the “American Dream”. By using the word “dream” it shows that it is always something someone is hoping for, something which doesn’t always become a reality. The two deaths in chapter six – the puppy and Curley’s wife, end the dreams of all the characters in the play. This ending seems to be inevitable as Lennie is always shown as a strong character that is not quite capable of handling his own strength which is what brings the dream to be ultimately destroyed.