What Effect does the Time they Live in have on the Characters in Steinbeck’s ‘Of mice and Men’? Essay

‘But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,

In proving foresight may be vain;

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The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men

Gang aft agley,

An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,

For promis’d joy!’

Within this verse, the cynical statement ‘The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men

Gang aft agley’ lays, the line which portrays the heart of the novel, and we foresee a bleak shadow that plagues certain characters throughout the novel. These characters are crucial to the novel, leading it swiftly through the highs and lows of this period. The Great Depression. A decade of devastation that swept through America leaving a trail of desolation and people with broken hopes. Perhaps it is this aspect of the novel that makes ‘Of mice and Men’ what it is, a vividly real drama with characters scattered with beauty and lost in their world of dreams.

Characters, which, suppress the urge to leave this bitter and harsh world they live in, only masked by their shattered hopes. These characters dubbed ‘the weak one’s’, who live in a world verging on the line between reality and fantasy, allowing them to escape their lives and think for one second, that they could have some value in their lives. They have one wish in the world that this cruel situation they live in would disappear and the prejudice that they experience simply because of the colour of their skin or whether they are male of female, would not be an issue. With one exception, one character who doesn’t seem to realise the vicious things that can be said against him. He has one prayer, one dream, one hope, to live a simple life, with his rabbits and George. Lennie. Pure, simple Lennie

Lennie’s childlike attitude could possibly be the reason why he doesn’t acknowledge the situation in the world around him and the way his mental disability separates him from others. I think he must realise partially though, what George is trying to shield him from, and the realisation comes from the night with Crooks. ‘ “Why ain’t you wanted?” Lennie asked.

” ‘Cause I’m black. They play cards in there, but I can’t play because I’m black. They say I stink… ‘ But still, with this confession still does not think about such complex things, he just reckons that George is looking out for him. The world around him at this time, cast out people from society that were different, that were ‘inadequate’ to live in normal society so when Lennie arrives at the ranch, just like he has been all his life he gets thrown out. Not physically thrown out, Steinbeck uses the symbolism of the others not quite accepting him to show the way the others exclude him. The only one to fully accept is Slim, with all his years of wisdom acknowledges Lenny is not the same but does not let it bother him, why should it?

Lenny has an incredible sense of pride, which was unusual at the time, in himself as well as in George; he also had an incredible amount of belief. In George, in their friendship, in their ability to find work as itinerant workers, and most importantly in their dream. People had dreams, though they believed in them, no-one ever thought that it could be done, the perfect dream could come real, to ‘live off the fatta’ the lan” but Lennie stands by his dream so passionately it fills him with immense happiness to hear talk of it and it is this hope that Steinbeck grasps and uses throughout the novel and expresses as clearly as in Lennie as with other characters. But sometime these hopes may have been broken all ready. Sometimes hope can never return, and a longing sorrow takes over and any hope is abolished along with your life.

Such as Curley’s Wife. She has nothing, no freedom, no friends, not even a name. She has grown up with dreams beaten down by her mother. ‘I coulda made something of myself.’ She, like Lennie she lives in a world where people prejudge her but quite differently to the way Lennie is judged At least Lennie is given some respect, by Steinbeck’s no naming of the character we can see that she has no respect. She, like plenty of woman in that period was treated as an object, she never loved her husband it was marriage that was just for show, in reality Curley only wanted her to impress people, maybe to gain some respect.

Steinbeck shows Curley’s wife in relation to other characters, with a great deal of contempt, a world where she is trapped in a loveless marriage. As she later reveals to Lennie, ‘I don’t like Curley.’ She has no one to lean on, no one to support her and the times are crippling her into thinking that she is worthless when really it is prejudice beating her down. In this period there is also a great deal of prejudice about treating woman as sexual objects, yet it seems Curley’s wife tolerates this role, she even dresses provocatively so she accentuates this prejudice by her body language and her overall appearance. ‘She had full, rouged lips and wide spaced eyes, heavily made up.’ This is a way for Curley’s wife to get away from the person inside, to mask her true self and beg others to see her, like Curley doesn’t. Steinbeck uses her character also to show the weak points of the other characters, especially that of Lennie. We can see that because of the way she provocatively dresses is a way of reaching through all the prejudice she faces; she just wants to be loved.

Curley’s wife struggle through one hope, the lost dream of becoming a movie star, and she confides in one person in some of her last moments. Lennie. I think that Steinbeck directs this prejudice present in Curley’s wife in a way that the reader can feel and see with her character as we progress through the novel. We can communicate with her feeling of loss as Steinbeck uses this image of depression to create a picture that moves us through Curley’s wife’s desperation.

There are some incredibly moving key issues in ‘Of mice and Men’, one being plainly loneliness, and we have touched on this with Lennie and we can see the presence of loneliness has a huge emotional impact on Curley’s wife, as we see her reaching out for perhaps another being as lonely as her when she tells us of her shattered dreams in the chapter where she meets her death. But there is one character who fills the loneliness, who has a life long companion that gets miserably taken away from him around halfway through the novel.

This is Candy, an old swamper who shares his grave life with his dog. There share an intense bond, perhaps to Curley the only reason worth living for. However when his dog is taken away form him to be shot, we see the life being wrenched out of him and he is only saved by the faith in George’s and Lennie’s farm and even with Lennie’s death he is still eager to carry on. He has nothing worth living for and he clutches at that tiny glimpse of hope. Candy like the other ‘weak ones’ has been plagued by prejudice being deemed as useless, I think he almost expects to be taken out and shot himself when they have finished with him. ‘I wish’t somebody’d shoot me if I get old an’ a cripple.’ Slim says passing judgement on the shooting of Candy’s beloved dog.

With his one hand he has to stay on at the ranch, as he would get work nowhere else, so he too like Curley’s wife is trapped in a stationary life.

Candy has the realisation in his life that he will never make anything of his life, the time, the situation and his disability prevents him from taking what he wants from life. His dog is the self-realisation that he too, will be gotten rid of, that he too, will become useless. He tries to cover this, pretend that they will succeed in their dream, but I think Candy realises, like Crooks that this dream is just an illusion preventing them from seeing the true situation.

The last character we come to is Crooks, depicted by Steinbeck as a cynical and guarded character, separated from the rest of the group by the colour of his skin. Perhaps this is what makes him cagey and aloof from the rest of the ranch hands. The times that he lives in influence the way he sees himself and also the way the other ranch hands see him. They see him, being a black disabled man, he is underneath the rest of the group, and so they treat him with disrespect. It is not an obvious disrespect in many ways but in a way in which the hurt is forced inside of Crooks, which leads to a deep resentment towards them. ‘ Crooks said sharply: “You got no right to come in my room. This here’s my room. Nobody got any right in here but me.” ‘

The only two that are able to wipe back this curtain of ignorance are Candy and Lennie, and perhaps this timeless prejudice is only overcome by those two because of their experiences also. Crooks is reproachful of them entering ‘his space’ at first but he cannot deny the overwhelming feeling of pride and pleasure. The offer that he so easily gives to Lennie and Candy shows that he is willing to lay all he has on the line for them, to go with them, to share a dream. ‘ “…If you… guys would want a hand to work for nothing – just his keep, why I’d come an’ lend a hand….” ‘ This offer seems to open a void in their relationship, he puts his pride aside and asks, this is a crucial part in Crook’s character as this is a way out of this relentless life. But he is interrupted too late.

Crooks can also appreciate companionship, that Lennie brings and so I think he has a kind of respect for Lennie and his openness towards such racial prejudices. He also has a respect for Slim, like every one at the ranch, but Crook’s is different as though he is black Slim, with all his wisdom, realises that slavery was abolished and treats him as an equal. This earns him, in Crook’s eyes, a deep respect.

He is connected greatly with the racial issues of the time, and the time greatly affects him. As the other ranch workers treats him as if he is not a human. He is also like Candy is affected by the ranch workers narrow-minded views towards disabilities

I think that the times of this novel greatly influenced and reflected the attitudes of the people of the period, and the situation just accentuated the position that people were in. I think the people that were affected in the novel by the prejudices of the time, were significantly distressed by the actions of others. I can see that they would have felt a lot of sorrow throughout their lives and one way or another their lives will end with nothing that distinguishes them from any other who lived in pain.

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