Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck, is a novella that describes the story of 2 migrant workers, George and Lennie, who travel across California in search of work, making a living by doing manual labour. We join the protagonists when they are resting in a brush near their future workplace. The brush they are in currently is a very important place in the story where pivotal moments occur, such as the beginning and end of the story, both of which have bad events happening. The brush is a very changing place: In Chapter 1 it is a utopia, peaceful and separated from humanity, and in Chapter 6, it is dystopian due to the symbols that set the scene for the upcoming death of Lennie.
The background of the novella is where Steinbeck lived through the Wall Street Crash and its effect on normal people. The crash was an event that showed people the dangers of banking and to some extent capitalism. Overnight, life savings were lost and people were forced out of their houses due to the sudden collapse in the stock exchange. This caused what many coined ‘The Great Depression’: A time period in which many people were made redundant and had no where to live, therefore being forced onto the streets or far away.
Due to this, the infamous bank robbers, Bonnie and Clyde, and other bank robbers were famed by the public since banks and bankers were shunned from society. Some compare the current economic recession to the Wall Street Crash of 1929 because it was so shocking that it had happened and so many people’s lives and ambitions were changed. Steinbeck was also inspired by Rabbie Burns, a poet that was famous for writing in Scottish Dialect. The title, Of Mice and Men, comes from Burns’ poem, To A Mouse, where he says: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft aglee”. This inspired Steinbeck to write a novel where he could use his dialect, which resulted in Of Mice and Men.
Steinbeck aimed to stop the prejudice of many parties and reveal what it was like during the Great Depression. Crooks is a symbol of the racial discrimination that occurred, since he was pushed aside, fights were started at Christmas with him and he reads books instead of talks to others. There is also prejudice toward women mentioned in the story: Curley’s Wife, for example, doesn’t even have her name mentioned in the story, which makes her look like property, which was generally acceptable in the 1930’s American society.
Finally, Lennie is also a victim of prejudice, and is also based upon a real person. Steinbeck said “Lennie is a real person. He’s in an insane asylum right now.”. He knew what would happen to him if George didn’t shoot him, so shooting him would be the lesser of two evils. The prejudice toward his almost retarded self is the reason that he would have more severe punishments than the regular man. This is another way that 1930’s American society can be blamed for the destruction of George and Lennie’s dream.
Most characters in the novella have revealed their dreams to the reader, which is important as dreams increasingly turn into a theme for the story. The most mentioned dream is George and Lennie’s dream of how they wanted to own a ranch. This was almost made possible thanks to Candy’s contribution; even George thought it was possible: “We’ll do her, we’ll fix up that little old place”. This is the proof that all three finally thought it possible (since Lennie went along with everything George said and Candy was ready to give up his life savings). This dream shows us how desperate many people were during the Great Depression to secure a retirement and life plan, which were rare in the 1930’s American society.
In Of Mice and Men, dreams are affected by the settings the characters are in: For example, when Curley’s Wife learned about movies, she started to think that she could work in the film industry: “Coulda been in the movies an’ had nice clothes”. Some people may think that this is due to her upbringing: She probably was brought up with entertainment via a TV or newspaper in her town, so she may of aspired to work with them. Similarly, George and Lennie have been on farms since the Wall Street Crash and both were raised in Auburn. The land there was mainly full of rolling hills and a long river was nearby, named the American River/Sacramento River. This is shown in their dream: They do not want lots of money or to have a job many others might want, probably due to their surroundings. Their dream is just to have a solitary ranch where George can tend the rabbits and “live off the fatta’ the lan'”.
The 1st chapter shows us a detailed description of the brush on the Salinas River. Steinbeck describes it as if it were the best place for someone to be. (There could be a slight undertone of satire, since the brush is so close to the ranch, yet the protagonists did not fully notice the wonders of the place) Steinbeck describes how nature is cruel when a bird comes to eat a periscope-headed water snake. This is also a way of secretly showing the reader what is to come. When George and Lennie arrive, they make a destructive entrance when descriptions change from: “The rabbits hurried noiselessly to cover” to “The place was lifeless”.
This suggests that there will be death due to people’s destructive path, and the word lifeless even tells us how there will be problems in itself. This could also be taken as a sign that the times scale of the story is short or that the couple will have a good start that quickly changes to a terrible ending. Even after the death of Curley’s Wife, there are suggestions that something will go wrong: “Already the sun had left the valley”. This warns us of Lennie’s death since Steinbeck uses light as a device to show safety. In the 6th chapter, Lennie’s dreams come true when he sees a “gigantic rabbit”. These could be signs of Lennie’s deteriorating mental health or his growing worries for George will do to him.
There are many similar scenes which intensify the story, such as the peace of the “strong and rocky Gabilan Mountains”, which gives us a sense of permanence and nature, and showing the peace that it has without humans intervening. This soon changes on the late afternoon of Sunday when the negative views are shown in chapter 6’s dystopia: “…Slopes of the Gabilan Mountains and hilltops were rosy in the sun”. The red sun is a symbol of war in many cultures, and in this case probably symbolises danger, and the Gabilan Mountains are much less described.
Lennie kills many animals and does many ‘bad things’ throughout the story. At the start, (and suggested in the title) Lennie’s first victim is a mouse, and possibly the most symbolic: This is the start of the chain that ultimately results in the demise of the dream and Lennie, too. Lennie’s death is the end of this chain in the novella, and also the end of the dream. Candy and George both know it, but Candy wants to hear that it is still possible: “You an’ me can get that little place, can’t we George?” This shows us how desperate Candy was for the dream to work, since he did not have a skill that he could work with or a secure retirement with good medical care. This means that he may become homeless and live on state medical care, which is in a much worse condition that private facilities.
Lennie was who the dream was created for: In order to keep him happy and calm, George gave him something to look forward to. Although, when Candy creates the idea of the dream being possible, he could have caused the death of Lennie. He even prompts Lennie, George and the audience: “I wisht somebody’d shoot me”. This is the catalyst for the dream being turned into reality, and also another cause of Lennie’s death. Having said this, Lennie himself did play a big part in his own death since he kills animals constantly, which get larger and larger throughout the story, which affect others more and more: Lennie killed a mouse, then a pup, then he witnessed the death of a dog and finally a woman.
Of Mice and Men has no headings for chapters: this adds intensity to the story since there is such a short time scale. The story commences on Thursday evening and ends on Sunday evening. This is backed up by the intensity of the headings: You can easily count from one to six in seconds, which can make it easy to list through the chapters. This makes them seem a lot shorter, which can also be applied to the story and time the dreams last. Also, the play is fluent thanks to this, since it adds the feeling that the novella is almost real life, with time, heat and light being mentioned so often. This is also backed up by the book being heavily reliant on speech.
The heat intensity is mentioned throughout: Barley Buckers in California will have to put up with searing heats whilst doing manual labour: Something many people will struggle to do. The feeling of dryness and heat adds to the intensity as when Steinbeck describes the Sun as: “Brighter’n a bitch outside” this hints at heat and light. Light is also a sign of safety to some extent. When all of the deaths occur, it is either dark or the light is blocked out. For example, just before Curley’s Wife is killed, Steinbeck describes the light as “lighting as the Sun went down”. This warns the read that something bad will happen, similarly to when Steinbeck describes it as “almost dark outside now”.
In Of Mice and Men, almost every dream is crushed, but there are some exceptions. For example, Lennie always wanted to have rabbits and a farm: This was almost achieved when he was killed, since he envisioned it on the Gabilan Mountains. Before this, Curley also achieved his dream in a way, since he was able to box Lennie before his hand was crushed, along with his dream. After this, he may of wanted to kill Lennie, and he was a cause for Lennie’s death, too.
Curley’s Wife also achieved her dream of having attention, although this was after her death: Being a murder victim would mean her name appearing in newspapers and the men on the ranch would have been concentrating on her case. George also may of achieved his dreams after the end of the novel, such as having a girl or panning for gold. Other characters may achieve the American Dream, but as Steinbeck tells us with Lennie’s dream, all dreams are simply dreams and in practise, will not work, since most people must be born rich to have money.
The structure of Of Mice and Men is well laid out. It uses cyclic narrative, which means that we start at the same place that we finish, and we can tell that the cycle is complete then. When George and Lennie reach the brush for the second time, we know that it is the end. Dï¿½nouement is also used in the novella to structure the action: There is rising action all way from the start until Lennie’s death, and then the action falls to Dï¿½nouement, where most of the ‘loose ends’ are tied.
Some people may call the story a tragedy, but tragedies are generally about the fall of a great man, but in Of Mice and Men, Lennie is just a simple man, which makes it subverted. Throughout the novella, there is a rollercoaster of affairs and emotions, especially with George who changes his moods constantly, from shouting at Lennie for having a dead mouse to complimenting him for his handiwork.
The language used in Of Mice and Men is unique because Steinbeck has purposefully written in American Slang. He makes most of the people seem almost idiotic, but, for example, the people we meet in the bunkhouse are literate and enjoy magazines. Crooks is also very clever: he reads up on his law and rights by keeping his Californian Civil Code with him and also has a dictionary, both of which he seems to dislike.
In summary, Of Mice and Men is heavily based upon Dreams and how they are crushed due to the varying factors involved in the novel, most noticeably the corrupt views toward people such as Lennie, Curley’s Wife and Crooks, which affect many other people’s dreams.