Both of Mice and Men and The Mayor of Casterbridge end in tragedy. In what ways and to what extent do the characters in these novels contribute to their own downfalls? In you answer comment on and discuss the importance of dreams.
A dream is something that you indulge in, that you can use to escape from the normality of life; this is what John Steinbeck and Thomas Hardy seem to have based Of Mice and Men and The Mayor of Casterbridge respectively on. In Steinbeck’s case it is the dream of two fellow workers, George Milton and Lennie Small. They perceive in what is known as their own “American Dream”.
Their dream is to own land, which is similar to the “Great American Dream” and with the belief that you can achieve anything if you put your mind and desire to it, they set out to pursue it. Dreams range from somewhat simple dreams to complex and very ambitious thoughts. Although we are not told of Lennie and George’s dream at the start we later find out that what they believe they can do seems far beyond mild aspiration.
In The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy uses the power of dreams mixed with fate to a more realistic standard. He uses his characters to show how fate can affect the rise and downfall of a human being. This is shown by the main character Michael Henchard who rises from the depths of depression to be a successful Mayor and then is taken over in a mist of greed and selfishness.
Of Mice and Men is a compassionate story of the harsh realities of life for poor economic decline and high unemployment in Western industrialised nations. It is set in California in the mid 1930’s. In America, the Depression began abruptly in October 1929 and lasted in to the mid 1930s.
The Mayor of Casterbridge is set in Wessex which is an imaginary county based upon Hardy’s upbringing in the south of England and his consequent life in Dorchester. This is also a county relying heavily on the work of the farming community for its opulence. The people in Wessex rely mostyle upon the forces of nature and in particular fate.
Of Mice and Men is derived from a poem, in this poem fate is mentioned and is reflected upon.
“The best laid schemes o’ mice and men
Gang aft a-gley
And lea’e us nought but grief and pain
For promised joy”
This extract reflects the way in which living things are often powerless to face forces greater than themselves like fate and therefore I believe that this is a worthwhile point in which to start my essay.
Both Lennie Small and Michael Henchard utilize their special attributes in their own way; unfortunately the special skills that have helped them so much, ultimately contributed to their own downfall.
Ironically Lennie Small is a gentle giant who posses definitive strength. Unfortunately it is this superhuman strength which leads to his downfall. We first learn of Lennie’s great strength in the first scene when he has accidentally killed a mouse.
We then read that this is not the first time he has killed animals or assaulted something. Steinbeck then uses imagery to describe Lennie, he is referred to as a horse and a bear, both strong animals. This imagery continues throughout and Lennie is compared to a Terrier, which gives a clue to us of his faith to his compatriot George.
Steinbeck develops the imagery fully as the novel proceeds, there is also a parallel between Candy and his lame, decrepit dog, and George as the master of the dog-like Lennie, who like the dog becomes no longer useful once he kill Curley’s wife.
Michael Henchard’s main attribute is his passion, desire and willingness to please. His dream is to be successful and later on through the book it his apprehensiveness to what others think of him, is his downfall.
Henchard is also a model of arrogance who uses his piers for self gain. As we see with Farfrae, Henchard wants to hire him but Farfrae would like to carry on and see the world. However Henchard manages to persuade Farfrae to stay so they can pursue his ideas.
Eventually fate takes a grip of the situation, Farfrae is becoming ever popular with the locals and Henchard can’t handle it. His paranoia of what people are beginning to think of him and their views of him as a leader eventually stop him from achieving his goal as a Mayor.
Demonstrations of Lennie’s strength continue as the past events of Weed are reiterated. We read of how Lennie assaulted a girl, which we do not witness.
This is yet another example of how Lennie has used his strength as his own downfall.
On the other hand there are time when Lennie’s strength is a positive advantage, in fact it is this amazing muscle pumping attribute that has enabled the two to get so many jobs. If harnessed appropriately, which George attempts to do as much as possible, it is an asset.
As long as Lennie keeps quiet at interviews and lets his strength do the talking he gives the impression of an excellent worker.
Lennie’s amazing strength also allows him to defend himself fittingly, which George calls upon him to do when Curley attacks him for no real reason.
This is usefull to have in place where unhappy men are cooped up together with limited opportunities.
Therefore the problem of Lennie’s strength is the lack of ability to control it, and it is imperative to see that if Lennie does harm then it is unintentional.
“He ain’t mean. I can see Lennie ain’t a bit mean.”
This is backed up by when Lennie goes to fight Curley he doesn’t have any idea what
“Let im have it”, says George to Lennie
“Let im have what, George?” is Lennie’s reply.
This shows the endearing quality and lack of aggression of Lennie. If Lennie had Curley’s mean temperament, he really would be dangerous.
We see that the only think that can provoke Lennie into any kind of violence is when the dream of living off the fat of the land is under threat. Lennie’s lack of control over his strength probably is due to the harshness of the surroundings, but the ranch is a hostile place, full of vengeful and desperate characters.
Nothing shows this more by the way he kills Curley’s wife and why he kills her.
Lennie is worried about what might happen if Curley’s wife is heard screaming, in fact the only thing that Lennie can imagine happening is that his dream will not become a reality, he will lose the rabbits, the farm and everything he has ever hoped for.
With this weird tenderness to touch and feel he also like to pet soft things, and each of the times it really matters he becomes frightened and won’t let go. These are the defining moments of the story. Firstly at Weed he touches a girl’s dress and she misunderstand his intentions. When he fights Curley he crushes his hand once again not letting go of it. And thirdly and finally the tragic incident of Curley’s wife dying is triggered her offering Lennie her hair to touch. When she wants him to let go, he panics and his reaction is to tighten the grip.
Therefore the main reason for Lennie’s downfall is his strength. But really it is his lack of control over it within these hostile surroundings.
The main downfall in The Mayor of Casterbridge is because after Henchard loses his wife he becomes isolated. He work is his life and his dream is not of land or friendship but of success.
Throughout the book we see how fate and chance come into play in Henchard’s life, how it affects proceedings and most importantly how it affects Henchard.
The whole dream is started one day when Henchard walks into a fair with his family, he meets a woman selling furmity, he buys drink of her and soon he is drunk, willing to do anything to please or make him centre of attention.
So Henchard has sold his wife and this is where the story begins.
Later on we rejoin the story to find out that Henchard has risen to Mayor of Casterbridge, he is living his dream of success and is achieving all his goals. He then meets a jolly fellow called Farfrae, together the have the ability to make each other extremely successful and after discussions Farfrae is persuaded to stay.
However, as the book carries on we find out that fate will play a big role in the taking on of Farfrae.
Farfrae is vast becoming popular among the townspeople and Henchard does not like any of it, he is worried of what people are thinking of him and is very concerned over his perceived image.
Henchard decides the best thing to do is to somehow knock Farfrae down a peg or to and so he attempts.
Unfortunately for Henchard the furmity seller is back in town and Henchard has been found out about what he did those many years ago. In courts she tells her story about how Henchard sold his wife to a sailor for a petty amount of money.
Henchard is ashamed of his past and now has given up hope, he turns to drink once again.
Eventually fate tells its story, covering Casterbridge in a sheet of uncertainty. Farfrae has beaten Henchard and thus stopped him from realising his dream, Henchard has tried everything and unfortunately has failed, he is broke but still manages to keep certain morals and decency.
He eventually realises his dream is no more and goes back to working for instead of with Farfrae. Later Henchard dies as a lonely sole on his own. His last wish being that no one should remember him.
Both Of Mice and Men similar in structure of storyline, if you take a look at the bases a woman dies and then the main protagonist dies. This is shown in Of Mice and Men, the death of Curley’s wife leads directly to the death of Lennie.
Whereas in The Mayor Of Casterbridge the death of Henchard’s wife, Susan leads indirectly to his downfall.
He no longer has the spur to fight for success and thus dies a forlorn death.
Also, in both novels the central character has one weakness. Lennie’s weakness is soft and touchy items which he likes to pet or stroke.
It is the affection shown here which leads to their downfall.
In the Mayor of Casterbridge it is drink that is the weakness for Henchard, it is what starts the story and ends it.
Henchard sells his wife because he is drunk, and once he has lost everything to Farfrae he returns to the comfort of his sweet liquor inevitably dying shortly after.
Dreams play a huge part in both novels, all the characters had dreams but it is fate which has stopped them from reaching their dream. Not only does fate play a role in stopping them from reaching the dreams it also plays a major part in the death of the character. Lennie always wanted a rabbit to tend or a mouse to pet but he was unable to fulfil this dream of getting his own ranch, there was always something stopping them achieving it. He then finds physical attraction to females, and it is this deadly attraction, which drives him to kill Curley’s wife leading to his own death.
Henchard wants to be successful, he wants to be loved and appreciated but he cannot realise his dream because he is constantly fighting himself and his own isolation and eventually he dies an isolated death.