To obtain the knowledge of the significance of the American Dream in its entirety we will have to delve John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men looking deeper than the letters on the page. In this novel the interpretation of the American Dream is to someday gain independence. For many the Dream is hope to achieve a goal, yet it can be an illusion of hope for someone who himself believes that one day he could lead a better life. In the following pages I will try to interpret the true meaning of the American Dream in as many aspects as possible and also I will explore the way that John Steinbeck, the author, has centred his characters, language and structure around the hope given by the American Dream.
The Classic American Dream is to achieve independence and freedom through hard work and through owning your own piece of land. “Live off the fatta’ the land”. To many in the story the Dream is to be sought after alone, but for George loneliness is what drives a man to the edge, he needs a companion even if it is the childlike mind of Lennie. “With us it ain’t like that…gives a damn about us” (pg 15). This quote delivers the point of the necessity and importance of companionship because if you have no companion you are likely to go nuts.
Many characters in the novel are on the quest of the Classic American Dream, they include George, Lennie, Candy and Crooks. There belief in the American dream is split into 4 main parts, illusion, hope, ambition and delusion. For George the cycle of the American dream is as follows, illusion-hope-ambition-illusion. The Dream is an illusion at the start as George is starting to come to terms with how the world has changed from the collapse of the economy. Then the Dream starts to turn into Hope as he starts his job on the ranch and in the back of his mind he hopes for a better life. Then when Candy is told of George and Lennie’s plans to buy a plot from an old friend and live the Dream he decides to help George and Lennie with the financial side of things in exchange for a part of the Dream.
For Lennie the Dream’s cycle starts off at ambition and then turns into a delusion as Lennie starts to go haywire. The shining moment that shows Lennie being delusional is at the end when Lennie hallucinates about his Aunt and the rabbits (pg 99-100) Crooks on the other hand is fighting a long and
lonely struggling battle for equality and freedom from the oppression of white people. The only part of the story where Crooks actually has a flicker of hope that he could one day gain independence is the Crooks chapter (pg 66). “You say you got the money” Crooks is starting to believe in the Dream. The whole chapter is like a synopsis of the whole book, Crooks belief in the Dream at first is an illusion but then when hearing of George and Lennie’s desires it turns into hope. Lennie talks about the Dream that he is supposed to keep quiet about and Crooks believes that he could work on the farm cleaning it. But the hope is shortly lived as Crooks realises that segregation against black people will hinder him in the journey for freedom. But Crooks still is searching for his dream of equality nonetheless.
Slim is the God-like figure in the story. He is portrayed as the ‘perfect image’. “Moved with the majesty only achieved by royalty and master craftsmen” He has very wise words of wisdom when asked about life. “His authority …beyond thought” (pg 35). This describes Slim. This is literally an oxymoron. Slim does not believe in the Dream as his wisdom has told him that it is foolish to believe in the Dream. Carlson is the average Joe in the ranch. Carlson is symbolic of what people in the depression are like and Slim is symbolic of what they should be like in the depression. When Carlson kills Candy’s dog it draws parallels to George and Lennie and therefore provides us with a forewarning of what may happen.
The Modern American Dream is wealth, power, and fame through as little effort as possible especially on the land. The new American Dream was born during the 1930-50’s with the birth of Hollywood. The only character who believes in the Modern American Dream is Curley’s wife. She is introduced to us on page 32. She is a tart and a lot of trouble. She wears a lot of red which signals danger for the rest of the ranch. She is portrayed as a lustful person. The author immediately tells us of her part in the play as she is first introduced.
“Rectangle of sunshine in the doorway was cut off” the rays of sunlight in the story signify the hope of the American Dream but Curley’s wife cuts off the light which ultimately says that Curley’s wife is an obstacle in gaining the independence of the American Dream. Her cycle in the novel towards the American Dream is an ambition at first when she is targeted by a ‘photographer’ from Hollywood. From then on the Dream becomes an ambition. But then when she is stuck on the ranch, all alone, she can only hope that she can become a Hollywood star. But then her hopes are swiftly taken away as she dies untimely. This signifies that the Modern American Dream isn’t real and shouldn’t be believed in.
John Steinbeck has used his own opinions and integrated them into the text and into the characters. Lennie is the only character in the novel that believes in the American Dream the whole way through the book up to his death. This is because of his simple mind and through the character of Lennie he shows the heart of nearly everyone who has a dream. He is the spirit within everyone that believes that you can live a better life. But also Steinbeck tells us that the Dream is childish as only a child would believe in it. But the Dream does offer hope, a goal, for the simple people of America which is a good thing as it provides something for everyone to aim for. But the Dream seems to be dying as no on eat the end has made any progress and no one believes in the Dream anymore. The Dream is being taken over by the New, Modern American Dream. The quest for land is now being taken over by the stroll to wealth and fame.
The structure of the book is very complex and what seems a simple straight-forward story is very deep in meaning once you look beneath its cover. The basic structure of the book is a cyclic theme this reiterates Steinbeck’s views that no progress can be made down the path of the American Dream. Many parallels are drawn in the story and one main one is the parallel between Candy and his dog and George and Lennie. Candy looks after his dog the same way George looks after Lennie .Lennie is compared to an animal many times in the novel. “Terrier” (page 10), is one example. One specific chapter was finely constructed by Steinbeck that copied the whole cyclic theme of the book. From the start to finish there is no progress made despite Crooks’ mindset towards the American Dream changing from an illusion to hope.
The language that John Steinbeck has used creates the perfect atmosphere for him to make his points about the American Dream clear. At the start he begins with an Eden-like description which sets an Eden-like atmosphere for the book but he really is describing California which was the Promised Land in those times. And very cleverly he starts off by looking at the tiny, miniscule features of this Eden-like California and then gradually building up to the more brash parts of nature. The start; “On the sandy bank…a lizard makes a great skittering among them”; the end “In front of the low horizontal limb of a giant sycamore”
The Eden-like California and the bunk house are complete contrasts in this story as the Eden is vast, open land and the bunk house seems a sort of prison for the ranch workers. In the bunk house the dream seems impossible. And so George daydreams for escapism from the constraints of the bunkhouse. Another reminder of his cyclic them is when at the end a snake,
links to Eden, dies and then straight away another comes along reiterating the cyclic theme that runs it way throughout the novel.
So significant is the American Dream to provide a goal that every human longs to obtain, but it is not really the obtainment that matters here, it is in the journey. It is a dream to set your path towards in the hope of attaining that ever elusive victory within; the search for a better life and a companion to cherish in times of need. Whether or not it is reached is not the point. How we handle the journey and the obstacles that are shoved in front of us is what gives us the strength to go on. Author John Steinbeck depicted the Dream in his characters, language and structure expertly.