In ‘ Of Mice And Men’, Steinbeck uses animal imagery and comparisons very effectively with the main characters, and especially Lennie, to enhance the image of the character to the reader with the character’s actions and looks being described through imagery. Throughout the book, Lennie is being compared to a horse, a bear and a bull (and a coyote on p. 15). This gives the impression of how he is a very strong character yet he is clumsy and jerky in his movements and actions.
Here is an example of the animal imagery used to describe Lennie ‘the way a bear drags his paws’ (p. 4), ‘snorting into the water like a horse’ (p. 4), ‘…
buck’ (p. 21) and ‘Lennie covered his face with his paws’ (p. 52). ‘Lennie crawled’ (p. 13) is another example of the animal imagery for Lennie.
These movements that are animal-related are out of his control, and they are always getting him into trouble i.e. killing Curley’s wife. I think the way Lennie is also compared to a bull in the book (‘strong as a bull’ (p. 23)) has a subtle meaning. Bulls, in places such as America, Spain and Mexico (South America in general), are antagonized, used as a form of enjoyment and fun, and are killed.
Curley is compared to a terrier in the novel, and is said to be a ‘mean little guy’ (p. 28).Steinbeck also uses the animals to convey the foreshadowing of what is going to happen later on in the book. The first example of this is how Lennie is being compared to Candy’s dog. This is that in the end, they both end up getting shot, for the reason that they were always just causing extra work and hassle, and weren’t actually doing anything productive with their lives. Also, a mouse is used, when Lennie is always petting it and eventually kills it (because he doesn’t know his own strength) to foreshadow how he ends up killing Curley’s wife and crushing Curley’s hand, not out of spite, but because he doesn’t know his own strength.The animals are also used to great effect by Steinbeck in the book, by using them as symbols e.g.
‘water snake’ (p. 9). This shows, inside all of that is great and tranquil, there is room for an evil creature such as a snake. It gives the scene an unsettling atmosphere that sets the tone of the book. This is that Lennie and George think that all is well and that they are safe, but then something awful happens and everything changes for the worse.This biblical imagery with the snake is very reminiscent of the Garden of Eden, and how Adam and Eve end up getting thrown out.
This is the same with Lennie and George, who get to the ranch in the first place because they had been thrown out from their previous jobs. Then there is also the social injustice and status of the men who work on the ranch. This is symbolized in a number of ways, one of which being the horse’s chains on the walls. Another is the talcum powder (used as flea repellent) that is in the workers’ room, showing the treatment they have is just the same as that of an animal.The injustice of the men, as well as it being symbolized, is also another subject of the use of animals by Steinbeck. For example, how Curley’s wife compares the workers to ‘mutts’ and that they could be replaced any time.
This shows how the workers have no power, and are not really wanted on the planet. They are at the very bottom of the social hierarchy. They are at the mercy of fate, with their lack of authority, and their lives, to Curley and his wife, is just as precious as that of a mouse’s (Lennie pets the mouse to death). I think this is where the title ‘Of Mice And Men’ comes from. It’s saying about the social injustice of the men, and how their lives are so meaningless and worthless. It could be said that the way Steinbeck really emphases the poor living conditions of the workers by comparing them to animals etc., is taking a stab at the American Dream and that it’s a failure, how not every man gets what he wants- some end up with their lives having no meaning, and with their life being no more precious that that of a mouse.