How does John Steinbeck present the theme of loneliness in his novel ‘Of Mice and Men’?
Of Mice and Men is a novel by the author John Steinbeck. This fictional story is set in 1930’s, during the time of the Great Depression. The Great Depression was an economic disaster, during this time it was very hard to find a job, because of this human inflicted catastrophe. The Great Depression was very true to its name, people became both lonely and desperate. They became isolated from one another.
The main work for men during this time was on ranches as itinerant workers. The book focuses on the men in one particular ranch, including the main characters George and Lennie. The ranch it self is deserted and lonely, surrounded by fields, mountains and countryside, we know this as George and Lennie had to walk 4 miles to enable them to get there. Inside the ranch and bunk house the relationship between the characters lacks and also proves that these men don’t know how to be friends and have companions, they are all to used to being by themselves. They all just stick to the stereotype of itinerant workers, which is lonely, except for George and Lennie who both know that they break this and are proud of doing it. As George says in the novel ‘Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world.
They got no family. They don’t belong to no place. They ain’t got nothing to look ahead to’. Everything that the men do and have is closely linked to the theme of loneliness. The men have little belongings, and also in the bunk house little room for belongings, which shows you that itinerant workers are not expected to have a lot, just two shelves for all their stuff. Their lack in belongings suggests loneliness as they have nothing to own and care and look after, except themselves.
The games they play with each other, which is mainly cards, is a ‘lonely’ game, although they play with company of each other, the game requires little conversation. On the ranch the workers are finding the relationship between George and Lennie, hard to accept especially the boss, who feels George is getting something out of Lennie, like his money. They find it hard to accept them as a pair, because itinerant workers do not usually come as a pair.
Loneliness is evident throughout the ranches and also in the individual people.
Candy is the first character that George and Lennie meet. He is an old passive and weak man, of which I feel, is meant to inspire the pity of both the readers and also the characters around him. Steinbeck parallels Candy to his dog, a virtually worthless animal that is on its last legs. However this dog lives up to the saying ‘Mans best friend’, as it was Candy’s best friend, and also his only friend. The men on the ranch are consistently proving themselves to each other on how ‘manly’ they are. This is evident when they decide they should shoot Candy’s dog. When the idea arises Carlson immediately insisted that he shoots the dog, trying to prove he is a ‘man’.
He shows no consolation to Candy who’s dog he is about to kill, but just persists on him proving himself and killing the dog. I feel that Candy makes a very important quote when he gets over the murder of his dog this being ‘I shouldn’t ought to of let no stranger shoot my dog.’ Candy has lived on the ranch for a long time and has also known the itinerant workers for a long time however he still calls them ‘strangers’, which sticks and supports the idea of loneliness and isolation form one another proving that not only were they lonely, but the didn’t particularly want to be friends, as if they did Candy would have done that by now.
Candy is no longer a significant within society, he serves as an observant outsider, he is old and is now even lonelier after the killing of his only friend, his dog. As I said earlier Steinbeck has linked Candy and his dog very closely and similar, both old and no longer any use. Candy realises he is little use, and is now worried that the workers will want to shoot him, like they did his dog, as he is no longer any use. This is when he over hears George and Lennie’s dream and wants to belong to the dream and live for something.
Crooks being the main face of loneliness out of all the men. Crooks is completely isolated from everyone, he doesn’t live in the bunk house he lives in a room just of the barn. From the first introduction of crooks you learn the men have no respect for him, the ‘negro’. However he had a few more possessions than most men, including his shot-gun, for his defence and protection from the very racist workers. Crook’s has no one, no one to talk to or no one to guide him. He doesn’t know what is right or wrong because of this. Crooks is an outsider he is black and also a cripple, people can not and will not accept him. Crooks is a proud and bitter man filled with a controlled anger; he is obviously the most intelligent character in the novel and uses this intelligence to manipulate the foolish Lennie. In chapter four crooks gets the chance to be horrible to some one else, which makes a change from people getting at him. He turns onto Lennie and starts suggesting that George won’t come back.
I think all those years alone have made him feel that he is always picked on and now he has the chance to pick on someone else so he does. But he then backs down for fear of Lennie losing his rag. However Lennie isn’t really taking in what Crooks is saying, he doesn’t understand. Crooks just enjoys the company of someone other than himself. Crooks enjoys talking to Lennie because he knows that none of it will come out and he can tell Lennie anything he wants to. He confides in Lennie and begins to trust him with secrets he has never told anyone. Crooks starts to describe his earliest memories and he begins to reflect on his own life. After picking on Lennie Crooks has a new found confidence that makes him feel almost equal to the white man, Lennie.
As Lennie describes the dream, Crooks is very cynical about it and he doesn’t believe it will happen. But when Candy comes in and joins in the conversation Crooks realises how close they are top their dream. This inspires him and he wants to join in. Crooks is feeling good at this point and he feels self-assured that he can take on anything. But then Curley’s wife appears and starts to stir everything up. The atmosphere in the room becomes tense and nasty. Crooks starts to get annoyed because he was having a good conversation which he doesn’t often get which made him feel very good about himself and Curley’s wife has started to tear everything apart. He starts to get almost angry and stands up to her telling her she ‘got no rights messing around in here at all. Now you jus get out, an get out quick.’
But he forgets about his place in life and he is shown where he belongs by Curley’s wife. She starts on him ‘You know what I could do if you open your trap? Well, you keep you place, then, Nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny.’ Crooks has no reply to this. Then the old insecure Crooks comes out. Crooks ‘drew into himself’ and ‘reduced himself to nothing’. He then has ‘no personality, no ego nothing to arouse like or dislike’. This is a sign of the loneliness Crooks has experienced in his life. He must have done it before in order to be so good at it. All the time he has spent by himself he has convinced himself that he is worth nothing and nobody cares about him. This is a form of torture for Crooks.
Curley’s Wife is a very different character compared to the men on the ranch. Unlike the others she has a companion her newly wed husband Curley; however throughout the play she is known as Curley’s Wife, which gives me the impression that she belongs and is regarded as one of Curley’s possessions. She is always heavily made up and sometimes dressed up. She mostly wears sexy clothes, which attracts the farm workers. ‘She had full rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up. Her finger-nails were red. Her hair hung in little rolled clusters, like sausages.’ I think that all of this shows that she spends a lot of time on her own and that she doesn’t go out much. But when she does go out of the house to talk to ranch workers she tries to make an impression by using make-up etc. ‘She’s purty,’ said Lennie, ‘Yeah and she’s sure hidin’ it’ George says sarcastically. George means that Curley’s wife wants the attention of everyone.
She wants everyone to notice her and to fancy her. Curley’s wife is seen by some as ‘jail-bait’. This means she is very provocative, she dresses herself up to attract some ranch workers and then Curley would duff them up or get them canned. This is not what necessarily happens but it is what all the workers believe what will happen is they do anything to her. This is why George warns Lennie away from Curley’s wife. ‘Don’t you even take a look at that bitch. I don’t care what she says and what she does. I never seen a piece of jail-bait worse than her. You leave her be.’ George warns Lennie away just in case he gets to close to her and Curley gets annoyed and starts a fight with him. I think that she is very lonely. As she is the only woman on the ranch she has no one to talk or gossip to. She tries to talk to some of the workers but they are scared of what Curley would do to them. This definitely adds to her loneliness. She always claims to be ‘looking for Curley’, which I think, is an excuse to chat up the ranch workers. But definitely, the main reason she feels so unhappy and alone is because of her husband.
He forces his wife to feel alone because he forbids her out of the house and, I am pretty sure he beats her. Also, he visits brothels and this makes her feel inadequate. For Curley’s wife Curley was second choice and he acts like it. She does have several dreams of a better life. When men promise her careers in acting and film she believes them but I think that they just wanted her to sleep with them. Because her dreams fail she marries Curley. Now she is trapped on this ranch with no one to speak to apart from Curley, who is not much comfort although he does try with his ‘glove full of Vaseline’. This makes her feel isolated. When she dies P98, It shows her loneliness disappearing from her face. When she is alive she is troubled and her face is always full of emotions but when she dies all that goes away from her. And she is left happy and trouble-free.
As I have said Lennie and George have a very close relationship. George has an astute mind, with sharp eyes and a quick tongue. In the novel, he is described as ‘small’, ‘strong’ and ‘slender’. He is very intelligent and quick to react. He looks after Lennie, as he feels he has duty to Lennie. I think that this duty comes from when they were young and George used to lead Lennie on, telling him to do things he wasn’t capable of, like telling Lennie to jump into the Sacramento River, just to impress a group of guys. Lennie did jump in, although he couldn’t swim at all. He nearly drowned and it was a while before Lennie could be pulled out. Then he was so nice to George for pulling him out; I think the duty came from this, because George felt guilty. He realised his attitude towards Lennie was rotten, and from that day on I think he tried to improve his manner towards Lennie. Then the more time George spent with Lennie; the more he liked him.
Now George almost treats Lennie like his son. He has an uncommon bond with Lennie, which I don’t think anybody can break. The way he is like a parent to Lennie, is the way that he looks after him. He knows that if he left Lennie, Lennie would be in all sorts of trouble. But that doesn’t mean that George doesn’t think about what life would be like without Lennie. I think he secretly fantasises about what his life would be like, without Lennie pulling him down. However, he also knows that he wouldn’t be able to leave Lennie, because Lennie is weak and vulnerable.
I think that if George didn’t have Lennie, he would be much more carefree. He says to Lennie ‘If I was alone I could live so easy. (I could) go into town and get whatever I want. An’ whatta I got? I got you.’ George says this when he is really angry and not just at Lennie. He is angry at the way his life is turning out. You can tell he wants to make more of his life. He is upset because he feels restricted by Lennie, but I think that even if he didn’t have the restrictions, he wouldn’t do anything different.
George has Lennie and Lennie has George, but I think George feels that he needs somebody else, someone he can sit down with and have a serious conversation and that’s what Lennie can not give him. And if Lennie were to try to pay George back for his help, George wouldn’t want money, but conversation. Because whatever Lennie is told, it goes in one ear and out the other.
George likes to play solitaire, they live in Soledad and both these words mean isolation. Here, I think Steinbeck is trying to show George’s loneliness.
There is nothing obvious about what George gets out of this relationship, but I think it might be the pleasure of having a hold over Lennie.
Lennie Small is most certainly not small! In the novel, he is described as ‘a huge man, shapeless of face, large pale eyes and sloping shoulders.’ So from this description you can tell that he is George’s opposite. In the novel, Steinbeck compares Lennie to animals, which I find very interesting. The first comparison is about the way Lennie walks. ‘The way a bear drags his paws.’ The next comparison is about the way he drinks. ‘Snorting into the water like a horse.’ Then towards the end there is the similarity between Candy’s dog’s death and Lennie’s death. Although Lennie is described as ‘an affectionate giant with the mind of a child’, he is still intelligent, but forgetful.
He knows that George cares for him deeply and would never leave him. He uses this affinity to his advantage. When George starts to get mad at him, he answers, George, you want I should go away and leave you alone? If you don’ want me I can go off in the hills an’ find a cave. I can go away anytime.’ Lennie knows that George will not let him go, so he gets around George by making him feel guilty. Even though Lennie is quite intelligent, he is very childlike. As a child is often described as ‘innocent’, Lennie is also innocent, but in a different way to a child. He isn’t sheltered from the cruelties of the world and people don’t treat him like a child; he is just unable to understand certain things. Like why Curley picks on him.
Because Lennie is ‘innocent’, he accidentally does bad things. One incident that the reader is told about, is about what happened in Weed. Lennie saw a girl wearing a red dress and went to touch it. Of course, the girl got scared, so she screamed. Then Lennie panicked and got tight hold of the dress. When he finally let go, the girl was so terrified, that she said she had been raped. This was the reason why George and Lennie had to get away from Weed.
Through the book, the reader is being told about the mice that Lennie killed, by petting them too hard. Then the inevitable happened and Lennie killed his puppy, accidentally. After that death, came another. Curley’s wife died, killed by Lennie. Yet, he remains ‘innocent’. He has taken a life, but is cannot really be blamed for the death.
I think Lennie treats George like a father, an older brother and a friend, all in one, because George always seems to be there for him. In a way, Lennie idolises George and you can see that from the way Lennie used to listen and hang on to every word George said. Even though he forgot what was said to him most of the time, I think, whatever George said to him was in his mind somewhere.
If Lennie didn’t have George, I think he would be dead by now. This is because Lennie does such stupid things, then panics. This almost always results in adversity. Some situations would be so bad, that people would want to kill Lennie and no body would stop him from dying. And because Lennie is so dumb, he wouldn’t be able to run and hide, and people wouldn’t be sympathetic, they’d just see him as a dangerous person. Lennie gets companionship and a carer, out of this relationship and these are the things he needs the most. Someone to keep him on the straight and narrow path.
Obviously, the two must have a very strong relationship, in order to travel together. Yet, I think the novel suggests that they don’t know much about each other. I’m sure that sometimes George will say something that makes Lennie think “He hasn’t said anything like that before” and vice versa. Although they travel around and look after each other, I don’t think they are very intimate with each other. I think that, even though Lennie is naive, he still knows how to keep things to himself. Whereas George wants someone to confide in, someone who is on the same level as himself. I don’t think Lennie feels the need for this comfort.
George sits down to have discussions with Slim, the jerk line skinner on the ranch, who he really seems to trust. Yet, other people seem to confide in Lennie; because they know what they are telling him will not ever be repeated. However, I think Lennie understands more than he lets on, but he just doesn’t want to confront the person, talk about the problem and take on some responsibility. He doesn’t know how.
George and Lennie contradict the typical stereotype of ranch workers being lonely and friendless, by traveling together and just by being friends. Nevertheless, George plays solitaire. Steinbeck is trying to show that, even though George has Lennie’s constant companionship, he is still lonely, which is why he plays solitaire. Solitaire is card game that you can play by yourself. It’s the same with them both George and Lennie are lonely, they have each other, however they do not understand each other and they both want and need some one that does.
In conclusion I think that this novel has been very cleverly written, with many different characters that all have the same ‘disease’ this being loneliness, however they all have caught it for different reasons. For example Crooks has it because he is black, Candy because he is old. The timing of the story adds to the loneliness as the Great Depression caused many men to become lonely. I think the main reason they are lonely is because they want to be. These men have lived their life by themselves and have been told to do so. They are brought up to be itinerant workers and follow the path of loneliness that is placed in front of them, and they don’t know how to get off.