John Steinbecks novel, Of Mice and Men discusses in detail the faults with the society it presents. Characters in the novel are hampered and held back from fulfilling their dreams, due to race (Crooks), sex (Curleys wife) and disability (shown by Lennie). All of these are expressed in detail throughout the novel. The very title of the novel is an extract from a poem which literally means: no matter how well we plan the future, things often go wrong. This is a main theme of the story, and Steinbeck blames the social order for it. His left wing writing is against many of the ways of society in 1930s America, and he criticises aspects of this. Steinbeck particular concern was for the working class, who he greatly sympathised with. He writes in a way to influence and educate the reader with his beliefs, which gives the story very meaningful undertones. Stienbeck uses the ranch to represent a microcosm of the whole of American society, effectively interesting the reader with his revolutionary views.
George represents the working class. He and Lennie together are shown to have had a hard life before arriving at the ranch; their time at the ranch is hard work, and the pathos shown at the end is that for George, things will continue in this purposeless way. Georges life of tough manual labour amounts to nothing, and he escapes from this reality by dreaming of what will be one day. George is drawn in to believing the dream he shares with Lennie, living the American dream. With promise of money from Candy, the dream seems soon to be complete.
But the reality becomes clear at the end. Without Lennies childlike enthusiasm to fulfil his dream- it will not happen. This shows how George is hampered by society. Their plans from the beginning were to move to a house in the country, but even this simple desire cannot be carried out?????. Lennie also holds George back, If I was alone I could live so easy¦ without anyone to care for Lennie within society, George is hampered with him. George, and many other characters see this unusual friendship as very one-sided, but it is not only Lennie who relies on George. George takes for granted how much he needs Lennies companionship, in this cruel place they live in.
Lennies life is prohibited from being as regular as it could be due to the deficiency in this society. He represents the minority of people who are different from normal. There is no doubt that Lennie aint bright. He is shown to have a childs mentality, and his condition is not fully understood. Steinbecks numerous animal comparisons with Lennie (Like a horse¦the way a bear¦) shows how he is seen in this society.
The reader views Lennie with sympathy, even when he commits murder, his basic regret and innocence show that he is just a simple and unsophisticated man. Lennie ironically and sadly kills Curleys wife. Curleys wife goes to him, because she feels they both experience the same kind of loneliness. In killing Curleys wife, Lennie prevents himself, George and Candy from fulfilling their dreams of a simple easy life. The tragedy at the end is that Lennies dream will never be achieved. Lennie must be shot, as living in this society where theyd lock him up an strap him down, and put him in a cage would be worse. Lennie is prevented from satisfying his simple fantasy of when he and George will live off the fatta the lan, not only by his mind, but mainly by a society which has no place for a man with special conditions, who needs special care.
Candy is a lonely old man, representing those alone and elderly in this fictional microcosm. His one companion in life is his dog. There is an element of sadness when referring to Candys dog. The dog represents Candy in many ways. He was the best damn sheep dog I ever seen, but now he is old and disabled, much like Candy. His dog is useless, but Candy wants to keep his dog because he is used to him. There are undertones that hint that part of the reason Candy wants to keep his dog is because he knows it symbolises him and his descent into uselessness. In the end Candys dog is shot, implying the tragic fate of Candy. Candy lives in regret from allowing Carlson to shoot his dog. I shouldnt ought to of let no stranger shoot my dog. He feels he should have put the dog out of its misery himself, but did nothing to prevent Carlson from this. Candys hand was lost during an accident at the ranch, which is why he still has a job at the ranch.
The bosss sympathy keeps him there, long after he is of use to the ranch. Even with this reassurance, Candy deeply fears theyll can me purty soon. He knows there is nothing to offer a handless old man in the world he exists in. When they can me here I wisht somebodyd shoot me. He escapes from this daunting future by imagining an alternate one, one that would bring meaning to his life, and lessen the fear which he feels about the future. He is drawn in by a dream of putting an end to this insignificant life he leads, and living as his own boss. He offers to pay most of the money for the house which George and Lennie dream about. This hope is all that Candy has to live for, and the end shows George dismiss this idea; there is little hope for Candys fantasy, or anyone elses in this tough society.
Curleys wife shows us how tragic this society is for women in these times. No one on the ranch has sympathy for her. Even we as readers have little until we hear her confide in Lennie at the end. Society in the novel is shown to be very sexist. Women like Curleys wife were expected to lead very domestic lives, living essentially to serve their husband and children. She is the only woman on the ranch, who is extremely purty and she has got the eye. The ranch workers misinterpret her forwardness for flirting, but she is just lonely. Curleys wife tries to use her beauty to her advantage; even so, the men exclude her, speaking little to her- thinking her an unfaithful tart. George describes her as one of these here jail baits. Steinbeck presents Curleys wife as a sex symbol. She dresses as if ready to go out, with rouged lips, wearing red shoes, and red fingernails, symbolising sex, seductiveness and danger. But still, only Lennie is tempted by her attractiveness.
We sympathise with her commitment to Curley and as she confides in Lennie, we realise her unhappiness with the unfulfilling marriage. Curley, a childish and violent womaniser treats his wife as a possession to show off to his friends. He did not marry her out of love- but out of circumstances. Curleys wife is not even given a name by Stienbeck, which underlines her unimportance and low rank in the sexist mans world shown in this story. Curleys wife is very lonely, which echoes Crooks life. She understands Lennie, in the way that he is not accepted into society, and this is why she opens up to him, obviously if she has to speak to someone as stupid as Lennie, this shows how little respect she has from other workers. She reveals more to Lennie, than anyone else in the story speaking of her past.
Curleys wife truly believes she could have become an actress, and if she had she wouldnt be livin like this, you bet. She blames her failed acting career on her ol lady. Curleys wife claims that actors have said she could be good. Unfortunately, these men have probably only been attracted to her by her beauty, and not by any real talent she had. Her beauty makes her open to these sorts of people, and she doesnt understand that these offers are almost certainly not genuine. She wants to spend time speaking to Lennie, Candy and Crooks because she feels higher than them. All her life she has been told what to do and abused, and she rebels against this by trying to escape from this boring life, by marrying Curley.
Crooks, the Negro stable buck is a man who suffers greatly from the American society in which extreme racism is a way of life. Blacks did not get the vote, and white-black dealings were heavily frowned upon. He represents the situation of blacks throughout America, being excluded in the society presented to us. The reader reads on with interest and sympathy, for the unreasonable and heartless way that Crooks is treated. Crooks lives in his bunk in the harness room. He lives away from the other workers in his one room containing the bare necessities. He has no friends in or out of the ranch and his existence seems to be pointless. Crooks name comes from his crooked back, which puts him in immense pain. This symbolises the pain he suffers throughout his whole life. Crooks tells a tragic story of how he used to play with white kids, but as soon as the children grew up, they developed the racism that ran through their society.
The hard cold life which Crooks has lived has led him to be a very bitter old man. His cynical yet realistic view on life is clear, If I say something, why its just a nigger saying it. Crooks knows his meaningless place in society, but still he has his pride; his room was swept and fairly neat, for Crooks was a proud aloof man. This allows us to respect the self-importance Crooks still has after the dire and unjust life he has led. His character though is not presented as a character that is easy to sympathise with. In an interesting way, Stienbeck presents his ungrateful, sarcastic manner of referring to his bunk house, With a manure pile outside the window.
He shows the angry way that he talks to Curleys wife, I had enough, he said coldly you got no rights comin in a coloured mans room. Steinbeck shows Crooks as a miserable old man, whose harsh character doesnt seem easy to sympathise with. Steinbeck in fact tried to create sympathy for the blacks in America by showing Crooks as an intelligent man who has been hardened by a cruel and strongly racist society in which he lives. People in the ranch exclude him, as there is no correct or wanted place for Crooks in the ranch, or the entire social order.
John Steinbeck had experienced this flawed society first hand, born and bred in America, and living there for thirty-five years before writing this book. He had also worked as a farm labourer before writing the novel. Steinbeck sympathised with the underdog, and truly appreciated and admired the working class. The social order was extremely immoral. It was sexist, and highly racist, which the novel alerts the reader to. Steinbecks other well-known novel, The Grapes of Wrath was also a political protest, and it is vital to remember this story is written to influence the reader. The reader should bear in mind that the novel is not just a story of an unusual friendship that ends tragically; it is a critical story, with strong undertones, written to alarm and influence the reader.
All characters seem to be entrapped by society, but can we hold it entirely responsible? Is perhaps Steinbeck trying to ask how much of the characters unhappiness is down to human nature? Lennie, although very much misunderstood by society would not have fitted in anywhere. His condition limits him significantly. Even in a hospice, or with 24hour care, it would be impossible for him to lead a regular life. What future is there for a lonely old man with no hand even in todays society? Even the benefits that he would receive today would not help Candy live the life he wants to live. Even Curleys wifes sad life of being used, and lied to, cannot be blamed on society. How is it possible to guarantee everyone success and wealth? The emptiness of her dreams is no fault of society. George also was by no way prevented from buying the farmhouse after Lennies death, but when Candy asks will we still go, he says I think I knowed from the very first¦ wed never do her.
This is due to his lack of self-will. I feel that Steinbeck does not only criticise society, but human nature. Human nature is very much responsible for characters not having the will to carry out their hopes, dreams and desires. The characters do not keep pushing to achieve. George accepts that he will continue in this unimportant subsistence, Ill work my month an Ill take my fifty bucks. Curleys wife accepts that she Coulda been in the movies. I feel Steinbeck tries to show how many people settle for less, because it is easier.
It is always easier to use a scapegoat, and in this story, society can be seen as this. Doesnt every society have its faults anyway? The society shown is very different from todays, and has many faults, it is unfair, highly racist, and designed for the perfect person. This novel focuses on the misfits of society, and although the social order is far from perfect, it is not the only factor. This Novella is a criticism of not only society, but also human nature. Steinbeck shows characters hampered from all walks of life. The reader reads with interest this disturbing and realistic window into a deeply flawed society.