I have recently read and studied in-depth the book “Of Mice and Men” by the very interesting author, John Steinbeck. Steinbeck writes in a manner that is both thought provoking and deep. This essay will talk about the book, the characters, and, in particular, the theme of loneliness, which is very prominent throughout. Steinbeck was born in 1902 and he wrote about his times and what it was like to live then. “Of Mice and Men” was published in 1937. The title refers to the famous poem by Robert Burns – “To A Mouse”. It relates to the story in many ways - George and Lennie have a “scheme”, and it goes “aft agley” (goes wrong), then leaves George “nought but grief and pain”, for their “promis’d joy” (their plans to get a “little place”. It goes along the lines of verse 7 –
“The best-laid schemes o’ mice
Gang aft agley
An’ lea’e us nought but grief
For promis’d joy!”
The book is set in California, near the Salinas River in the 1930s. The two main characters are George Milton and Lennie Small. The narrative begins with George and Lennie sitting around a fire in a quiet place by a river on a Thursday night. This is where we first hear of the dream the two friends share but don’t really believe in. The next day, they land a job at a ranch in an attempt to raise some money towards their ‘little place’. They get to know the other ranch workers and, tragically, just as they think there is a real chance of their dream coming true, it is all shattered. Lennie accidentally kills the boss’ son’s wife. Realising that there is no way that they can get away with murder, George decides that he should take his friend’s life. George shoots his best friend on the Sunday afternoon at the same place where the novel began. This is just three days on from the beginning of the story.
George Milton and Lennie Small are the main characters.
George is thin and small. His face is sharp and well defined, which suggests he could be intelligent, quick and focused. Lennie is the exact opposite. He is large and seemingly shapeless – which suggests he might be a bit dim which is very accurate as he does have extreme learning difficulties. He might have been referred to as a “harmless idiot” or a “sad case”. He is very often subtly likened to an animal, for example, Steinbeck writes “he flung himself down and drank from the surface of the green pool, snorting into the water like a horse.” The two men are complete opposites in every way. George and Lennie travel together – George looks after Lennie and Lennie depends on George. This is what makes them different from other ranchers – they have someone who “gives a hoot in hell” about them – they have each other.
Other important characters are Candy, Curley’s wife and Crooks, as they, in my opinion, are the loneliest.
Candy is an old swamper (cleaner), who lost a hand in an accident. He comes across as being very gossipy and nosy. He bears a great resemblance to his dog, which is so old that it “wasn’t any good to himself or anyone else”, so it gets taken off and shot. I think that Candy is one of the loneliest ones as he has no-one very close to him and I feel sorry for him because I think he feels left out because of his disability and the fact that he is a lot older.
Curley’s wife doesn’t even get a name, which shows quite a lot about the treatment of women in those days, and also gives clues as to how the others think of her. She is young, very pretty, and not very intelligent. The impression she gives is that she’s a bit of a “tart”. She is shut up in the house all day, forbidden to talk to anyone and ignored by the ranchers. I think her ‘image’ is just a plea for attention, and also that she puts it on because she is bored. She is married to a man she doesn’t even like.
At one point she says: “Think I don’t like to talk to somebody ever’ once in a while?” Here, she is trying to say that she is a person too, despite her image, and she also likes to have some form of conversation.
Crooks is the black stable buck. He is probably the one I feel most sorry for out of everyone on the ranch. He is very intelligent and reads a lot (not normal at that time, in that place), but this intelligence is wasted. He is picked on and subjected to racist abuse and prejudice – again, a reflection of the times. No one talks to him and as a result, he has developed a private character, verging on paranoia. Once he gets talking, though, he loves it - “It was difficult for Crooks to conceal his pleasure with anger”. He tells Lennie about his feeling – “It’s just the talking. It’s just bein’ with another guy, that’s all” - This touches on the desperate loneliness suffered by Crooks, and shows that he only has simple desires – just to talk to someone once in a while.
At this point in history, people were much less open about their feelings. They kept themselves to themselves, yet Steinbeck manages to effectively convey the characters’ isolation.
In conclusion, “Of Mice and Men” has been a very interesting read. All the characters to some degree or another feel loneliness, which is the main theme. Steinbeck’s style of writing really makes you feel sympathy for them. Also it gives an insight as to what these people’s lives were like. The novel goes full circle, ending in much the same situation as it began, at the same place. The very short time scale – just a Thursday night to a Sunday afternoon is also a prominent factor. To me, all these things underline the seeming insignificance of the whole incident, which in my mind is the complete opposite of reality. This makes the whole story a kind of very extended antithesis, between reality – huge, terrible events - and the negligible effect the whole thing has on the world.