In Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck portrays human dreams and inability to fulfill them, psychological problems experienced by one of the characters and life grievances. Steinbeck’s knowledge of the natural world becomes evident in a number of ways: through his landscape; through his description of the power of nature to shape society in its cruel image; through his use of animals as elements in his plots. Thesis The novella is based on contrast elements and comparison which help Steinbeck to create a story conflict and appeal to emotions and imagination of readers.
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Steinbeck depicts two contrasting characters, Lennie and George, who struggle with life and try to fulfill their dreams. Lennie, large, simpleminded, and clumsy, is the character whose physical appearance is most like an animal. He is first described as looking like a bear with big paws, walking heavily. In the same scene he is also compared to a small dog–“a terrier who doesn’t want to bring a ball to its master” (9). Lennie’s “fawning” approach to Crooks, in the doorway of the black man’s quarters, is also like that of a shy dog who desperately wants to make friends with a hostile human. George differs from Lennie: he is a realist and pragmatist. At the end of the story, George puts the gun behind hi Lennie’s head and kill him. For George, it seems the only chance to avoid problems and help Lennie to scrape sufferings and violence. Like boys, none of them has a stable home with wife and children. George and Lennie reassure each other of their situation: “We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us… because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you” (14). By contrast, George thinks of the boyish freedom he could return to if he didn’t have Lennie to worry about (Benson 28).
This kind of life has two results. One is that it brings out the worst, the lowest, and the most self-centered aspects of human nature. This kind of life kills off kindness, creating monsters like Carlson, who shoots Candy’s old dog. Another result of the failure of commitment and connection is loneliness, a word used by George, Crooks, and Slim. The men aren’t the only lonely ones; loneliness is the downfall of Curley’s wife. At the same time that Lennie and George, Candy and Crooks, aspire to escape the life that most men in their situation are doomed to, there are foreshadowings at every turn to predict their defeat: Lennie’s trouble with a girl in Weed; his unintentional killing of mice, then of the puppy; Curley’s taunting of him and George’s warning that Lennie might do damage if Curley continues; and the provocativeness of Curley’s wife and Lennie’s fascination with her. “I seen hundreds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an’ that same damn thing in their heads” (54). This is a society that reduces men and women to the lowest level by squelching aspirations and discouraging human connections and sympathy (Owens 135). Their lack of independence is shown in the fact that, though they can move from job to job, they must always follow the schedule of the boss. There is little in the way of independent decision making, as there would be for George and Lennie if they owned their own place and could, as George says, just take off and go to a show if one came to town.
As language means, Steinbeck uses irony and mockery to unveil the story conflict and create unique characters. The irony is that Lennie and Candy, compared with a lumbering bear and a lame sheep dog, are not the truly animal-like characters in the story, for these two weak men at least exhibit human sympathy and compassion (Wright 72). Those who display the basest elements of nature are Curley and Carlson, who lack all sensitivity, all compassion for those more helpless and weaker in mind and body than they are. Carlson shows his animal-like nature in pushing Candy into allowing him to shoot his beloved old dog. Curley is the epitome of man’s lower nature: he is driven to compete constantly, as if he lives in a world where only the physically fittest survive and, as with the lower animals, must act only for self-survival and selfgratification. One of the ironies of the valley is that here a person is called “mature” and “realistic” when he continues life as a boy, gives up his dreams of independence, acts harshly rather than sympathetically, especially toward the weak, and continues to substitute self-gratification for commitment.
In sum, the novella is based on contrast elements and characters which help Steinbeck to create a story conflict and portray true nature of human beings. George and Lennie show that they reach above the brute animal level in their aspiration for something better than lonely self-gratification and survival from one day to the next. They took forward to owning a little piece of land with a house on it and providing for their own needs. Irony and mockery helps Steinbeck to appeal to emotions of readers and their imagination.
Benson, Jackson J. The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer. New York: Viking Press, 1984.
Owens, Louis D. John Steinbeck’s Re-Vision of America. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985.
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Steinbeck, J. Of Mice and Men. Penguin (Non-Classics), 1993.
Wright, Austin. The Formal Principle in the Novel. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1982.