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Discuss the importance of loneliness and isolation in Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men"

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Introduction

GCSE Coursework Discuss the importance of loneliness and isolation in Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men". John Steinbeck's novel "Of Mice and Men" was published in 1937 and is centred around two characters, George and Lennie, who are looking for work in the midst of the Great Depression. The story is set in a farm outside Soledad, California (Spanish for solitude), the name of which hints at the deeper theme in the novel. It was inspired by a real-life experience of Steinbeck's; he told a New York Times reporter in 1937 that "Lennie was a real person. He's in an insane asylum in California right now. I worked alongside him for many weeks. He didn't kill a girl. He killed a ranch foreman". Through the study of loneliness and effects on his characters, Steinbeck tells us that this tragedy happened as a result of ignorance and isolation. In this essay I will discuss the themes and effects of loneliness on each character, and show that people who are united by loneliness prey on each other when they should be cooperating. One character who clearly shows the negative effects of loneliness is Curley, the boss's son. Curley's inability to make friends and distrustful nature results in his enforced isolation from others. His resentment at his own shortness manifests itself by subconsciously punishing people who are taller than him. His contempt and jealousy for taller people provoke him to assert his muscularity over them, and in so doing proving to them, and to himself that his height is not a debilitating issue ("seems like Curley ain't givin' nobody a chance"). ...read more.

Middle

Steinbeck does draw a parallel between them, as if Crooks sees his own childlike innocence in Lennie, and the fragility of his situation and friendship with George; that one moment he can be happy and content with the world, and the next staring down the barrel of seemingly endless and lonely existence. Crooks feeds on Lennies despair like a tonic for his own existence, as if he could transfer his feelings of loneliness to another and thereby free himself. One of the most powerful sentiments in the book is Crooks' assertion "I tell ya, a guy gets too lonely, an' he gets sick", which tells of the beginnings of Crooks' descent into madness. In an attempt to shield himself from the continual suffering of his own incarceration his mind is slowly retreating into fantasy and hallucination. Though underneath all his bitterness and self-pity Crooks is still a good man ("I didn't mean to scare you. He'll come back. I was talkin' about myself"), he is robbed of his last vestiges of hope after Curley's wife's vicious attack, ("Crooks had reduced himself to nothing"). This has left him in a "reduced" state, forced to submit his entire individuality to stay alive. Candy is an aging and handicapped farm worker who represents the effects age and infirmity have upon the poor working class in an unequal 1930s society. Candy is perhaps the most pitiable character in the book, as his age and bodily limitations frequently inhibit his ability to defend or look after himself. ...read more.

Conclusion

In conclusion Steinbeck continually uses characters that, in the context of their society, live with prior afflictions (such as skin colour, infirmity, mental ability, and even gender) which hinder them from functioning in society as isolated individuals, so must form alliances and partnerships to enable them to survive. This element of symbiosis stems from the environment in which they exist, where a man is only as powerful as his ability to work. He attacks the capitalist system in which people are regarded as labour and not given the rights or freedoms to enable them to put down roots and start families. His criticism of the American Dream of hard work promising prosperity and success, and a compassionate look at its victims, are core themes throughout the book. The lack of social security and level of expectation upon the individual to support themselves, or else face starvation, forces people like Lennie into work to survive, even if they're danger to themselves or others. The inevitable tragedy was Lennie's slowness being kept secret from Lennie's wife, who unknowingly set the tragedy in motion. Steinbeck tells us the only way to improve things is to enable trust and openness in the workforce, and that this depends on workers rights and freedoms being protected. Though the enabling of trust and openness in the workplace, people would be empowered to work from a position of strength rather than need, vulnerability and defensiveness; and with loneliness reduced as a consequence life would improve for everyone. ...read more.

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