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Explore John Steinbeck's presentation in Of Mice and Men of the culture and experience of the itinerant workers in 1930's America.

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Introduction

Explore John Steinbeck's presentation in Of Mice and Men of the culture and experience of the itinerant workers in 1930's America. Of Mice and Men is a well known novel written by John Steinbeck. It was published in a highly traumatic time, in America. When the Wall Street crash catalysed the Great Depression and the United States suffered an economic collapse. Due to the lack of money there was a high level of unemployment of men and women and many businesses closed down. Additionally America experienced terrible droughts known as the Dust Bowl in which many crops died. The lower the American economy sank the higher the numbers of migrant workers rose, it reached approximately 13 million in 1932! The only way for many Americans to earn money was to travel into the countryside, where work was hard, dangerous, and lonely. They became itinerant workers; the workers moved from place to place for work, to follow the harvest across California-USA. Itinerant workers travelled alone, Steinbeck's character George describes them as the 'loneliest guys in the world'. They usually travelled by cheap buses, hitch hiking rides or simply walking. The pay was not bad; they earned $2 to $3 a day and in addition received accommodation and food. As they were lonely and didn't have much they blew their 'jack' at the local pubs and 'cat houses' every Saturday night, this meant that they essentially trapped themselves in this style of living. I personally think that Steinbeck chose to focus on the lives of itinerant workers to show the problems facing America and its people during that period. People just saw the economic problems, not the desperation of the workers, or the racial discrimination of the black community and I think that is what Steinbeck was trying to show, the personal effect to millions of men and women. Further more, as Steinbeck had worked on a ranch, he felt sympathy to the workers, and portrays their situation sensitively. ...read more.

Middle

There are two main relationships in the novel, Curley and his wife plus George and Lennie, neither of these relationships last. It is almost as if Steinbeck is trying to say that even if you want to be with someone in this lonely life style it would be impossible. Once you start to work in this business it corrupts you, in each of those relationship one person dies. Steinbeck's very pessimistic views probably come from when he was a ranch worker; he experienced the harsh reality of loneliness himself. Curly married a few weeks before George and Lennie arrived, the name of his wife is not written down in the novel one, she is referred to as Curly's wife, a possession, not a true person. It was a very sexist view, and that was what Steinbeck was trying to show by not giving her a name, that some of the American's views were still very sexist. Curly has no control over his flirtatious wife; they spend more time asking other members of the ranch where the other one is then they do with each other. They both realise that they are not suited to each other; Curly just likes the fact that he has something over the other men; he has something to do at night, every night if he wants, and what other men can't. To show this he wears a glove on one of his hands filled with Vaseline everywhere he goes, to flaunt it to the over men he has someone to touch. He tries to keep one 'hand soft for his wife' (2) George thinks this is very dirty; it must be very degrading and embarrassing for his wife. The whole relationship seems awkward, Curly's wife only married him because she was on the rebound from losing her dream, and she was confused about her mother and was upset about her missed opportunities. ...read more.

Conclusion

One of the reasons Steinbeck wrote the book was I think to educate the public about these problems in society, and to also tell the world how direr the ranch workers situation was, what they had to deal with and address. America was not the only country facing issues at that time, a civil war broke out in Spain, and the Nazis were in power in Germany, the whole of Europe was effected by Americas economic depression, 'especially because of the rise in fascism in Germany, Italy and Spain.' The novel is not about all of these problems throughout the world, but nearly everyone could relate to the novel. Before I read the book I knew nothing of the way the economic collapse affected the millions of less fortunate members of America's society in such a harsh and incomprehensible way. I knew nothing of how lonely men and women could be. I knew nothing of the way the dust ball had such a vast devastation effect, not only to the crops, but also to the people and their profit. The novel is relatable, but I think that is one of the strong points about the book, because you could say that life in those days was predictable, you knew what position you were in, and if you were a ranch worker your whole life was virtually planned. Steinbeck starts and ends the novel in the same place to show the cyclical style of the life of the ranch workers, he does this in many ways, referring back to the sun rising and setting, the working time, and the weekly visits to the 'cat house'. This is another example showing how the lives were already laid out in front of them. I personally enjoyed the novel; I found it an interesting insight to the lives of itinerant workers, and the in-depth study of America's agricultural history showed me how the workers existed and how they adapted to the dog-eat-dog-world, and how resilient we humans can be. ...read more.

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