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How is the American Dream integral to the plot of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men?

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Introduction

How is the American Dream integral to the plot of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men? The novella, 'Of Mice and Men' was written in 1937 in Salinas, California. It was written by John Steinbeck who himself was born in Salinas in 1902. Adjacent to the Salinas River, much of the town's commerce is centred upon shipping and agriculture and specifically vegetable farming. Early in the century many people were migrating to California, and many were trying to succeed in farming. One of Steinbeck's jobs was as a ranch worker. While digging canals Steinbeck was afforded his first opportunity to meet and observe this class of unskilled labourers who would later inhabit much of his work. Steinbeck was a lonely, modest and restless man. This is reflected in 'Of Mice and Men' where the main characters are ranch workers and are lonely men always searching for something more. Steinbeck creates atmosphere brilliantly in 'Of Mice and Men'. He uses the verb as a descriptor, and by including contrasts, similes and metaphors, the recurring themes of light and sound and suspense, he creates a very vivid atmosphere. The Salinas River is mentioned in the first line the novella and is centred on the landscape around Salinas: 'On the sandy bank under the trees the leaves lie deep and so crisp that a lizard makes a great skittering if he runs among them.' The animals make the scene very natural and peaceful and Steinbeck is renowned for his love of the outdoors and of animals. He describes the scene very vividly, using such phrases as, "fresh and green", "yellow sands" and "golden foot-hill". These are soft colours, and so imply a peaceful, tranquil atmosphere. He focuses on nature and the setting represents nature as continuous and not dependent on economic factors. This is important as it shows the distinct contrast between the description of the brush and the ranch and the society at the time the novella was written. ...read more.

Middle

George also uses the dream, of which Lennie is the most pessimistic of achieving it, to blackmail him into not getting into trouble. So Steinbeck already shows that something may go wrong when Lennie and George try to achieve their dream. When they arrived at the ranch they are introduced to Candy, who is an old swamper with one hand. Candy immediately talks about a stable buck called Crooks: 'They let the nigger come in that night.' Here Steinbeck shows that Crooks never really socialises with the rest of the workers at the ranch and that he has a segregated role there. Once Lennie and George are introduced to the boss and start to work, they are then soon introduced to Curley, who is a bully and is not respected by anyone. This reflects upon the society at that time that some people who achieved their dreams of having a lot of money, and in this case Curley's dad who is successful gives him this dream, are arrogant and greedy who don't deserve it more than other people. Candy warns Lennie that Curley does not like big guys and starts fights with them. Steinbeck shows that towards trying to achieve a dream there are always obstacles and what Candy says is an adumbration of what may happen to Lennie soon. The workers at the ranch think Curley's wife is a 'tart' and when Lennie and George see her for the first time she is described in great detail by Steinbeck: 'She wore a cotton louse dress and red mules, on the insteps of which were little bouquets of red ostrich feathers.' Steinbeck describes her as a movie star with rich clothes and it reveals to us that she wanted to become a movie star but failed in trying to achieve her dream: 'I coulda made somethin' of myself.' Steinbeck uses the name of Curley's wife to show the behaviour of Curley, that he is possessive and how money can change people's behaviours negatively. ...read more.

Conclusion

Carlson like Curley shows no sympathy for George and this is depicted by Steinbeck to show the harsh brutality the people of his society lived in. With this line Steinbeck shows that society during The Great Depression was cruel for those people living and it also highlights the hopelessness of the society. Through this book Steinbeck represents his society he lives in with the ranch and that the American Dream was unattainable because of the harsh and stark reality of their lives. Therefore the American Dream is important to the plot of 'Of Mice and Men' as Steinbeck tries to contrast it with the American society at that time and it is unattainable because of the arrogance and greed of some people in society which reflects the harshness of society. 'Of Mice and Men' is a novel which explores man's inhumanity to man and this thwarted the people who tried to attain a dream, which Lennie and George in this novella, hoped to do. I think this novel is pessimistic as George kills his friend he faces hopelessness and lonely life and this is not understood by others like Carlson because they don't understand how it is to be cared for by another person. No character has learnt a moral lesson either and this sums up society. However the hope and desire shown by Lennie and his companionship with George, especially reflects the optimistic side of this novella. The American Dream can fit in with themes such as isolation and segregation and this is shown in the character of Crooks, Candy and Curley's wife. I think Steinbeck successfully uses this novella to show a distinct contrast between it and his society he lived in and it shows the harshness of society when there was a Great Depression. He shows how the lack of fairness in society of arrogant greedy people, and those who had nothing to live for but have hope for achieving their dreams. Thanushan Tharmalingam ...read more.

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