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The Great Depression of the 1930's was the hardest of hard times for millions of Americans. How does John Steinbeck reveal his compassion for the loneliness and isolation suffered by ordinary people in 'Of Mice and Men'?

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Introduction

The Great Depression of the 1930's was the hardest of hard times for millions of Americans. How does John Steinbeck reveal his compassion for the loneliness and isolation suffered by ordinary people in 'Of Mice and Men'? The Great Depression was the worst and longest economic collapse in the history of the modern industrial world, lasting from the end of 1929 until the early 1940's. The Depression was caused by a number of serious weaknesses in the U.S. economy. The lingering effects of World War 1 caused economic problems in many countries, as Europe struggled to pay war debts and reparations. These problems contributed to the crisis that began the Great Depression. The unstable economy and the uneven distribution of wealth led the American economy to collapse. Factories closed, banks failed and unemployment soared. Agricultural areas suffered too. As the price of crops fell some farmers could not repay their loans and their homes and land were taken from them. Those who had managed to stay afloat then faced a natural disaster. A long period of drought had reduced the soil to little more than dust in some areas. High winds then blew the top layer of soil away just leaving the exposed rock and grit below. The land was barren and worthless. Consequently, the homesteads were boarded up and these families went on the road like so many millions of others, in search of work. As there was so much unemployment and competition for jobs, men saw each other as competition, this conveys a sense of loneliness and isolation that friendship would be a luxury so one would not be able to have companionship. This is shown in 'Of Mice and Men' as everyone believes that George and Lennie travelling 'together' is strange. John Steinbeck can relate to this as he was travelling at the very time that the Great Depression was happening. ...read more.

Middle

The main reason that George is the most isolated character, being with Lennie; is because he is not able to have adult companionship, there is no exchange of ideas, just one way thoughts. George only has child companionship; " 'What you gonna say tomorrow when the boss asks you questions?" Lennie stopped chewing and swallowed, his face was concentrated I.... I ain't gonna... say a word.' 'Good boy! That's fine, Lennie! Maybe you're getting' better, when we get the couple of acres I can let you tend the rabbits all night. 'Specially if you remember as good as that: Lennie choked with pride" The reader can only empathise with their situation because they seem so abandoned. Their dream has become a mantra, it has a rhythm and such warmth that Lennie knows It himself. Their dream is a contrast with their own life, their own life is so harsh because they have got nothing, which makes them even more lonely and isolated. However, they both recognise the loneliness and isolation of other men and are thankful they have got each other. But the other characters are less fortunate. The minor characters in the book point out the sense of being lost and alone. The first of which is Candy. Candy is the 'welcome party' to the ranch; an old swamper with one hand and only his dog to live for. But when Carlson shoots his dog he loses everything, the dog was all that he had. Even though the dog was in a bad condition, couldn't eat properly, smells, can't walk properly and has rheumatism, the dog is a mirror of Candy. His life has little meaning and he takes pleasure in the smallest bit of gossip. He lives an empty life. Candy knows that he is just a cleaner and when his dog is shot there is a terrible sense of loss and realisation that signifies the end for him. Once the creature is beyond any use, even to itself, it is destroyed. ...read more.

Conclusion

But you can understand why she feels that way towards Curley, as we really see what Curley is like when she dies, he just finds it an excuse to shoot someone. Curley has no heart at all and is just a bully to the very end of the story. But even if Curley's wife didn't marry Curley or be with him, life would never have met her expectations. When she is talking to Lennie, it doesn't matter who it is, she is just happy that she has someone to talk to. But her being happy and finding companionship for that short time, and being with Lennie, leads to her death. She only ever wanted companionship and when she does eventually find it, Lennie doesn't even listen and he accidentally kills her. But this makes the reader sympathise with her, as the one time she finds someone to talk to, and tell her feelings to, it kills her. All Curley's wife ever wanted was to find some affection and companionship. Yet she was not even worthy of a name, all she was, was a possession of Curley's, Curley's wife, which makes her seem even more tragic and isolated. But the ultimate isolation, throughout the whole novel, is when George shoots Lennie. George knows, that when he does this he will be like "every other guy" out there as he explained before. " 'Guys like us that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world.'" He makes a massive and terrible sacrifice for Lennie. He will no longer have companionship, but he will not have the burden of Lennie anymore. Steinbeck shows great compassion for the isolation and loneliness of each and every character in the novel, especially George but also Crooks is a very big part of isolation too. As Steinbeck travelled himself, he understands what they went through and explains perfectly what it is like for each of them. He makes the reader sympathise with every single character. Lisa Maguire 11L 1 ...read more.

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