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Violence and Sadism in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men

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Introduction

Violence and Sadism in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men by Anonymous April 10, 2003 In John Steinbeck's powerful American masterpiece Of Mice and Men, first published in 1937 during the height of the Great Depression, the main characters of George Milton and Lennie Small experience many hard and difficult situations which on occasion are steeped with violence and sadistic behavior, due to living and working in "a world where personal interaction is marked by. . . petty control, misunderstanding, jealousy and callousness" (Scheer 14). Yet after a careful reading of the text, it becomes clear that George and Lennie are at times the true instigators of the violence while also being pawns in the hands of such men as Curley, the prizefighter who finds much sadistic delight in picking on the ranch workers and those whom he sees as socially beneath him. Interestingly, Steinbeck himself was quite familiar with the trials and tribulations associated with being an outsider and a common laborer, much like George and Lennie in Of Mice and Men. During his youth, Steinbeck worked diligently as a hired hand on ranches close to his home in Salinas, California, where he met and talked with migrant farm workers who told him of their adventures and ...read more.

Middle

After putting across to the men that he is the master of the ranch, Curley leaves and Candy, the swamper who sweeps out the bunkhouse, warns George and Lennie about Curley's temper and his eagerness to fight anyone who usurps his authority. But in this instance, George could be viewed as the instigator to the violence that follows, for he calls Curley's wife "a rat-trap, a bitch, and a piece of jail-bait" (Goldhurst 130), and later fully expresses his disgust at Curley's glove full of vaseline, aimed at softening his hand when he stroke's his wife's genitalia. But again, Curley could have simply laughed at George and shrugged it off instead of using this episode as a springboard for more violence and sadism. Incidentally, when the other men in the bunkhouse taunt Curley about his wife's wantonness and he spies Lennie grinning about it, Curley attacks Lennie who at first does nothing to defend himself because of George's warning about his strength. But then, due to his imbecility, Lennie grabs Curley's hand, the one with the vaseline glove, and squeezes it, thereby crushing every bone. But the most important scene in Of Mice and Men concerns the killing of Curley's wife in the barn by Lennie. ...read more.

Conclusion

But for Lennie, badness is just a matter of opinion and taboos based on the mind of an imbecile, not consequences and responsibilities, for he does not care about nor understand the death of Curley's wife who exists for him only as another lifeless puppy or a mouse dead from too much hard handling. In the conclusion of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, George puts the muzzle of his gun to the back of Lennie's head and pulls the trigger, an action which fully supports and reinforces the violence in the novel. In essence, all of the characters in Of Mice and Men seem to have been reared in violence; some are violent by nature, while others simply accept violent, sadistic behavior as part of the "normal" life of a drifter or a migrant farm worker. As Frank N. Magill so acutely observes, "both George and Lennie are friendless and alone and prone to destructive violence. Both are adolescents caught in a world of chaos and rage" (2145), exactly as John Steinbeck intended it. In his words, these characters exist in "sweet violence" which moves the reader to contemplate their puzzling fates. ...read more.

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