Caitlin Williams 10N
Describe the characters and relationships in chapter one of “Of Mice and Men”
We are introduced to the two main characters in chapter one, not by their names, but by their descriptions. Steinbeck compares and contrasts the appearances and mentality of the two characters; they are both described as having similar clothes and they both carry blanket rolls, but otherwise they are more dissimilar than alike. They are dissimilar in size, for example Lennie is ‘a huge man, shapeless of face, with large pale eyes, with wide sloping shoulders’, while George is ‘small and quick, dark of face, with restless eyes and sharp, strong features’. Their difference in intelligence is hinted at when Steinbeck describes their reactions towards the pond; Lennie ‘walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws. His arms...hung loosely’ and he rushes to the pond and starts gulping down water immersing his whole head in the water. George on the other hand approaches the water more cautiously wondering about the quality of the water first and whether the water is running before he takes a small sip to taste the water.
We see that George takes care of Lennie who is childlike in his ways; he keeps giving Lennie advice and instructions: : Don't say anything tomorrow when we get to the ranch; come back here if there is any trouble; don't drink the water before you check out its quality; don't touch dead animals.
George repeats these instructions as he has learnt from past experience that Lennie cannot remember them. He treats Lennie like a child carrying his work card for him not trusting him with it, knowing perhaps from past experience that he would lose it.
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We learn more about Lennie through his childish language, something that suggests his simple nature, and also when past incidents in Weed are recalled by George. We learn they are on the run from Weed after Lennie started stroking a girls dress in the same way that he is stroking the dead mouse he has inside his pocket. Lennie’s childlike nature is emphasised by the way he copies everything that George does. For example, when they are sitting around the pool at the beginning of the Chapter, Lennie watches George closely and imitates George exactly in the same way a child would imitate an older sibling or role model. When George is angry and frustrated with Lennie and ‘explodes’ at him saying ‘God Almighty, if I was alone I could live so easy’, Lennie is afraid, his face is ‘drawn with terror’ as he cannot bear George to be angry with him. In the same way as a child seeks approval from a parent or older sibling, Lennie seeks approval saying ‘Look George. Look what I done’ when making ripples in the water.
George seems to be ambivalent in his attitude towards Lennie. In many ways he is like a parent to Lennie, both caring for him and yet at the same time very aware of the life and opportunities he has forfeited in order to look after Lennie. He treats Lennie as one would treat a child, he laughs a great deal at Lennie's words, and because he knows how much Lennie likes soft things, he promises to try to get Lennie a puppy and to let him care for the rabbits when they finally get their own ranch.
What George does not realize, as so many parents do not, is how potentially dangerous Lennie is. All Lennie's ‘crimes’ thus far have been fairly minor: He has unintentionally killed a mouse and frightened a girl in Weed by wanting to feel her soft dress, but he has done all this completely innocently. George, like so many parents, mistakenly believes that he can protect Lennie from himself because Lennie will do anything George says. But Lennie's strength, his size, his mental handicap, and his fondness for soft things are more of an attraction to Lennie than George’s friendship and good opinion. In the same way, as so many parents do, George has to constantly repeat instructions to Lennie and becomes frustrated when Lennie forgets to do things.
Tired of constantly reminding Lennie of things he should remember, George gets quickly angry when Lennie forgets to get the firewood, and instead goes after the dead mouse. On the other hand, George's anger is quickly under control, and he blames himself for scolding Lennie. At one point, like many an over-worked parent, George cracks when Lennie asks for the ketchup yet again, and he tells us that he could go to town, drink when he wanted, maybe have a girl and generally have a life without the hassles of looking after Lennie. This is a constant refrain ‘Whatever we ain't got, that's what you want. God a'mighty, if I was alone I could live so easy. I could go get a job an' work, an no trouble. No mess at all, and when the end of the month come I could take my fifty bucks and go into town and get whatever I want’
Yet George is also aware that life with Lennie is preferable to life without him; unlike so many of the migrant workers wandering through the America of the 1930s, the period of the Great Depression, George is not alone; he has a companion who cares about him and about whom he cares. Unlike so many of the hoboes of this period in American history, George is not aimless and lonely. ‘Guys like us that work on ranches are the loneliest guys in the world .... With us it ain’t like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us’ Steinbeck makes clear that, despite his complaining and frustration, George looks out for Lennie and genuinely cares for him.
We are reminded of the ‘American Dream’ so typical of this period in American history – the dream of saving enough money to own their own small farm, but this dream is also indicative of the difference in their intellect; for Lennie this dream holds the prospect of him being able to look after rabbits of his own, while George sees the prospect of being his own man, independent and working for himself. Yet there is also an element of family life in this dream; 'We'll have a big vegetable patch and a rabbit hutch and chickens. And when it rains in the winter, we'll just say the hell with goin' to work, and we'll build up a fire in the stove and set around it an' listen to the rain comin' down on the roof...'
Lennie focuses on the rabbits thus emphasising his learning difficulties and his inability to visualise future plans and ideas in any detail. He is a stereotypical ‘gentle giant’ who is non too bright; he ‘cares’ for small animals and has simple pleasures such as ketchup and it is this ‘simplicity’ which makes Lennie so dangerous, he simply does not realise how strong he is and how dangerous his strength can be. He finds it difficult to judge his strength and kills mice when he tries to play with them. He is so innocent that he does not realise that his actions are improper. These inappropriate actions range from drinking water from a pond, "You'd drink out of a gutter if you was thirsty." to grabbing a woman’s dress in his attempts to feel the soft material for which he has a particular fondness.
Chapter one sets the scene for the rest of the book by hinting at problems to come. George has to warn Lennie to keep silent when they meet the Boss at their next job; it is obvious that this will not be the case and that Lennie will disobey George and ‘let him down’. The scene is also set for a situation to develop which will require the partners to move on once more because of Lennie’s foolish behaviour – a move which is foreseen by George when he prepares a plan for Lennie to hide in the brush should things get out of hand once again. Lennie’s inability to control his strength and desires, and the trouble it will bring is also referred to in the first chapter, together with the feeling that things are beginning to escalate, Lennie is slowly progressing from killing mice with his kindness to frightening girls with his obsession for soft things. This, together with his inability to control his strength, leaves the reader with a sense of foreboding.