The British School of Bahrain 90306
What dreams and visions motivate the characters of "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck, and what obstacles, if any, prevent them from becoming reality?
No matter how well we plan the future, things often go wrong. 'Of Mice and Men', a novella by John Steinbeck, highlights the despair and misfortune of the American citizens in the 1930s. Following the collapse of the New York Wall Street stock market, the US entered a prolonged period of economic depression. During this period of failed business, harsh poverty and long-term unemployment, thousands of migrant workers came to California in search for work. In attempts to escape the 'dust bowl' (a series of droughts and failed crops) workers migrated west, but to find themselves in no better state; slaving in ranches from day to day, poorly paid, poorly fed with nothing to loose but their hopes of pursuing "The American Dream" and indeed, as Steinbeck illustrates, these hopes can be lost.
Having lived and experienced this lifestyle, Steinbeck presents his views of society in the 1930s in the form of the characters of this book. He shows that the simplest elements of identity can be the reason of the shattering of one's dream. The luxuries of "The Promised Land", the dream of being rescued of fear and loneliness and the desire to live a happy life are but visions of a supernatural future for the characters of this novel.
Loneliness is a common quality that a ranch- hand would possess, however, weather or not it is an advantage can be argued. In the 1930s, Workers were never in one place long enough to even make friends; these men would grow impassive and often set aside their ambitions. Characters like Carlson and Wit have no emotional depth; they are not touched or motivated by anything. Steinbeck doesn't describe Carlson's feelings, but instead just the way he is 'thick-bodied'. Carlson's first conversation in this book is one where he plots to kill Candy's dog. Here we immediately recognise Carlson's indifferent nature. He is one of the best survivors at the ranch because of this; he wastes no time in planning out 'dreams' for himself. Steinbeck uses Carlson's character to model a typical ranch- hand, loneliness a key for his survival. However, in contrast to Carlson, Lennie and George are the main pursuers of the "American dream". Their vision of their future motivates them every day; and has become the reason and main influence of their decisions. Together, George and Lennie carefully plan their dream and work hard on the ranch to earn money for their future. George has repeated their plan to Lennie so many times that Lennie has actually learnt the dream off by heart. George tells Lennie of how they are each going to get what they want; George freedom and Lennie "gets to tend the rabbits". The two characters believe that each cannot seek their dream alone. Evidently, George says, "We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us... because I got you to look after me and you got me to look after you," and for Lennie especially, it has been the main reason for their survival.
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The recollection of this dream is met several times throughout the novel. This shows that even the weakest of people can be stimulated by the image of their "perfect life". Even George, though he seems quite tough, weakens when he visualises their future, his voice becomes "deeper" when he tells the dream and he "repeats his words rhythmically as though he had said them many times before". Steinbeck's use of language here convey George's feelings, his rhythmic tone and deep voice suggest that he is in an almost trance- like mode, fantasising about his dream. This is very ironic however, seeing that George actually ends this vision himself. He prevents his own dream from coming or ever being able to come true.
There is a strong moral-thread in this story, generally identified as the concern for the "underdog". Steinbeck sympathises with any "out of the normal" character, weather physically or mentally disabled, racially or sexually different, "diverse" people in the 1930s were considered outcasts. Crooks for instance, both physically disabled and of a different (inferior) race, illustrates the social pressure that is cast upon those in his condition. He represents Steinbeck's thoughts and what he thinks of life for these men. Like Crooks, Steinbeck sees dreams as useless fantasies, this is shown by the fact that Crooks does not actually have existing dreams, he is well aware that dreams will never come true for men like them; disabled, poor, "black". Through the years, Crooks has come to his senses, he has realised that his race is a huge obstacle which stands between himself and his happiness.
Crooks illustrates the need of a partner in order to be able to dream. He only starts to dream when he is around other characters. Being left out and ignored has driven Crooks to separate himself from the community, disabling him from planning any dreams. "He whined,' A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody.'" Here Steinbeck blames the social attitudes, we pity Crooks by the way he "whines" telling us how his dreams have almost been beaten out of him and which now have been reduced to memories.
In contrast, George and Lennie's dream represents one's success if accompanied by a partner. This dream was the closest to becoming true as there seemed to be no faults in it. However, when Lennie dies, the dream becomes impossible to achieve. Perhaps like Crooks, this dream will become but a memory to George.
Crooks' memories of his childhood mirror George, Lennie and Candy's dream, both similar in the way they were based on being free, happy and being around people; "The American Dream". Also, both dreams similarly extinguished due to the effects of the people around them. When Lennie dies, George's dream becomes extinct, likewise, Crooks' dreams end when he is separated from his family, left with no motivation, ambition or vision to look forward to every day.
This injustice, however, might be seen beneficial to some characters. For example, at the ranch, Curley has the upper hand; power, money and a wife. This is because, the prejudice society of the 1930s allowed offenders like Curley to take advantage of less valued people, enjoying some benefits of the "American Dream" at the expense of the weaker characters. Another view would be that on the contrary, Curley, though mighty and powerful demonstrates the suffering caused by prejudice. He is silenced when a weaker character, Lennie, takes a stand (when Lennie crushed Curley's hand). Steinbeck shows yet another dream shattered when justice starts to appear.
At Lennie's shooting, George is more pitied because his dream is not fulfilled, and now he has to live with the same misery and solitude Crooks endures. "George's voice was almost a whisper." Again, a dream extinguished, showing that justice has no place in this society. Steinbeck shows George's helplessness, how this was beyond his control and how this is how things should end. Obstacles in this novel are never overcome; they are barriers separating fantasy from authenticity.
Lennie's obstacle in this story is clearly his mental disability. He places himself in problematic situations which in return pull him further away from his dream. An example of this is that when he kills Curley's wife, Curley becomes determined to seek revenge and kill Lennie which disables the latter from fulfilling his dream. However, Lennie is not aware of his actions, he simply lives by what George trains him to do, motivated by the vision George has built for him, looking forward to tending his beloved rabbits. He does not understand what obstacles are and does not see the ones he faces.
When Curley's wife dies, Curley is only determined to seek revenge, like Carlson, Curley has become a lonely man with no ambitions. "He worked himself into a fury" this clearly shows how Curley has also become impassive and insensitive, the same way Carlson is, the same way George will be when he loses Lennie.
Moreover, Lennie's death shatters Candy's dream too. Candy's hopes of a better life rebuild (as do Crooks’) when he meets Lennie, he starts planning and preparing himself as if he was to relive his life again: ""He just sets in the bunk house sharpening his pencils and sharpening and figuring"" Candy is very enthusiastic about this dream, he has always found that his age and physical disability have prevent him from having a happy ending. He knows that, just like his old dog, he will be gotten rid of because he is of no use anymore. There is a pattern here which Steinbeck emphasises; he tells us that the strong and admirable will never have a happy ending at the ranch. Candy's brilliant sheepdog was shot because he became old and useless, Candy is going to be thrown out of the barn for the same reason and Slim is predicted to end up this way too.
Your position in the community depends on how much you are accepted by society, which is based on cultural attitudes. It is ironic how Candy is helpless due to his old age whilst Curley's wife's helplessness is due to her young age. Steinbeck hints at prejudice here which is purely society's model man against the other types of people. Women, for instance were meant to be seen and not heard. They seemed to have no rights. Curley's wife is an example of this prejudiced idea. She is expected to stay at home and entertain her husband, regardless of her desires. No one cares about her ambitions to be a movie star or her longing for company. Even her mother tried to prevent her from achieving her goals because it was clear that women were weaker and less outspoken because of their sex. Curley's wife is a highly ambitious character, she says that she wants to make something of herself, she wanted to be like "in the movies"; rich, famous and glamorous. Her attempts to fulfil her wishes backfire on her every time. She was disrespected and called a "tart" when she merely tried to find company. This is ironic as the ranch hands repeatedly talk about going to the "cat house" and having "a hell of a lot of fun". This illustrates the way women were considered property, men could think of them as they liked. They were not to have dreams but if they did their dreams were known not to have come true, simply because they are women.
"Of Mice and Men" is indeed a tragic story of how prejudice, racism, sexism and intolerance of the weak prevented people from achieving their dreams. In this novella Steinbeck demonstrates the disturbing effects of rejecting those who are not seen worthy enough in the community. He blames society and, as I see it, mainly the physically and mentally strong white men for perpetuating with this concept. These men are even blamed for their own pathetic ways of life, they are the reason no one can achieve "The American Dream" because the "weaker" beings are part of this dream too. Steinbeck shows us how society is the main influence on people's lives. If one is not accepted in society, then their hopes and dreams will perish despite the injustice and immorality it may bring. He disgraces society for its prejudice ways and holds it responsible for the suffering of all of its members, weak or strong.