How does Steinbeck represent the character George and Lennie in ‘Of Mine and Men’?
The novel ‘Of Mice and Men’ is a tale of a remarkable friendship between two itinerant workers in the grim depression of the 1930s America. George and Lennie the two main characters with the extraordinary friendship are represented by Steinbeck in many different ways. This essay will delve in to the two characters and how Steinbeck represents them.
Throughout the novel Steinbeck shows how Lennie is a burden to George, who frequently shows irritation and, sometimes, outright anger to him. When George confides in slim saying that he ‘promised the old lady’, Aunt Clara, that he’d look after Lennie(pg65). What began vaguely as a duty, after the death of Lennie's Aunt Clara, has become a way of life: there is companionship and trust in this relationship, which makes it almost unique among the ranch-hands. George confesses to Slim how he once abused this trust by making Lennie perform degrading tricks; but after Lennie nearly drowned, having (although not able to swim) jumped, on George's orders, into the Sacramento River, George has stopped taking advantage of Lennie's simplicity. At the end of the novel George confronts a great moral dilemma, and acts decisively, killing Lennie as a last act of friendship.
However, responsibility that George has to have over lennie can be quite stressful and even though he needs Lennie’s friendship, he is always on edge and worried about what Lennie is going to do next. In the first description of George, Steinbeck, describes George’s eyes as “restless”(pg19). From this it is already apparent that George is always thinking, always worrying and always thinking about what Lennie is going to do next. Unfortunately this is one of the disadvantages of having a friendship with Lennie; George always has to be that guardian to Lennie and that’s what makes this such a strange friendship. Despite all this, it gives George a role in life, a clear task, looking after Lennie.
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In parallel, Lennie is dependant, emotionally on George, who organizes his life and reassures him about their future. It would be impossible for Lennie to survive on his own; he doesn’t have any of the practical skills or independence of a normal adult. What is more, one of the main reasons why lennie is so dependent on George is because of his childlike mind. One of the aspects that Lennie shows which is childish is his stubbornness. When Lennie and George are walking to ranch, George finds out that lennie is carrying a dead mouse with him. When George asks Lennie to give him the dead mouse, lennie is quite stubborn and says “Aw, leave me have it, George”(pg23). Lennie plays on George’s feelings of guilt that he robbed a child of a prized possession. There are quite a few circumstances where Lennie acts childish and quite frequently annoys George because here is a grown man still needing the attention that a small child needs. As children look up to their parents and try to be like them so does lennie with George. Lennie tries to copy George in nearly every instance. At the beginning of the novel when George and lennie are by the pool, lennie “imitates George exactly”. This is a prime example of how Lennie looks up to George like he is his guardian. Lennie doesn’t have his own opinions or actions; he does whatever George does or whatever George tells him to do because he knows no better. It is also apparent that Lennie isn’t just seen as childish by George but it comes across to other people. Slim describes lennie as being “jes a kid”. His innocence side can be seen by some even though he is a big grown man.
Another quality that Steinbeck represents through Lennie, is Lennie’s animal instincts. Many times is lennie compared to an animal "...and he walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws." Throughout the novel there are many such comparisons but it is the references to animals that occur most frequently. Steinbeck uses similes as device to compare lennie to animals in quite a few instances. After walking into the clearing, Lennie's first action is very animal-like. He falls to his knees and slurps water from the river, just as a horse might, or a dog drinking water from a bowl. George comments:"You'd drink out of a gutter if you was thirsty." (). Here we have the image of a man who is not intelligent enough to check if the water is fresh, but who also drinks in a very animal-like fashion. Lennie's mental retardation comes across clearly, as he is presented as almost less than human. The fact that ripples in the water amuse Lennie and are seen by him as an achievement helps convey his immaturity to the reader. The use of the word ‘paw’ suggests that he is more like an animal than a man. He clearly loves animals and collects pet mice, but always ends up killing them with his great strength. This also shows his dependency on George, who is almost like a parent.
When George and lennie are walking up to the ranch Lennie tries to hide his mouse from George, but it is no use. George demands the mouse. In the exchange is another animal comparison which also reveals something about George and Lennie's relationship:"Slowly, like a terrier who doesn't want to bring a ball to its master, Lennie approached, drew back, approached again." (pg9) Steinbeck perhaps is pointing out that he is more like a creature of instinct rather than a being of rational or intellectual thought. Lennie, in his mind and body, is like an animal that cannot cope with the difficulties in life.
Steinbeck throughout the novel shows George’s anger, aggressiveness and mood swings which are usually all caused by lennie. At the start of the novel George’s anger is at the fact that Lennie wants something that they do not have, yet because it is Lennie who is asking, they are expected to have it. This is probably due to the innocence of Lennie. George tells him "Well we aint got no ketchup!", his anger is clearly evoked out of frustration, as he goes on to talk about how he could do "Whatever the hell " he liked if Lennie wasn't around. George really isn’t angry at Lennie but actually is just infuriated that he can’t provide enough for Lennie and whatever they do they never have enough. George has no one to let out his anger to apart from Lennie. Lennie is the only person who he can let out his frustrations with because Lennie is his only friend. Once again when George lets out his anger at Lennie it’s just after Curley’s wife comes in to the bunk. He fiercely takes him by the ear and addresses him in quite a violent way and says to him “listen to me you crazy bastard” following with a slap around the face. Even though what George does is quite violent and maybe harsh it’s only because really, he’s scared. What happened at weed left Lennie nearly being killed and he doesn’t want them to be in the same situation again. So he goes by addressing the matter in an aggressive and violent way that might scare Lennie into not going near Curley’s wife.
Despite George and Lennie being quite different and representing different things in the novel; they do have one thing in common and that is their dream. The dream is the only thing that keeps them going.
On the whole, Steinbeck represents George and Lennie in quite different ways. has an astute mind, with sharp eyes and a quick tongue. In the novel, he is described as 'small', 'strong' and 'slender'. He is intelligent and quick to react. Lennie Small a childish, small thinking simpleton but described as “a huge man” with “sloping shoulders” who “drags his paws” like a bear. Has an obsession with animals but has violent side which he physically can’t control. George is short-tempered but a loving and devoted friend, whose frequent protests against life with Lennie never weaken his commitment to protecting his friend. Steinbeck shows George as maybe terse and impatient at times, but he never strays from his primary purpose of protecting Lennie. Lennie on the other hand is a character whom Steinbeck sets up for disaster, a character whose innocence only seems to ensure his inevitable destruction.