The American Dream
In John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck shows the impossibility of the American Dream, and how far-fetched it lies from reality. He shows this through many characters: George, Lennie, Curley’s wife, etc.
A popular theme in modern American literature is known as the American Dream. This dream involves a longing for several of the following: wealth, independence, land, good looks, popularity or fame, and self-determination. George dreams to have a place of his own and live self-employed off the fat of the land. He does not want to work hard or make a lot of money, just enough to live freely and run his own life. Lennie dreams of having a piece of responsibility, the rabbits he will tend, and a sense of self-worth. Curley’s wife dreams of making something of herself, to have nice clothes, and to have pictures taken of her. According to EnglishResources.com, “When the first settlers arrived, immigrants dreamed of a better life in America. The dream ended with the Wall Street crash of 1929. However, the dream survived for individuals. George and Lennie dreamt of their little house and a couple of acres. The growing popularity of cinema was the last American Dream for many, Curley’s wife was one, ‘Coulda been in the movies, an’ had nice clothes’” (). To make all of these dreams typically American, Steinbeck allows his dreamers to wish for untarnished happiness, for the freedom to follow their own desires.
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For any to ever succeed, one must plan and prepare for it. George and Lennie, at first, estimated their dream could become realized after many months work. While in the bunkhouse, Lennie asks George to tell him about the rabbits (their future) again. The two become enraptured by George’s description of their ranch. The old, crippled, useless worker on the ranch, Candy, started listening, and it fascinated him. He needed security in his old age, especially because he knew he could not last much longer on the ranch. So he breaks into the conversation saying he knows of a place that they could buy and offered three hundred and fifty dollars if they allow him in. George could not refuse. Crooks, a Negro outcast stable buck, overhears George, Lennie, and Candy’s plan and responds, “‘I seen hundreds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches, with their bindles on their backs an’ that same damn thing in their heads…Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land…They’re all the time talkin’ about it, but it’s just in their head’”(Steinbeck 81). Later in the story, Curley’s wife reveals that her mother denied her the opportunity to join a traveling show when she was fifteen. Then, years later, a talent scout spotted her and promised to take her to Hollywood to become a movie star. When nothing came of it, she decided to marry Curley, whom she dislikes.
The ending of this story clearly demonstrates the impossibility of the American Dream. Curley’s wife tries to have a conversation with Lennie in the barn while the other men enjoy a game of horseshoes. Lennie tells her about how he likes to pet soft things. She allows him to touch her soft hair, however, he enjoys himself a little too much. When she tries to pull away, Lennie grabs on tight and she starts to scream. Lennie does not want any trouble from George so he covers her nose and mouth. She keeps trying to jerk away and Lennie accidentally breaks her neck. He realizes his mistake, buries her in some hay, and goes to hide in the bushes by the river, as George instructed him to do if anything bad happened. Candy discovers her body and blames her for his lost dream and misfortune, then runs to get George. George knows Curley will kill Lennie once he finds him, so George meets Lennie at the river, tells him once more about their future farm and that he does not hold any anger in his heart towards him. Then George shoots Lennie in the back of the head. Upon realizing his lost dream, George states, “‘I think I knowed from the very first. I think I knowed we’d never do her. He usta like to hear about it so much I go to thinking maybe we would’”(Steinbeck 103). Keeping that in mind:
George and Lennie are doomed to a life of wandering and toil in which they are never able to reap the fruits of their labor. Their desires may not seem so unfamiliar to any other American: a place of their own, the opportunity to work for themselves and harvest what they sew with no one to take anything from them or give them orders. George and Lennie desperately cling to the notion that they are different from other workers who drift from ranch to ranch because, unlike the others, they have a future and each other (Novelguide.com . html).
The death of Curley’s wife ends everyone else’s dreams too. Her death results in Lennie’s death, which destroys George, Lennie, and Candy’s dream. This truly illustrates the deep, harsh reality of the American Dream.
Steinbeck truly brought out the impossibility of the American Dream in this story. By showing how the characters dream of the perfect future complete with no trials, tribulations, problems, or losses. The characters try to make that imaginary future a reality. Yet, in the end, ignorance and incompetence got the best of them. In addition, some dreams “are too good to be true.”