It was a dream-a dream all migrant workers in the 1930s might have-and some of them did have the dream to own a piece of farming land to till develops and call their own. It was a dream that characters George Milton, Lennie Small, Old man Candy, and Crook, a Negro bunkhouse worker in John Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men had. It was an American dream all of them could almost touch, taste, and feel. It was only a dream-a dream that due to tragic and sorrowfully circumstances would never come true.
Author John Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men take place in the Central Valley of California, in Soledad, a city in Monterey County. It is in this setting the reader meets both of the protagonist in the story, George and Lennie. George, the only friend and guardian of Lennie, “â€¦was small and quick, dark of face, with restless eyes and sharp, strong features. Every part of him was defined: small, strong hands, slender arms, a thin and bony nose.” (Steinbeck, p. 2) On the other hand, Lennie who was a also a grown man, but with the mind of a child, was the opposite of George, “â€¦.a huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes, with wide, sloping shoulders; and he walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws. His arms did not swing at his sides, but hung loosely.” (Ibid. p. 2)
Among the various narrative techniques Of Mice and Men employs, besides the use of the third person omniscient limited point of view, are the themes of Idealism versus Reality, Alienation and Loneliness, Race and Racism, Class Conflict, Mental Disability, Loyalty and Friendship.
George Milton and Lennie Small are two migrant workers who try to escape from the hardships of migration, economic poverty, psychological degradation and loneliness. Lennie pleads to George to tell him “About the rabbits.” (Steinbeck, p. 13) After several more pleadings, George capitulates and says, “Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place. They come to a ranch an’ work up a stake and then they go inta town and blow their stake, and the first thing yo know they’re poundin’ their tail on some other ranch. They ain’t got nothing to look ahead to.” (Ibid. pp. 13 14) “â€¦With us it ain’t like that. We got a futureâ€¦Someday-we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and-” [¶] ‘”An’ live off the fatta the lan’, Lennie shouted. ‘”An’ have rabbits. Go on, George! Tell about what we’re gonna have in the garden and about the rabbits in the cages and about the rain in the winter and the stove, and how thick the cream is on the milk like you can hardly cut it. Tell about that George.”‘ (Steinbeck, p. 14) Throughout the story, the word “rabbits” is used extensively. According to the Comprehensive Dictionary of Symbolism, “rabbits” symbolically stand for “hope.” (Olderr, p. 109) Hope is the only way out of their bleak and dehumanizing way of life. However, at the end of the story not even hope is on their side.
Lennie is innocently but tragically responsible for destroying not only his and George’s dream of owning their piece of land, but old man Candy and Crook’s hopes and dream as well. In the presence of Candy, Lennie pleaded with George to tell him about the place, “â€¦Tell about that place, George.” [¶] “I jus’ tol’ you, jus’ las’ night.” [¶] “Go on-tell again, George.” [¶] “Well, it’s ten acres,” said George. “Got a little shack on it, an’ a chicken run. Got a kitchen, orchard, cherries, apples, peaches, ‘cots, nuts, got a few berries. They’s a place for alfalfa and plenty water to flood it. They’s a pig pen-” [¶] “â€¦Candy said, ‘”You know where’s a place like that?”‘ [¶] ‘”â€¦Sure,”‘ said Georgeâ€¦” [¶] “â€¦.Candy said, ‘”I ain’t much good with on’y one hand. I lost my hand right here on this ranch. That’s why they give me a job as swampin’. An’ they give me two hundred an’ fifty dollars ’cause I los’ my hand. An’ I got fifty more saved up right in the bank, right now. Tha’s three hundred, and I got fifty more comin’ the end a the month. Tell you what-“‘ He leaned forward eagerly. ‘”S’pose I went in with you guys. Tha’s three hundred an’ fifty bucks I’d put in. I ain’t much good, but I could cook and tend the chickens and hoe the garden some. How’d that be?”‘ (Steinbeck, pp. 56 57 58 59) Crooks, the Negro bunkhouse worker, was less anxious to believe the dream Lennie, George and by this time, Candy had of getting a piece of land of their own. In fact, Crooks tried to rationalize with Lennie that no such dream would ever be accomplished. It was a Saturday night, the third day of the story. George and the rest of the migrant workers went downtown to “old Susy’s place.” (Ibid. p.52) Lenny stayed and decided to go to the barn and pet the pup Slim gave him. Crooks living quarters was located in the harness room on the side of the barn where the litter of pups were still being nursed by the mother, “â€¦Noiselessly Lennie appeared in the open doorway and stood there looking in, his shoulders nearly filling the opening. For a moment Crooks did not see him, but on raising his eyes he stiffened and a scowl came on his face.” (Steinbeck, p.67 68) [¶] “â€¦Crooks stared at Lennie, and he reached behind him and took down the spectacles and adjusted them over his pink ears and stared again. ‘”I don’t know what you’re doin’ in the barn anyway,”‘ he complained.” [¶] ‘”â€¦.The pup,”‘ Lennie repeated. ‘”I come to see my pup.”‘ [¶] ‘”â€¦Come on in and set a while,”‘ Crooks said. ‘” ‘Long as you won’t get out and leave me alone, you might as well set down.”‘ His tone was a little more friendly. ‘”All the boys gone into town huh?”‘ [¶] ‘”All but old Candy. He just sets in the bunk house sharpening his pencil and sharpening and figuring. [¶] “Crooks adjusted his glasses. ‘”Figuring? What’s Candy figuring about?”‘ [¶] “Lennie almost shouted, ‘” ‘Bout the rabbits.”‘ [¶] “â€¦Crooks put hid dark shin into his pink palm. ‘”You travel aroun’ with George, don’t ya?”‘ [¶] ‘”Sure. Me an’him goes ever’ place together.”‘ [¶] ‘”â€¦.S’pose George don’t come back no more. S’pose he took a powder and just ain’t coming back. What’ll you do then?”‘ [¶] ‘”â€¦What?”‘ he demanded.” [¶] ‘”I said s’pose George went into town tonight and you never heard of him no more.”‘ ‘”Just s’pose that,”‘ he repeated.” [¶] ‘”He won’t do it,”‘ Lennie cried. ‘”George wouldn’t do nothing like that. I been with George a long time. He’ll come back tonight-“‘ [¶] ”â€¦Crooks said, ‘”I didn’t mean to scare you. He’ll come back.”‘ (Steinbeck, pp. 68 69 70 71 73)
Candy did not go to town with the rest of the workers but stayed figuring out how to make a profit once their dream of having a farm of their own came to be a reality. He had an idea of how to make a profit raising rabbits in their dream farm and started to look for Lennie to explain his figuring. He heads over to the barn where Lennie might be with his pup, “Candy stood in the doorway scratching his bald wrist and looking blindly into the lighted room. He made no attempt to enter. ‘”Tell ya what, Lennie. I been figuring out about them rabbits.”‘ [¶] “Crooks said irritably, ‘”You can come in if you want.”‘ [¶] “â€¦.Candy came in, but he was still embarrassed. ‘”You got a nice cozy little place in here, “‘ he said to Crooks. ‘”Must be nice to have a room all to yourself this way.”‘ [¶] ‘”Sure,”‘ said Crooks. ‘”And a manure pile under the window. Sure, it’s swell.”‘ [¶] “Lennie leaned toward the old swamper. ‘”About them rabbits,”‘ he insisted.” [¶] “Candy smiled. ‘”I got it figured out. We can make some money on them rabbits if we go about it right.”‘ [¶] ‘”But I get to tend ’em,”‘ Lennie broke in. ‘”George says I get to tend ’em. He promised.”‘ (Ibid. pp. 74 75)
Crooks tries to convince both Lennie and Candy that their dream farm is just that, a dream. It is not until he finds out Candy has all his savings of $350.00 into the deal and the amount George and Lennie have is almost enough to pay for the piece of farm land they have dreamed of. All they need is several days’ pay put together to make the total amount needed to buy the land. It is only then that Crooks becomes interested and he starts believing in the dream as well. Crooks tells old man Candy and Lennie, “â€¦If you â€¦guys would want a hand to work for nothing-just his keep, why I’d come an’ lend a hand. I ain’t so crippled I can’t work like a son-of-a-bitch if I want to.” (Ibid. p. 76)
The concept of loneliness is another theme found in the Of Mice and Men novella. George says, “Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place.” (Ibid. p. 13) Lennie affirms the fraternity between them when he says, “But not us! An’ why? Becauseâ€¦because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after your, and that’s why.” (Ibid. p. 14) Later on George also reaffirms their bond of friendship when he tells the ranch boss, “He’s my â€¦ cousin, I told his old lady I’d take care of him.” (Ibid. p. 22)
The theme of loneliness is apparent since the beginning of the novella when the author sets the setting as being, “A few miles south of Soledad…” (Steinbeck, p.1) The word ‘Soledad’ is Spanish for solitude. Tragically, loneliness seals the fate of Curley’s wife. Curley is the son of the ranch boss. Curley had married two weeks before George and Lennie arrived at the farm. By all appearances, Curley made a mistake in marrying his wife. He has a difficult time keeping her at home. She is always out of the house flirting with the farm hands. The workers consider her trouble and a “tart.” (Ibid. p.28) However, she claims she is lonely and wants to talk to someone. It is this seeking of companionship, which later causes her to lose her life. After Candy and George discover her death, the friendship, the fellowship, the dream of having a farm of their own comes to an abrupt end. In reality, even if Lennie had not accidently killed Curley’s wife their dream wouldn’t have become a reality for the reason Crooks tells Candy and Lennie: ‘”â€¦You’re nuts.”‘ Crooks was scornful, ‘”I seen hundreds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an’ the same damn thing in their heads. Hundreds of them. They come, an’ they quit an’ go on; an’ every damn one of ’em’s got a little piece of land in head. An’ never a God damn one of em’ ever gets it. Just like heaven. Ever’body wants a little piece of lan’. I read plenty of books out here. Nobody never gets to heaven and nobody gets no land. It’s just in their head. They’re all the time talkin’ about it, but it’s jus’ in their head.”‘ (Steinbeck, p. 74)
Closely related to the theme of loneliness is the theme of racism. This theme in particular stands out when Curley’s wife goes looking for her husband in the barn where Candy and Lennie are talking to Crooks. ‘”Any you boys seen Curley?”‘ Candy and Crooks try to get rid of her by telling her they had not seen her husband Curley. They know she is trouble and they don’t want part of it. She continues to be insistent and says, ‘”Well, I ain’t giving you no trouble. Think I don’t like to talk to somebody ever’ once in a while? Think I like to stick in that house alla time?” (Ibid. p. 77) Candy and Crooks still do not want part of her and an argument ensues and Candy says to her, ‘” You ain’t wanted here. We told you you ain’t. An’ I tell ya, you got floozy idears about what us guys amount to.”‘ (ibid. p. 79) Curley’s wife made fun of Candy’s rhetoric all Candy could do was turn red. She started to pick on Lennie after making fun of Candy. It was then that, “Crooks stood up from his bunk and faced her. ‘”I had enough,”‘ he said coldly. ‘”You got no rights comin’ in a clolored man’s room. You got no rights messing around in here at all. Now you jus’ get out, an’ get out quick. If you don’t I’m gonna ast the boss not to ever let you come in the barn no more.”‘ [¶] “She turned on him in scorn. ‘”Listen, Nigger,”‘ she said. ‘”You know what I can do to you if you open your trap?”‘[¶] “Crooks stared hopelessly at her, and then he sat down on his bunk and drew into himself.” [¶] “She closed on him. ‘”You know what I could do?”‘ [¶] “Crooks seemed to grow smaller, and he pressed himself against the wall. ‘”Yes, ma’am.”‘ [¶] ‘”Well, you keep your place then, Nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny.”‘ [¶] “Crooks had reduced himself to nothing. There was no personality, no ego-nothing to arouse either like or dislike. He said, ‘”Yes, ma’am,”‘ and his voice was toneless.” (Steinbeck, p.81)
Thus, racism parallels loneliness as the after effect of isolation and segregation. Nevertheless, the altercation between Crooks and Curley’s wife gives the reader a sense of vindication when Curley’s wife tragically dies.
It is important to know the narrative in Of Mice and Men is in the third person omniscient limited point of view. There is a difference between the third person omniscient and the third person omniscient limited points of view. In the former, “â€¦.the narrator knows the thoughts and feeling of all the characters while in the latter, the narrator adheres closely to one character’s perspectiveâ€¦” (Orson Scott Care, p. 155) And, “â€¦. Even when an author chooses to tell a narrative through omniscient narration, s/he will sometimes (or even for the entire tale) limit the perspective of the narrative to that of a single character, choosing for example only to narrate the inner thoughts of that one character. The narrative is still told in third-person (unlike first-person narration); however, it is clear that it is, nonetheless, being told through the eyes of a single character.” (http://www.cla.purdue.edu/academic/engl/theory/narratology/terms /limited.html) The third person omniscient limited point of view is excellently narrated in the story while Lennie is waiting for George at the same place where the story started and symbolically where the story ends, in the brush of the Salinas River. Lennie is waiting for George to come and save him. As Lennie waits on the bank of the river for George, two visions appear to him, “â€¦And then from out of Lennie’s head there came a little fat old woman. She wore thick bull’s-eye glasses and she wore a huge gingham apron with pockets, and she was starched and clean. She stood in front of Lennie and put her hands on her hips, and she frowned disapprovingly at him. [¶] And when she spoke, it was in Lennie’s voice. ‘”I tol’ you and tol’ you,”‘ she said, ‘”I tol’ you, ‘Min’ George because he’s such a nice fella an’ good to you.’ But you don’t never take no care. You do bad things.”‘ [¶] And Lennie answered her, ‘”I tried, Aunt Clara, ma’am, I tried and tried. I couldn’ help it.”‘ [¶] ‘”You never give a thought to George,”‘ she went on in Lennie’s voice. ‘”He been doin’ nice things for you alla time. When he got a piece a pie you always got half or more’n half. An’ if they was any ketchup, why he’d give it all to you.”‘ [¶] ‘”I know,”‘ said Lennie miserably. ‘”I tried, Aunt Clara, ma’am, I tried and tried.”‘ [¶] ‘”She interrupted him. ‘”All the time he coulda had such a good time if it wasn’t for you. He woulda took his pay an’ raised hell in a whore house, and he coulda set in a pool room an’ played snooker. But he got to take care of you.”‘ [¶] Lennie moaned with grief. ‘”I know, Aunt Clara, ma’am. I’ll go right off in the hills an’ I’ll fin’ a cave an’ I’ll live there so I won’t be no more trouble to George.”‘ [¶] ‘”You jus’ say that,”‘ she said sharply. ‘”You’re always sayin’ that, an’ you know sonofabitching well you ain’t never gonna do it. You’ll jus’ stick around an’ stew the b’Jesus outa George all the time.”‘ (Steinbeck, pp. 100 101)
“â€¦.Aunt Clara was gone, and from out of Lennie’s head there came a gigantic rabbit. It sat on his haunches in front of him, and it waggled its ears and crinkled its nose at him. And it spoke in Lennie’s voice too. [¶] ‘”Tend rabbits,”‘ it said scornfully. ‘”You crazy bastard. You ain’t fit to lick the boots of no rabbit. You’d forget ’em and let ’em go hungry. That’s what you’d do. An’ then what would George think?”‘ [¶] ‘”I would not forget,”‘ Lennie said loudly. [¶] ‘”The hell you wouldn’,”‘ said the rabbit. ‘”You ain’t worth a greased jack-pin to ram you into hell. Christ knows George done ever’thing he could to jack you outa the sewer, but it don’t do no good. If you think George gonna let you tend rabbits, you’re even crazier’n usual. He ain’t. He’s gonna beat hell outa you with a stick, that’s what he’s gonna do.”‘ [¶] Now Lennie retorted belligenrently, ‘”He ain’t neither. George won’t do nothing like that. I’ve knew George since-I forget when-and he ain’t never raised his han’ to me with a stick. He’s nice to me. He ain’t gonna be mean.”‘ [¶] ‘”Well he’s sick of you,”‘ said the rabbit [in Lennie’s voice]. ‘”He’s gonna beat hell outa you an’ then go away an’ leave you.”‘ [¶] ‘”He won’t,”‘ Lennie cried frantically. ‘”He won’t do nothing like that. I know George. Me an’ him travels together.”‘ [¶] But the rabbit repeated softly over and over, ‘”He gonna leave you, ya crazy bastard. He gonna leave ya all alone. He gonna leave ya, crazy bastard.”‘ [¶] Lennie put his hands over his ears. ‘”He ain’t, I tell ya he ain’t.”‘ And he cried, ‘”Oh! George-George-Gerorge!”‘ [¶] George came quietly out of the brush and the rabbit scuttled back into Lennie’s brain.” (Steinbeck, pp. 101 102)
A friend trying to help a friend or distant relative to live, make a living, to think straight, to become self-sufficient, to learn to be a man of his age. But he could not help him, since his friend was a man who had the mind of a child, but the strength of a bear. Lennie was not guilty of the wrongs he did because he had the mind of an ignorant child and the wrongs he did caused him life-that was the best that could have happen to him. The dream was not for him. He would have never grow out of his ignorance-of his disability of not having the capacity to think as the man he was, but would have continued the rest of his life incapable of outgrowing his disability of having the mind of a child.
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