Consider the theme of loneliness in the novel, Of Mice and Men. How does it affect the friendships and relationships in the novel? Throughout the Great Depression of the 1930’s, migrant workers were commonplace in the USA. John Steinbeck’s novel, Of Mice and Men, allows us to have an insight on the lives of these people, through the two protagonist characters and good friends, George and Lennie. Out of the two, George is the physically smaller one but more intelligent, whereas Lennie is physically well-built however mentally challenged.
George is quick to anger, but very protective of Lennie, who to a large extent depends on George’s guidance. Lennie’s relationship to George can be compared to an animal and its master. He is fiercely loyal to George and afraid of displeasing him. Both of them share the same dream – to save up enough to buy their own farm on their own land. In terms of emotional stability, there is one missing element suggested in this book, that is friends.
Without friends, people would suffer from loneliness and solitude. Loneliness leads to low self-esteem and deprivation.
Other characters in the novel, Crooks, Candy, and Curley’s wife all exhibit some form of loneliness. They are driven towards the curiosity of George and Lennie’s friendship because they do not have that support in their life. Through Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck demonstrates that often times, a victim of isolation will have a never-ending search to fulfill a friendship. In the beginning of the novel, this point already comes up when George says to Lennie: ‘’Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. ’ But Lennie says: I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you. ’’ Even through the vicious power of loneliness and separation, there exists friendship still, albeit a strange one. As mentioned before, the relationship George and Lennie have appears to be a strange one. In a world without friends, strangers will have to do. Furthermore, all the major characters searches for a friend, and seems to envy the relationship George and Lennie have. A friend to help them measure the world, as Crooks would say. In the end, this companionship seems unattainable, or unmanageable.
For George, the hope of companionship and friendship dies with Lennie and he must go through life, alone. But before that happened, the duo seemed to draw comfort from each other. Though George is only a friend, his care for Lennie seems almost paternal; when they arrive at the ranch, Lennie is constantly getting into trouble, and George is constantly getting him out. Evidently, George doesn’t mind helping his friend, but his long pent-up wrath finally boils over, and he shoots Lennie. Lennie obviously looks up to George. A friend, a mentor, and model to follow.
Clearly, he tries to obey George as well as he can, but is unable to, due to his child-like mentality. The book’s themes and symbols are personified by Candy, the handyman. He is aged, left only with one hand, and is worried about his future, that the boss will dismiss him, and ask that he leave the ranch. This fear is not without reason, as we see with Candy’s dog. Once an extremely competent sheep herder, but now toothless, has rheumatism and foul-smelling. Carlson has no regard for the dog, and makes it clear when he suggests that the dog should be shot.
In such a world, Candy’s dog serves as a harsh reminder of the fate that awaits anyone who outlives his usefulness. However, Candy is distracted from this reality through George and Lennie, with their dream ranch. Like George, Candy clings to the idea of having the freedom to take up or set aside work as he chooses. So strong is his devotion to this idea that, even after he discovers that Lennie has killed Curley’s wife, he pleads for himself and George to go ahead and buy the farm as planned. Steinbeck generally depicts women as troublemakers who bring ruin on men and drive them mad.
Curley’s wife, who walks the ranch as a temptress, seems to be a prime example of this destructive tendency—Curley’s already bad temper has only worsened since their wedding. Curley’s wife emerges as a relatively complex and interesting character. Although her purpose is rather simple in the novel’s opening pages—she is the “tramp,” “tart,” and “bitch” that threatens to destroy male happiness and longevity—her appearances later in the novel become more complex. Curley’s wife’s loneliness has altered her demeanor towards others tremendously, making her overtly insecure and excessively flirtatious.
Curley’s wife has become virtually another person because of loneliness. The men on the ranch avoid her because of flirtatious personality to keep out of trouble. No one understands her situation and how loneliness affects her. Her insecurity is evident by the way she dresses and utilizes her make-up. She uses her appearance to receive attention like when “[Curley’s Wife] was standing there looking in. She had full, rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up. Her fingernails were red. Her hair hung in little rolled clusters, like sausages.
She wore a cotton housedress and red mules, on the steps of which were little bouquets of red ostrich feathers”. She feels she must dress this way for people to acknowledge her and give her attention. Her dressing-up is entirely unnecessary because they live on a farm and this is not the typical clothing. The way she dresses/makes herself up proves her insecurity and her inability to feel good about who she really is. As well as dressing inappropriately, she acts in flirtatious ways. This is another attempt for the attention she believes she does not get. Curley does not give his wife to love and affection that she desires.
This makes her seek it from other people. By not talking to anyone and constantly worrying about what Curley will do, she has attained a slyness that does not appeal to anyone on the ranch. Acting in flirtatious ways is the only way Curley’s wife thinks she can deal with her loneliness. Crooks is a lively, sharp-witted, black stable-hand, who takes his name from his crooked back. Like most of the characters in the novel, he admits that he is extremely lonely, which has made Crook’s a very bitter and isolated individual. He is not truly able to leave this situation because of his race.
The other men at the ranch do not relate with Crooks unless he is working because he is black. Other than when they are working, the other men shut Crooks out off all of their activities except horseshoes. Crooks are very isolated and not welcome in leisure activities. Because of this discriminatory treatment, he has become bitter and known to lash out at people because of the loneliness that he has. Crooks’s emotions are displayed to the reader when he talks to Lennie in his room about having no one to relate to and communicate with. He states: “Maybe you can see now. You got George.
You know he’s goin’ to come back. S’pose you didn’t have nobody. S’pose you couldn’t go into the bunk house and play rummy `cuase you was black… A guy needs somebody–to be near him”. In a way, everyone needs someone to talk to, whether it is a friend, family member, or even a pet. This is a source of comfort and wealth for the person. Crooks does not have any of these sources. Crooks has never been treated well by any of his co-workers because he is black. This has affected Crooks greatly. He has become bitter and has obtained a passionate animosity toward everyone.
He has a certain demeanor toward everyone due to the way he is treated because of his race. In addition, Crooks also does not know how to relate and function normally anymore because of how his loneliness has affected him. Crooks’s animosity was exemplified when Lennie comes into his room unannounced. He greets Lennie with: “Come on in and set a while… ‘Long as you won’t get out and leave me alone, you might as well set down. ” Crooks has been lonely for so long that he expects people not to talk to him. When Lennie comes in and does not have any intention of hurting him, he realizes it and he lets his guard down.
It may seem that he doesn’t desire friendships or affection, but he no longer knows how to deal with his loneliness. It has made him into another person, one that obtains a relentless hostility toward anyone and everyone that gets close to him. The scene shifts to Sunday afternoon as Lennie sits in the barn, contemplating a dead puppy. He has killed his pup by petting it too hard. Lennie is gripped by a growing panic that George will find the dead puppy and that now he “won’t get to tend the rabbits”. Curley’s wife enters in a dress decorated with red ostrich feathers.
Lennie, who has been warned to have nothing to do with her, briefly tries to resist being drawn into conversation, but she prevails, telling him that the other men are too busy with their horseshoe tournament to care whether he talks to her or not. She is clearly starved for conversation and launches into a reprise of her discontented story of what might have been. She insists that she could have been an actress. Lennie fails to understand her at all, however, as he continues to return to the dilemma of the dead puppy and his anxiety over being denied the right to tend the rabbits. Curley’s wife angrily asks him hy he is so obsessed with rabbits, and Lennie thoughtfully replies that he likes to pet nice things. Because of this, Curley’s wife invites him to stroke her hair. Lennie begins to feel her hair and likes it very much indeed, which leads him to pet it too hard. Curley’s wife begins to struggle, which sends Lennie into a panic. He tries to muffle her screams, but when she continues to struggle, Lennie accidentally kills her, by breaking her neck. Lennie then disappears from the barn with the dead puppy in hand. This incident might be analyzed as the climactic action of the novel – the event after which there is no turning back.
Lennie’s crime is a fundamental inability to understand the frailty of others. He literally loves things to death. His puppy is soft, so he pets it to death. Only George understands him fully, knows his childish mixture of innocence and danger. Others, including Curley’s wife, treat him as a sort of vent for their own complaints and fantasies. Their failure to understand the danger that goes along with Lennie’s obvious innocence results in the “bad things” that Lennie does. Crooks is just barely able to defuse Lennie’s capacity for violent rage in the preceding chapter.
Curley’s wife, in this chapter, is not so lucky. This episode is the final strand in the already straining relationship between George and Lennie. George feels that he cannot bear the burden of Lennie anymore, but retains an element of care and friendship towards Lennie, therefore he opts to shoot Lennie in the back of the head, thus sparing him the merciless death that would have befallen him should he have been caught by Curley’s lynch mob. Candy however, though shaken by the sudden change of events, still views his own survival and well-being as his chief priority.
The desperation of clinging to this dream is so great, that even after the death of Curley’s wife, Candy is still able to ask George whether they can still buy that little piece of land. For Lennie, however, things are not so bright. He has killed, albeit unintentionally, and with the death of Curley’s wife, Lennie’s innocence was taken. He had to pay the price, by losing his life. Human beings were made to live in society, thus all people are driven towards others, and it is a natural instinct to seek friendship and companionship. They are the happiest people once they find it no matter what way they use.
George and Lennie are lonely, therefore they seek companionship and comfort from each other. Candy is lonely; therefore he finds comfort in his dog. Curley’s wife is lonely, so she tries to gain attention from the other men, regardless of their low social status. Crooks is shunned by all company, therefore he seeks comfort within himself. One of the most important lessons we learn in Of Mice and Men is that friendship and human interaction are two very valuable things. Having them is as much a right as it is a privilege, that we must treasure it as it keeps us away from loneliness.
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