In the novel “Of Mice and Men”, various characters have significant dreams. These dreams serve as motivation for the migrant workers, pushing them to strive harder with the belief that one day their dreams will become reality. The central dream in the novel belongs to George and Lennie, who desire to own their own land and have the freedom to be their own bosses. They long for independence and the ability to live according to their desires. Lennie specifically dreams of tending to rabbits and enjoying a life of abundance on the land they would own. Candy, an elderly and disabled farm worker, becomes a part of their dream by contributing money towards purchasing the land. This further strengthens their belief in achieving their shared dream, while Candy himself clings to this dream as a source of hope in an otherwise mundane existence. Other characters also harbor their own dreams, such as Curley’s Wife, who yearns to be an actress. Her dream serves as a distraction from the challenges she faces being the only woman on the farm and from the reality of her marriage to Curley.
The dream of George and Lennie represents the American Dream, which centers on achieving success and being one’s own boss. This dream served as an escape from their unsatisfying lives, and it was also shared by many migrant farm workers during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl era. The Dust Bowl caused arid conditions in the southwest, turning once fertile land into barren Dust Bowls. Consequently, numerous workers migrated westward in search of employment, often moving from one ranch to another on short-term, low-paying contracts. Dreams became the only comfort for these workers, driving their determination to persevere and offering a glimmer of hope for a better future.
Curley’s Wife longed to be an actress, with men giving her false hope and ultimately causing her dream to shatter. Consequently, she ended up marrying Curley. Learning of George and Lennie’s dream reignited her own aspirations. This made her resentful of marrying Curley as she believed if she hadn’t, she could have achieved fame. She expressed her desire, stating, “Coulda been in the movies, an’ had nice clothes – all of them nice clothes like they wear, an’ I coulda sat in them big hotels.”
Crooks expresses his cynicism towards George and Lennie’s dream, stating that no one ever achieves heavenly satisfaction or land ownership. However, once Candy announces his ability to provide the funds for the land, Crooks alters his perspective, offering to contribute his work for free. He does so with the understanding that the dream is unlikely to come true, recognizing the harshness of reality in shattering dreams.
Bill Tenner’s article appears in a magazine that romanticizes cowboys and the wild west. The ranch hands at the ranch where Bill used to work are particularly intrigued by this article. During his time at the ranch, Bill had always wished to have a letter published in this magazine. Now that he has accomplished it, the ranch hands feel hopeful that they too can achieve their dreams of being recognized as cowboys. This hope helps them navigate through their daily lives.
Steinbeck acknowledges that George and Lennie’s dream is unattainable due to Lennie’s character. Despite Lennie’s genuine concern and good intentions, he is unaware of his own strength and unintentionally gets into trouble despite his efforts to avoid it.
The title of the novel is derived from a poem written by Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796), titled “To a Mouse (on turning her up in her nest with the plough).”
“The plans made by mice and men, no matter how well thought out, can often go awry.
Gang aft agley (=often go wrong).
And all that remains is sorrow and suffering.
For the joy that was promised.
Steinbeck’s title is exemplified by Burns’ illustration that men’s plans are as unstable as a mouse’s. The characters’ dreams stem from their unhappiness with their current situation, which Steinbeck portrays as impoverished—possessing few belongings, lacking comfort, unable to marry or have a family, and without a home of their own.