Of Mice and Men was written by John Steinbeck in 1936. It was published in 1937. The novel was originally called “Something that Happened” but it changed later on. The novel is set during the time of the Great Depression in the 1930’s. It was a time when millions were unemployed and men wandered from state to state looking for work. The Great Depression was a world-wide economic slump that began in October 1929 with the Wall Street Crash and continued through the early 1930s. During the 1920s, while business prospered in the United States, farmers did not. In Germany hyperinflation took hold and the country (until US banks came to the rescue by providing huge loans) had trouble paying the vast reparations it had been ordered to make after World War I.
After share prices plunged on Wall Street in 1929, the US banks began to call in their foreign loans. They had also loaned money to many people who as a result of the Crash could not repay it. Meanwhile, those who had money on deposit at the bank began to withdraw it. Without enough money to pay depositors, many banks collapsed. A shortage of cash meant that there was less money to invest in industry and less money to be spent on industrial and farm products. By 1932 most banks in the United States were closed. The slump led to massive unemployment: 14 million in the United States.
There are many areas of the book that shows how the Great Depression has taken its toll on the characters. It shows this when Lennie wants ketchup for his beans. “There’s enough beans for four men,” George said. Lennie watched him from over the fire. He said patiently, “I like ’em with ketchup.” “Well we ain’t got any,” George exploded. Another example of Depression and unhappiness is when Candy’s dog gets shot. “Got no teeth,” Carlson said. “He’s all stiff with rheumatism. He ain’t no good to you, Candy. An’ he ain’t no good to himself. Why’n’t you shoot him Candy?” Later on Carlson shoots him in the back of the head. This shows us that life in the 1930’s was unpleasant and not many people knew the meaning of true friendship. It also shows us that people that lived in that time were very selfish and didn’t care about other people’s feelings.
Another example of depression and unhappiness is when Lennie and Curley have a fight. Curley was balanced and poised. He slashed at Lennie with his left and then smashed down his nose with a right. Lennie gave a cry of terror.
After a lot of fighting: –
Curley’s fist was swinging when Lennie reached for it. The next minute Curley was flopping like a fish on a line, and his closed fist was lost in Lennie’s big hand.
This shows us that the workers at the ranch are free to do what they want to do. If there is a fight, there is none there to stop it. All of the workers just encourage the fighting. This fighting was probably encouraged because of the weather at the ranch. In that area it is almost always hot, and the heat gets people aggravated and stressed. They also get stressed and angry because of the food. The food at the ranch is not top quality and it might drive someone crazy.
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George Milton is a ranch worker who travels from farm to farm for work during the Depression. George cares for Lennie, his childhood friend who is mentally disabled, while the two dream of earning enough money to buy a small farm where Lennie can tend rabbits. George takes on the role of acting like an overtired and overworked parent with Lennie. George must be responsible, level-headed and ready to deal with any tragedy that may occur.
Despite all of the problems that Lennie causes George, he stays with his mentally disabled friend as he keeps a dream that one day the two of them will eventually leave the life of a ranch worker to live a more normal life. These dreams are important to George and Lennie because at the time of the Great Depression everyone was depressed and sad. Their plan gives them hope. This novel takes place during the depression, and ranch hands have little chance of getting ahead with money. The rabbits are the ultimate symbol of this, because rabbits are prey. Keeping prey animals alive has a sense of strength to it.
Money is a big issue in this novel. The reason George and Lennie go to the ranch is for money, and their dream is totally built around money. If they had enough money they would be living their dream now. They were all told to find a dream and set out to make that dream come true. George stayed with Lennie because he was a part of the dream. If it wasn’t for Lennie the dream could not happen.
Lennie Small is a gigantic mentally disabled man, and is simplistic. He obsesses over simple things, such as ketchup on his beans. He finds great joy in touching soft things, such as cotton dresses or soft puppies. Although Lennie is innocent, he is still capable of great violence. He cannot physically control himself and has a great protective instinct. Lennie is obsessed with the dream of having a small piece of land with George, but can only remember one part of this dream. He is obsessed with having a small rabbit hutch where he can tend rabbits. Lennie cannot make decisions by himself and relies on George for any help. This shows us that Lennie is just like a child and George is his parent.
Candy is an old, crippled man who has lost his hand; Candy is the swamper at the ranch. He is attached to his old dog, which has become so weak and sick that it depends entirely on Candy to survive, but he still allows Carlson to shoot the dog to put it out of its misery. Candy is unable to take any action by himself for his one major act in the novel. He offers money to Lennie and George in order to go in on a piece of land together, by doing this he becomes dependent on them. This shows that Candy is too old to do anything for himself, and he needs other people to do things for him.
Curley is the son of the ranch owner; Curley is a short man who is aggressive, boastful and cocky, with a short temper. He tends to provoke conflict, as he does with Lennie. He spends a great deal of time trying to keep his wife were he can see her, because he believes that she is off with other men when she is not under his supervision.
Curley’s Wife is the only major character in ‘Of Mice and Men’ that Steinbeck does not give a name. This is because in the 1930’s America, women were not important and were not given equal rights as men. She doesn’t like her husband and feels lonely at the ranch, because she is the only woman and feels isolated from the other men. She still holds some small hope of a better life. She claims that she had the chance to become a movie star in Hollywood, but she is usually a bitter and scornful woman who uses sex to annoy the workers. Lennie accidentally murders her.
Crooks is the stable buck at the ranch, Crooks is also the only black person. He is an intelligent man. He is excluded because of his race. He considers helping Lennie and Candy with their plan to buy land until he is threatened by Curley’s Wife.
The Ku Klux Klan was a group of distinct secret terrorist organisations in the United States. The people who were a part of it were white and they were racist against blacks. It started in 1915 and continued to the present.
The 20th-century Klan had its roots more directly in the American natives’ tradition. It was organised in 1915 near Atlanta, Ga., by Colonel William J. Simmons. He was a preacher and promoter of fraternal orders who had been inspired by Thomas Dixon’s book The Clansman (1905) and D.W. Griffith’s film The Birth of a Nation (1915). The organisation remained small until Edward Y. Clarke and Mrs. Elizabeth Tyler brought to it their talents as publicity agents and fundraisers. The revived Klan expressed the defensive reaction of white Protestants in small-town America who felt threatened by the Bolshevik revolution in Russia and by the large-scale immigration of the previous decades that had changed the ethnic character of American society.
Carlson is a large man who works at the ranch, Carlson complains about Candy’s dog and eventually offers to put the old dog out of its misery. George steals Carlson’s gun to shoot Lennie after Curley’s Wife is murdered. This shows us that Lennie is as ignorant as Candy’s old dog.
Slim is the jerkline skinner at the ranch, Slim is a man who is in charge of all the other workers. Whatever he says goes. He gives Lennie one of his new litter of puppies to care for. This shows us that Slim is a nice person and can tell that Lennie is not dangerous and is also a nice person. Curley suspects that his wife is having an affair with Slim.
George and Lennie used to work at a ranch in a place called Weed, until Lennie got them into trouble and they had to run away. Lennie loves the feel of soft things. When they were at Weed Lennie saw a girl wearing a nice, soft dress. Lennie started to feel it. The girl did not like it, she tried to pull away but Lennie did not know what to do so he started pulling at it. The girl thought that Lennie was trying to rape her. The men found out and chased after George and Lennie. But they got away. They hitched a ride to Soledad, where they started to work at a ranch. George and Lennie travel around from place to place because they need jobs, to save money for when they go to buy their own house with acres of land. George and Lennie never talk about their homes or family.
I think this is because Lennie has no family, and George doesn’t want to upset him by talking about his family. They do not talk about their homes because they do not have any. They sleep at the bunk-house. The bunk-house is a long, rectangular building. Inside the walls were whitewashed and the floor was unpainted. In three walls there were small, square windows, and in the fourth a solid door with a wooden latch. Against the walls were eight bunks, five of them made up with blankets and the other three showing their burlap ticking.
Over each bunk there was nailed an apple-box with the opening forward so that it made two shelves for the personal belongings of the occupant of the bunk. The shelves were loaded with personal items, soap and talcum-powder, razors and Western magazines. There were medicines on the shelves, and little vials, combs; and, from nails on the box sides, a few neckties. Near one wall there was a black cast-iron stove, it’s stove-pipe going straight up through the ceiling. In the middle of the room stood a big square table littered with playing-cards and around it were grouped boxes for the players to sit on.
George and Lennie are both very hard workers. Lennie sometimes works too hard and the other workers find it hard to keep up with him. The boss expects people to arrive on time. He likes to know the truth about things, for example when George and Lennie are in his office: –
The boss said suddenly, “listen Small!” Lennie raised his head. “What can you do?” In panic Lennie looked at George for help. “He can do anything you tell him,” said George.
This shows us that in the 1930’s America people find it hard to find other people trustworthy, because of everything that is happening in America at that time. This also shows that he is very strict. He suspects George is taking Lennie’s pay. Then he suspects something else that he doesn’t specify; he feels George is cheating somehow, “what you sellin?” He suspects this because men don’t usually travel together. This could be a fear of homosexuality, or the appearance of it, which motivates most men to keep a distance from each other. It makes a lonely society where men are stereotyped, expected to be strong, quiet, and independent. Stereotypes are found throughout the novel, and this shows that society really believes in stereotypes, and uses them, which causes many real problems in society.
George and Lennie both wear denim jacket and denim jeans. The other workers wear this too. This was what workers wore in America during the 1930’s. The boss and Curley wear much nicer and more expensive clothes. This shows that they are more important than George, Lennie and the other workers. When they speak they use American slang, such as when they say; “you scared the b’jesus outa me!”
The workers are allowed to speak freely and act freely. This shows that they are just wandering workers with no real security.
George and Lennie hardly own anything at all; they only own things such as soap, razors, talcum-powder and playing cards. They own no luxurious belongings. This shows that the 1930’s were hard times when not many people could afford luxurious items. George and Lennie have a dream that one-day they will have enough money saved up to be able to buy their own house, with acres of land. They will have a cow and some pigs. “An’ live off the fatta the lan’.” They believe that they will have a big vegetable patch and a rabbit hutch and chickens.
This implies that Lennie and George are very hopeful characters although their dreams are more likely to happen than most other characters. This shows that in the 1930’s America people were very hopeful about what is going to happen in their lives. Their plan gives them hope, as it takes place during the depression. The ranch hands have little chance of getting ahead with money. The rabbits are the ultimate symbol of this, because rabbits are prey. Keeping prey animals alive has a sense of strength to it.
The characters show that it is set during the depression because some of them have dreams, this is called ‘the American dream’, which took place during the depression. The American dream was used to give people hope while it was the time of depression. They also show that it is the time of depression because they are all usually unhappy and sad, and there are a lot of arguments and fights.
Crooks is the stable buck at the ranch, he is also the only black person. He is a very intelligent man, we know this because he is always reading novels. Crooks has a disability, he was kicked in the back by a horse and he now has a crooked back. That is where he gets his name. The other workers say that he is a nice person, although he is not treated like it. He is usually excluded from everything that the other workers do, because he is black. The other workers refer to him as a ‘Nigger’. Crooks keeps away from the other workers and the boss. He likes to keep himself to himself, he stays in his cabin studying his novels all of the time, apart from when he is working.
When Crooks and Lennie are alone, Crooks tells him his life story. This is because he knows that Lennie is stupid and will not understand what discrimination against blacks is. He also feels that he can trust Lennie because he is simple. He talks about what it is like to be a black person and how he is treated differently. Crooks is very emotional. He asks Lennie what it would be like without George, and he becomes very emotional. Crooks’ bunk was in the harness room. It was a little shed that leaned off the wall of the barn. On one side of the little room there was a square four-paned window, and on the other a narrow plank door leading into the barn. Crooks’ bunk was a long box filled with straw, on which his blankets were flung. On the wall by the window there were pegs on which hung a broken harness in process of being mended, strips of new leather; and under the window itself a little bench for leather-working tools. This shows us that Crooks’ has to live rough.
This is because he is black and the other workers do not believe that he should be able to have anything nice. This is just like what the Ku Klux Klan stood for. Crooks has many personal belongings, but none of them are luxurious. Some of the things he has are several pairs of shoes, a pair of rubber boots, a big alarm clock and a single-barrelled shotgun. He also had some novels; a tattered dictionary and a mauled copy of the California civil code for 1905. This shows that he is a clever man with the ability to read. There were battered magazines and a few dirty novels on a shelf over his bunk. A pair of gold-rimmed spectacles hung from a nail on the wall above his head.
He has gold-rimmed spectacles because as he is all alone he has a lot of money to spend on himself. The other ranch workers share rooms and they share their things. All of the other workers treat him differently because he is black. When Curley’s wife is in Crooks’ room they have a big argument. Crooks tells her that she has no right to be in his room. He says this because a white person is not allowed into a black person’s bedroom. Curley’s wife has a very powerful reaction, and she puts Crooks in his place. Crooks recognises that he is in trouble, and as a result Crooks grows smaller. Crooks is treated very cruelly, this is because it is the time of the Depression. People become racist to blacks.
It shows this by the name that he is called, ‘Nigger’. He is called this again by Curley’s wife. Curley’s wife is not like this to anyone else apart from Crooks, because he is black, and she is racist towards black people. She threatens him by telling him that she could get him fired. She warns that she could claim that Crooks tried to rape her, and the white men would hang him, without even wondering if it were true. This was the case with blacks in the USA, and it was called “lynching”. This appears to be an ugly side to Curley’s wife’s personality, but it is actually the same as how Crooks provoked Lennie. She struck out for once because she could. It is about power, where Curley’s wife is also oppressed, and lashes out at a target that is actually weaker than her, in this case, Crooks. Crooks understands this without her even saying that she can do it.
Curley’s wife does not have a name because the men think that she is not important enough to be given a name. She dislikes her husband and feels desperately lonely at the ranch, for she is the only woman and feels isolated from the other men, who openly scorn her. Curley’s wife does not have any point being at the ranch apart from to accompany Curley. She does not like Curley because he is a terrible person, always talking about fighting, and little else. She regrets marrying him, and just wants companionship, like Crooks does, like Candy does after his dog died, and like George and Lennie are lucky to have with each other.
She does not work at all at the ranch; she does absolutely nothing apart from stirring up trouble with the workers. Curley’s wife is not allowed to talk to anyone, but she wants to talk to the men. She has a fear of Curley. She represents danger. It shows this when she is described wearing red (because red is the sign of danger): ‘She had full, rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up. Her finger-nails were red. Her hair hung in little rolled clusters, like sausages. She wore a cotton house dress and red mules, on the insteps of which were little bouquets of red ostrich feathers.’
In the story the women are not important. Curley’s wife is just known to get in the way of things and cause trouble. No one cares about her. In America at that time women had no rights. Men were In charge of them. They belonged to men and the men could do anything they liked with them.
Curley’s wife does not listen to anyone apart from Lennie. She listens to Lennie because she thinks that he will listen to her. Curley’s wife married him because he had money, and as a woman, she had no way to get a job or support herself. Women weren’t accepted in jobs, especially any good jobs. Consequently, women were very much like property or children in this setting, depending on men for their survival.
She sticks with Curley because she has nothing left to live for, and if she did leave him she would have no-where to go. She complains that individually, the men are generally nice and good, but in groups, they are sometimes cruel. This is easily transferred to society, where groups and institutions (banks, companies, and governments) do things that individuals do not have the heart to do.
The other workers see Curley’s wife as a tart because she is always eyeing up other men.
The swamper stood up from his box. “Know what I think?” George did not answer. “Well, I think Curley’s married . . . a tart.”
The men think that women are toys. They are there for a bit of fun and when they get bored of them they dump them somewhere. The men do not respect them at all. The workers go into town to a place called ‘Susy’s Place’ where they can have a ‘flop’.
After the death of Curley’s wife, Curley does not care about his wife he just wants revenge on Lennie. It is almost like an excuse for Curley to kill him. Curley is angry that someone destroyed his possession. This helps us understand Curley’s mean character. Curley was humiliated by his defeat in the fight with Lennie. Curley lost the fight in front of many of the men. This is the perfect excuse for Curley to get revenge. It is revenge, not justice that makes Curley want to kill Lennie, as he promises to deliberately shoot him in the guts.
Crooks and Candy both have disabilities. Crooks has a crooked back and Candy has no hand. Candy knows a lot about what is going on, because he likes to listen to other people’s conversations. So he knows all of the gossip, and comes in useful. Candy’s dog is treated very well by Candy, but it is treated like dirt by everyone else, and he is also spoken upon like dirt:
‘Carlson said thoughtfully, “well looka here, Slim. I been thinkin’. That dog of Candy’s is so god-damn old he can’t hardly walk. Stinks like hell, too.”
Outsiders are treated like dirt. This is because the workers don’t know them and, as it is the time of the great depression they can’t trust anyone that they don’t know. When George and Lennie first arrive they are treated quite nicely by Candy, but when Curley appears they are not treated very nicely. He won’t let George speak. He wants Lennie to speak because he is bigger. Outsiders do not get fair treatment. Some workers are polite with each other and other workers are not. Curley is not polite with anyone at all.
While Slim is polite with everyone. The workers all get on very well with each other, they all have nick-names which the other workers call them. This shows us they all have something about them that is different from each other. Curley is the only person that does not get along with the other workers. He is always nasty to them and he does not care what they think. Crooks also does not get along with the other workers. This is because he is black and is excluded from the things that everyone else does.
Curley purposely picks on Lennie because of his size. This shows a lot of prejudice. Curley is a boxer, and a fighter. He likes to fight, especially because he is small, and wants to prove that he is tough. He is also the boss’ son. Lennie is unbelievably strong, and though he has the mind of a child, he could tear Curley to pieces. This makes Curley scared of him.
Curley’s wife also shows some prejudice, for example when they are all in Crook’s room:
“-Sat’iday night. Ever’body out doin’ som’pin. Ever’body! An’ what am I doin’? Standin’ here talking to a bunch of bindle stiffs – a nigger an’ a dum-dum and a lousy ol’ sheep – an’ likin’ it because they aint nobody else.’
There is a lot of prejudice in this speech by Curley’s wife.
The story is based on the characters living in 1930’s America and you can see this by all the depression and unhappiness there is. It also shows that the characters live in a 1930’s America because of their jobs. Crooks is an intelligent person and should have a better job. Instead he just works on a ranch getting paid a poor salary. Curley could become a boxer but as it is during the depression he works on a ranch.
More proof that it is the time of the depression is shown by the fact that some of them have dreams where they dream about something better. George and Lennie have a dream that they will one day own their own house. Curley’s wife has a dream that she will become a movie star.
Lennie and Curley fighting shows that it was a time of depression, and also the language that they use such as ‘Nigger’ and ‘Dum-dum,’ was common talk of the time.