Of Mice and Men- Loneliness and isolation Essay
How is loneliness and isolation explored in Of Mice and Men? ‘Of Mice and Men’ by John Steinbeck is a novella comprising of many themes; the two most prominent are loneliness and isolation. The 1937 text explores the lives of itinerant individuals who strive to achieve their American Dream – “livin off the fatta the lan’”. Crooks, Curley’s wife, Candy, George and Lennie are such individuals who are isolated form the community on the ranch. Steinbeck indicated the alienation experienced by these characters through dialogue, description and inventive structural techniques.
He created an overwhelming sense of the depressing environment that the migrant farmers faced during the Great Depression and Dustbowl.
A prime representation of loneliness and isolation in the novella is Crooks – ‘the negro stable buck’. In fact Crooks is a nickname, which suggests a deformity or difference. Steinbeck emphasises Crooks’ isolation by describing Crooks’ abode as a ‘little shed that leaned off the wall of the barn’. Sheds are not usually a place to live in and Steinbeck uses this sense of geographical isolation to show the physical distance between the bunkhouse (where the fellow ranch workers live) and his shed.
It shows how the social shared space of the bunkhouse is not found in Crooks’ dwelling. Crooks is also discriminated by his fellow ranch workers which is shown by Slim and George’s conversation, “We let the nigger in one night’”. This implies Crooks is restricted access to some areas of the ranch. Crooks counters this problem my not allowing anyone in his shed. His rejection of friendship or companionship is caused by the anguish of his loneliness.
Crooks’ structure in the novella also hints the theme of loneliness. His main speech and part is confined in one chapter, with just brief appearances in the rest of the novella; this shows his character is undeveloped. Like al the characters he has the potential to grow and flourish however he is restricted due to prejudice in the society, which he lives in. Crooks clearly confesses this on Pg. 82 saying “I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an’ he gets sick”. Earlier in the conversation with Lennie he uses a tone that is harsh and dismissive on Pg. 77 “You got no right to come in my room. This is my room nobody got any right in here but me”. This displays that Crooks at first suspects Lennie to be just like any other white man. As Crooks
becomes more confident he has longer and complex sentences in his conversation showing that Crooks is so used to solitude that he talks in excess when he finds the opportunity to speak.
The second character to experience the theme of loneliness is Curley’s wife. She too doesn’t have a real name; she is only known as Curley’s wife, defined by her husband’s ownership of her. On Pg. 35 and 36 George warns Lennie describing her using words like ‘bitch’, ‘poison’, ‘rat trap’ and ‘jail-bait’. Elsewhere, she is also referred by Candy as a ‘tart’. Talking away her name and using racist language dehumanises her and suggests she has no strong identity on the ranch, only treated as a social accessory. Nevertheless the life in the ranch is a very male dominated environment. Curley’s wife is the only female in the ranch, because of this she is rendered differently and isolated. She consistently tried to seek out company and congress. She substitutes this by asking everyone, “Where is Curley?” The men on the other hand are very weary of her and worried of how Curley will react. Due to this they talk to her in a very dismissive, abruptly, unwelcoming and unfriendly way. Expressed on Pg. 87, where Crooks says “ Maybe you better go along to your own house now. We don’t want no trouble”. She is repeatedly commanded to leave Later on Pg. 89 she suddenly become much more hostile, childishly venomous to those around her as a result of being isolated my most of the men on the ranch. All these facts display how Curley’s wife is experiencing loneliness.
In the novella Curley’s wife has a lot of dialogue, most of which is about her dreams of being an actress. These dreams of hers are an expression of a wish to no longer be lonely. At the moment she is apart from the things that she is wishing for. Her dreams remind her of having underachieved in life, which is a symptom of loneliness. Furthermore, Curley’s wife’s loneliness is expressed on Pg.100 where she lists how she could have become an actor. This copiousness suggests the desperation of having a profession and of being the centre of attention. These desires show the need of having company and how lonely she is at the moment, chasing her fantasy dream and with a husband that she doesn’t like.
The third character to show loneliness in then novella is Candy. Candy, like Crooks is considered very differently to others because of his age and physical disability. This makes him different from the rest of the men on the ranch, but he always tries to communicate with them as much as he can. Candy’s loneliness is magnified by him seeking refuge in his dog. His god is described as ‘ancient’ and shares with him similarities such as age, disability and a lack of usefulness. When the ranch workers want to shoot the dog, Candy resists using Elliptical language. “I had him too long… I been around him so long I never notice how he stinks” This is a sign if physical and emotional intimacy. Here Candy doesn’t say I love him to conceal his weakness to the other men, which would lead to even more isolation. Steinbeck candidly creates the tension when Candy’s dog is shot using ‘Silence’. The lack of communication in the room creates a sense of a void, which is filled with silence. Here silence is being personified ‘falling on the room’. The loneliness of Candy is amplified before the dog dies by words that are uncomfortable and frozen as Candy tries to defend himself and his companion, the dog. Pathos is strong after the dog is killed as Candy turns himself to the wall. This makes one feel sorry for Candy’s loss and isolation.
The final characters, which show isolation and loneliness, are the two main characters George and Lennie. George experiences the most loneliness. His loneliness is magnified when he is with Lennie. The difference between both the characters is displaced through their dialogue, Lennie always asks the questions and George has to answer them Lennie’s lack of vocabulary is indicated on Pg. 7 when Lennie says “I…I…” which is very inarticulate with simple vocabulary. He requires a lot of repetition to express his emotions. Whereas George swears a lot, suggesting the frustration being isolated with Lennie. Lennie, near the very end of the book just before George is about to shoot Lennie, Lennie says “me and you” and then George replies with “me and…you”. The ellipsis implies clear distance and isolation. Finally on Pg. 16 when George is talking about the dream he uses idealised imagery showing his disbelief and how he believes it will be nearly impossible to get a farm like that. This is shown when he says “Nuts… I ain’t got time for this anymore!” This indicates the frustration of dreaming too large. Thus it is evident that George is experiencing loneliness and isolation.
Loneliness and isolation are found in many different forms in the novella ‘Of Mice and Men’. The author, John Steinbeck has used various linguistic and structural ideas to strengthen the theme of isolation and loneliness that nearly all the characters tackle. Overall in conclusion John Steinbeck skilfully uses theme causing immense pathos allowing the reader to experience and acknowledge his depression – era novella Of Mice and Men.
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