How does Steinbeck create a sense of insecurity in the novel? In your answer you should write about –
* Why characters may feel insecure
* Uses of language
* The contribution of the setting
* Other features which create a feeling of insecurity
Steinbeck creates a sense of insecurity in the novel ‘Of Mice and Men’ in a number of ways. His use of language when describing the setting and the characters appearances and actions is one of the main techniques used.
The ranch is a lonely and isolated setting, far away from their homes and families the characters become very insecure. George describes ranch workers as “the loneliest men in the world”, due to the short, temporary nature of relationships on the ranch. The workers become insecure and unhappy, as they have no one to share their true feelings with. The characters hide their true identities in order to prevent further isolation.
Many of the characters in the novel have feelings of insecurity. They each have characteristics or past experiences that make the feel different form the others on the ranch. Many of the characters feel like outsiders.
Curley’s wife is insecure due to her experiences of rejection in the past. She had a bad relationship with her mother, making her mistrusting but desperate for attention. Curley’s wife’s insecurity is a result of her dreams being destroyed as a child. As we find out later in the novel she could have been an actress, but her dream was destroyed when her mother refused to let her. The insecurity that has been created by early rejection has caused Curleys wife to desperately seek attention from others.
She uses being the only woman on the ranch to her advantage and is constantly loitering around the bunkhouse “looking for Curley”. Upon on first impressions she seems just as candy described her, “a tart”. Her body language is flirtatious and confident, when talking to the men in the bunkhouse she “leaned against the door-frame so that her body was thrown forward.” But we find out towards the end of the novel that she is not as confident as she appears. She regrets marring Curley and is bored of life on lonely and isolated setting of the ranch.
She tries to hide her true feelings of insecurity behind a mask of makeup and fancy clothes. Steinbeck creates an image of a showgirl in his description of Curley’s wife, “She had full rouged lips and widespread heavily made up eyes. Her fingernails were red and her hair hung little rolled clusters”. Such an appearance seems out of place on the ranch and creates an instant dislike to the character. Her efforts to hide her true feelings behind makeup and clothes often work against her. The men on the ranch whom she appears so desperate to get positive attention from see her as “a looloo” and “Jailbait”.
However deep down she is very insecure, she craves attention and love something that she never got from her mother or Curley. When she talks to Lennie and Candy in the bunkhouse she tells them her true feelings about her husband “I don’t like Curley…he ain’t a nice fella.” Unfortunately it just before her death that the readers starts to see the true aspects of her personality.
Crooks and Candy feel lonely and insecure due to their experiences of discrimination on the ranch. Crooks’ experiences of discrimination are mainly due to the fact that he is a black man. He is treated differently from the other hands on the ranch, instead of sleeping in the bunkhouse he sleeps in the barn. He sleeps in a “long box filled with straw on which his blankets were flung”, and doesn’t socialize or mix at all with the other workers. Though life on the ranch is very lonely Crooks is even more isolated than the other works, this may be the main reason for his feelings of insecurity. In the line ” he kept his distance and demanded that other people kept theirs”, the readers get an image of Crooks being a loner by choice.
Crooks deals with the discrimination he gets by creating a place where he feels safe and in control. He sees his room as the only thing that belongs to him, “This here’s my room. Nobody got any rights in here but me” is his instant reaction when Lennie comes to the stable. However after a while he seems happy to have some company, it seems out of character when he asks Lennie to “come on in and set a while”. It is in his conversation with Lennie that the reader finds that Crooks is just as lonely and insecure as the others on the ranch.
In Crooks room there is ” a mauled copy of the Californian civil code for 1905″, the book outlines the rights of black people in America at this time. Though Crooks is aware of the racial discrimination on the ranch as shown in the line “They play cards in there, but I can’t play because I’m black”, he is aware of his rights. However he is too insecure to stand up for himself, instead he creates the illusion that he wants to be alone and only strengthens the barrier between him and the other hands.
Candy is insecure due to his disability and age. He has lost his hand and is now employed at the ranch as a swamper. His body language mirrors his insecurity; he “shuffles” instead of walking and often “rubs his bristly white whiskers with his knuckles”. Steinbeck uses words such these to create an image of a quiet old man. Candy deals with his insecurities by trying to blend into the background.
Curley is quiet the opposite of Candy. Like his wife, his body language is that of someone who is confident and not at all insecure. However he is a short man and feels that he has to make up for his height in some way. One of the ways in which he deals with his insecurities is by starting fights with bigger men, trying to gain respect from the other hands. He sees an easy target in Lennie, as soon as he sets eyes on him Curleys “arms gradually bent at the elbows and his hands closed into fists.” Curley feels the instant need to fight with any one who may threaten his status on the ranch.
Though these characters are all lonely they have a lack of mutual understanding for each other, for example Curley’s wife looks down on Crooks, she threatens him in the line “You know what I could do Nigger.” All of the characters above are insecure and seen as outsiders on the ranch. The descriptions of these characters give an insight into the ranch as a lonely setting, which is full of insecurities.
It is not only in the character descriptions that Steinbeck creates a sense of insecurity. The way in which he mirrors events in the human world to those in nature also creates a sense of insecurity.
In the final chapter of the novel the unexpected cruelty of nature is shown in the line ” A silent head and beak lanced down and plucked it out by the head, and the beak swallowed the little snake while it’s tail waved frantically.” The unexpected nature of the death of the water snake is mirrored in the death of Lennie. The arbitrary nature of the death of both Lennie and the water snake relates to the title.
The struggle of life and death in both the natural and human world is portrayed in the final chapter and adds to the sense of insecurity that Steinbeck creates throughout the novel.