“Of Mice and Men” written by one of the best American writers John Steinbeck tells a tragic story of two men – Lennie Small and George Milton – whose life path coincides with the Great Depression years. In the book, Steinbeck examines predatory nature of human existence, sad illusion of American Dream, loneliness and corruptive power of friendship. In particular, the author presents how unrewarding and challenging the life of immigrant farmers in California is. George and Lennie are dreaming of finding their own farm in California. Actually, they were tempted by the promise of the longer growing season, more opportunities to harvest, the wider range of crops and mild climate. Nonetheless, despite these promises, Steinbeck illustrates that very few found California a land of opportunities and dreams coming true.
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The idea of American Dream and its complete failure is central to the novel. The American Dream is something that every worker was willing to achieve – liberty, financial stability, untarnished happiness, and self-reliance. The relations of George Milton and Lennie Small are centered on American Dream which they defined as “Someday…get the jack together…have a little house and a couple of acres…”. (p.16) George believes that one eventual day their dream of owning a farm will come true, and everything they have to do is to save money. George even argues, “’S’pose they was a carnival or a circus come to town, or a ball game, or any damn thing…We’d just go to her”. (p.61) It indicates that American Dream is the obsession for George who is striving for being free and self-reliant, for being able to go everywhere he would like. The farm itself is the core of American Dream. George describes it a few acres of land, on which they are supposed to grow their food, and on which they will find untarnished happiness. Farm seduces the characters making them believe in the possibility of idyllic life. Candy is drawn by the dream, and even Crooks hopes that he will be allowed to live there. A farm is presented as the paradise for men who are willing to become the masters of their lives and to protect themselves from cruelties of the world.
Most of the characters admit to dreaming of a different life at one or another point. For example, Curley’s wife says she is willing to become a movie star; Crooks says he is willing to have a patch of garden on Lennie’s farm; and Candy seems to latch on George’s idea of owning a couple of acres. However, what makes all the dreams typically American? The answer is simple: all characters dream of untarnished happiness, self-reliance, and freedom to follow own desires. George and Lennie dream of a farm as it will give them an opportunity to sustain themselves, and to offer protection from the inhospitable environment. Their journey is of prototypically American ideal when George awakens that dream is impossible and admits Crook is right: the paradise of safety, liberty, and contentment can’t be found in the world.
Nonetheless, the author symbolically points American Dream fails as the realistic possibility: “…the cream is so God damn thick you have to cut it with a knife and take it out with a spoon”. (p.57) Further, when Lennie claims they need different colored rabbits, George says: “Sure we will. Red and green and blue rabbits Lennie. Millions of ‘em” (p.18) Through this ideas Steinbeck reflects on the impossibility of dream and defines it as unattainable and unrealistic. Even Crooks argues, “I have seen hundreds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an’ that same damn thing in their heads . . . every damn one of ’em’s got a little piece of land in his head. Never a God damn one of ’em ever gets it. Just like heaven. Ever’body wants a little piece of land’... Nobody gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land”. (p.73) Thus, American Dream remains unaccomplished even by the end of the novel. The authors show George and Lennie come close to their dream, but they are still unsatisfied. Curley’s wife admits that “better be the head of a dog than the tail of a lion”. (p.88) American Dream was the failed effort for many to be the tail of the lion.
In the novel, John Steinbeck shows that the nature of human existence is predatory and one cares only of oneself when it comes to survival. George, Lennie, Crooks, Curley’s wife and Candy face a profound sense of isolation and loneliness. They desire the comfort of friends, although they will settle for the attentive ear of the strangers. Steinbeck shows human nature is cruel and reckless. For example, Curley’s wife admits her marriage is unhappy; Crooks admits life is no good without having a companion when you are in need or confusion. Isolation and loneliness make characters helpless, but still, they tend to destroy the weakest. The strongest example of human cruelty is when Crooks mocks at Lennie’s dream to own a farm. Crooks stresses that Lennie is nothing without George and he will always depend on his decisions and dreams. So, how can he accomplish his own dream if something happens to George? Crook realizes he is vulnerable as he is African-American with a crooked back, but he prefers to indicate Lennie’s weaknesses to zero his own. In this scene, the author reveals the profound human truth that oppression is not always associated with the strongest hands. Crooks feels he is strong and powerful when he reduces Lennie to tears and he seems to really enjoy Lennie’s fear that something terrible may happen to George. The same situation is with Curley’s wife when she feels strong threatening have Crooks lynched. Steinbeck concludes that the most visible kind of strength to oppress others is born of weakness.
Further, Steinbeck reflects on idealized male friendship and fraternity stressing that even their friendship is based on the dream. The tragic end of Lennie and George’s friendship has the profound impact on the overall themes of the novel as it symbolizes collapse of their dreams. Steinbeck is willing to show that dreams and desires seem to value more for George and Lennie than true friendship. Actually, they think that are real friends but are they?. Crooks points out that the farm, where George and Lennie are planning to live, is provided with a magic quality as it is a place that no one has ever reached. When Candy hears the description, she is drawn by its magic, but Crooks says he has witnessed countless cases when men fell under the same attractiveness of magic. The men in the novel try to come together as it gives them an opportunity to be like brothers. They promise to live with one another’s interests and needs in mind, to offer one another protection and to ensure that there is someone in the world who remains devoted to protecting them from the inhospitable environment: “Not many guys travel around together” (p.16). However, they simply idealize their friendship as far as their living conditions are harsh and lonely: “A path beaten hard by boys… and beaten hard by tramps who came wearily down from the highway in the evening to jungle – up near water “ and “ an ash pile made by many fires”. (p.12) Such idealized friendship can’t survive in the predatory and harsh world, and when George and Lennie come closest to their ideal of brotherhood, tragic reality forces them to separate. As a result, rare friendship vanishes remaining not appreciated and acknowledged.
In the novel “Of Mice and Men” John Steinbeck vividly represents the complete failure of American Dream stressing that idealized friendship, differences in life positions and predatory nature of human existence cause American Dream to collapse. The world is harsh and cruel,l and it is hardly possible for characters to live with one another’s interests and needs in head. The heroes are seduced by the land of opportunities, but they fail to consider reality: not everything in the world that seems close and realistic is attainable. Despite efforts, dream often remains unaccomplished. Steinbeck concludes that friendship based only on material accomplishments or vague dreams can’t survive in the harsh world.
Steinbeck, John. (1993). Of Mice and Men (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century). UK: Penguin Non-Classics.
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