Thursday, April 15, 2021

Of Mice and Men

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Of Mice and Men

I found the novel 'Of Mice and Men' by John Steinbeck an inspirational read as it has made me aware of the importance of dreams. It is also a story of defeated hope, which illustrates the idea that dreams can be beneficial, but unrealistic dreams just lead to disappointment and grief.

The story concerns two migrant workers who go to work on a ranch. They have aspirations of acquiring their own piece of land on which to make a living but sadly their failure is almost destined.

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Steinbeck creates the idea that the characters in this story live difficult lives and need dreams to give them something to look forward to during times of depression.

The story is set in the 10's when America was suffering an economic depression. Unemployment and poverty were very high with jobs scarce. Unskilled agricultural workers bore the brunt of it with machinery being used more and more as identified by George. 'I seen thrashin' machines on the way down. That means we'll be bucking grain bags.' George and Lennie were going between jobs aimlessly and their dream provided the drive to keep going. The dream also gave them something to look forward to during dismal times. 'I wish't we'd get the rabbits pretty soon.' This shows Lennie's optimism about the dream and his full belief in its happening. I felt sympathy for these men because they work really hard at their jobs but don't seem to get anywhere.

This proves that during the time the story was set, life could get very strenuous but dreams could successfully be used to repel despair.

Steinbeck introduces the use of dreams through the characters of George and Lennie who hope for their own land to put an end to their aimless ventures from ranch to ranch, so they can settle down and live an easy life.

George and Lennie dreamt of acquiring some land that they could call their own. Candy best sums up this desire as 'Everybody wants a bit of land, not much. Just something that was his.' I didn't think the dream was particularly demanding or greedy, in fact I believe that we would have taken most of it for granted. I think the main part of the dream for George was to be his own boss. The idea of wanting individuality is shown in the statement, 'Live off the fatta the land.' Along with this dream he hopes to form a relationship. 'Get a girl' Lennie on the other hand has totally different expectations from the dream. 'Let's have different colour rabbits.' But it is obvious that both men desire the same thing a better life. The short-term effect the dream has on the men is very clear, especially on Lennie. Lennie is significantly motivated by it upon hearing it from George. George successfully expresses this as ' You get a kick outta that, don't you.' Lennie being of a child-like mentality believes in what he hears so when George tells him about the dream, it is not a question about 'if' but 'when' it is going to happen. The dream somehow takes these men away from reality as their depression and problems momentarily vanish. I felt happy for these two men because their dream seems to lift them from unhappiness. I also felt glad for them because they both share the same dream and work together to try and achieve it.

Steinbeck has clearly shown that both men don't live desirable lifestyles and that they both aspire to obtain a piece of land to live off. He also demonstrates the effectiveness of having dreams as they give his characters a more positive outlook on their lives.

From an early stage Steinbeck makes the failure of George and Lennie's dream inevitable.

The first indications of this failure are revealed when Lennie's mental deficiencies are demonstrated - he has no morals and is extremely forgetful. When he is handling the dead mouse he cannot appreciate that doing so is wrong. 'I wasn't doing nothing bad with it.' This proves he cannot distinguish between right and wrong, which seriously challenges the success of the dream. We are given more doubts when we learn of Lennie's actions in Weed. 'You ain't gonna do no bad things like done in Weed.' When George says this he is almost tempting fate, and when Curley's wife is introduced, I began to feel pessimistic about the dream. Considering what Lennie did in Weed, Curley's wife was a major threat; she was a problem just waiting to happen. George described her as 'Jail Bait'. Throughout the book Steinbeck develops the idea of the dream's inevitable destruction. He does this by following every positive event with something negative. A prime example of this is when Candy's fortune brings the dream closer to reality when immediately afterwards Lennie gets into a fight. I think Steinbeck was trying to emphasise the fact that the dream was never going to happen.

Steinbeck's technique of matching positive happenings with negative events made it clear to me that the failure of these two men was imminent.

Candy needs his dream to give him confidence as his physical state has made him insecure over his job.

This insecurity is shown when he meets George and Lennie. He speaks admiringly about the boss even although this may not be his true feelings. He said he 'Gets pretty mad sometimes, but he's pretty nice.' This is immediately followed by praise about what he did at Christmas, which made me think that he was trying to be very careful about what he says as not to lose his job. He can't afford to take any risks because he is crippled and has no family or anywhere to go. However once he is united with the dream his attitude towards the boss, Curley and Curley's wife dramatically changes. He is no longer apprehensive as he now has the dream farm as a safeguard. The dream offered him a place to live and work with no worries about being sacked and left stranded. This newfound confidence and relaxed demeanour is demonstrated during the heated talks the men had with Curley preceding the fight. "Glove fulla vaseline' he said disgustedly.' This shows that the dream has removed his fears and problems in life, which adds to my feeling that dreams play a major role in this story. The effect the dream has on him is so great that he even challenges Curley's wife. 'If you was to do that we'd tell… we'd tell about you framing Crooks.' However, this confidence and assurance is short-lived as reality strikes when Lennie kills Curley's wife. This is proven when he started to cry. 'His eyes blinded with tears.' I believe that he wasn't crying for Curley's wife but for the fact that the dream would now be impossible thus making him insecure again over his uncertain future.

This furthermore reveals the importance of dreams in this story as a complete contrast is shown in the character of Candy. He was initially depicted as anxious but after becoming part of the dream his characterisation changes and he becomes a confident and relaxed person.

Crooks the coloured stable-buck was victim to racial prejudice and needed the dream to combat his solitude.

During the 10's, there was a high degree of racial prejudice in society and blacks were treated as lower class citizens. This forced Crooks to separate himself from the rest of the workers and he has become the loneliest guy on the ranch. This is the opposite from his childhood when he says he used to be very close with his brothers. 'They was always near me, always there, used to sleep right in the same room, right in the same bed all three.' Now he has nobody for company and it hurts him. ' A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody.' Steinbeck tells us that Crooks possesses a copy of the California Civil Code 105. I believe he has this because he is desperate to discover any rights he has to become accepted amongst the men. When he sees his opportunity to be part of the dream he becomes a different person. The prospect of friendship and companionship allows him to make the initial attempt to bridge the gap between black and white. The way in which he asks suggests he is feeling extremely awkward in doing so. 'I'd come an' lend a hand,' I felt that this was a very brave thing to do considering the racial tension in society. Therefore the dream for companionship must have been really important to him. If the dream were to succeed it would put an end to his misery and he would be able to live properly and be treated equally. Immediately the dream seems to have an effect on him. He becomes more confident and sticks up for himself. This is shown when he challenges Curley's wife. 'Now you jus' get out, an' get out quick.' Unfortunately when he realises the dream is a non-starter he draws back and becomes miserable again. The reason his dream's failure was inevitable was because he has spent the majority of his life separating himself from whites so it is non-sensical and naïve to expect a complete change to occur. Also, the amount of racial prejudice would prove too much to overcome. I sympathise for the character of Crooks because he was made optimistic about an enjoyable future only to have it ripped away from him. However, I do believe that he dreams of equal rights and this helps him through periods of dismal solitude.

This furthermore shows the importance of dreams and the effects they can have. It also demonstrates the defeated hope that Steinbeck has created throughout the story.

Curley's wife was central to the destruction of the main dream but she herself also had dreams for support during difficult times.

Despite being depicted as a lively, social and outgoing person, I believe that she is suffering from a great deal of loneliness. She is trapped on a ranch with a bunch of men and her husband who she doesn't even love. 'I don't like Curley. He ain't a nice fella.' She dresses provocatively which I think is a lame attempt to get attention to remove her solitude. I understand that her dream for fame and fortune gives her support during depressing times. When she speaks to Lennie about her dream she speaks with such a level of excitement that her belief in the dream appears to be very serious. 'Her words tumbled out in a passion of communication.' This proves that her dream meant a lot to her and had an effect on her life. However, Steinbeck also makes the failure of this dream inevitable. We are told that she met two guys from show business who said she had a lot of talent and that they would write to her. I believe that they were just being friendly to make her feel good and they were never going to write to her. I think she was searching for something that was never there which made the destruction of her dream inevitable.

Through the character of Curley's wife Steinbeck has again shown the impact that dreams have on people's lives and has continued the idea of defeated hope.

After studying ' Of Mice and Men' by John Steinbeck, I am of the opinion that the purpose of the novel was to convey the idea that dreams are an important part of our lives. Dreams give people something to look forward to and can produce the drive needed to get through difficult times. In the book every dream failed and I think the reason Steinbeck did this was to make the point that dreams can also produce negative outcomes. If dreams are far too unrealistic and their failure is destined, they just leave people in a state of grief. I believe Steinbeck has written this story on a parallel with the poem 'To a Mouse' by Robert Burns.

'The best laid scenes o' mice and men going aft agley'

'And leave us nought but pain and grief for promised joy'

This is basically saying that the best made plans result in disaster and only leave disappointment. So in conclusion I believe Steinbeck was trying to convey the idea that dreams are essential to have but warns us not to set our expectations too high or we will just be left in a state of disenchantment.

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