In "Of Mice And Men"
The novel “Of Mice And Men”( the title a fragment from the ode by Robert Burns the Scottish Poet),was written by John Steinbeck, born 27 February 1902, in Salina’s Valley. It is a very powerful story of life and humanity, giving emphasis to the vanity of human desires. Like most of Steinbeck’s works it deals realistically with the people and times, showing struggles that are gruelling and harsh but incredibly factual, although sensitive to the needs and feelings of the common people. In the novel he is not hopeful for their success as “best laid schemes/ Gang aft a-protray’s”( often go wrong). In “Of Mice And Men”, much as its realistic there are elements of Cruelty and Kindness involving various characters. The following piece of work examines and analyzes elements of Cruelty and Kindness in Steinbeck’s Novella “Of Mice And Men”.
In the 1930s ranch hands were men who sought work and a sense of stability, amidst the Great Depression. It was a time in American History wherein many farmers and farm workers found themselves exiled, due to the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, their farms abandoned as they’d become barren. These people as a result became drifters seeking jobs, and a hope for the future, they believed in the “American Dream”. Each man dreamt, of having a little farm or plot of land where they’d live off the “fat of the land”, without constantly moving around. A dream of a better world; equal opportunities; escapism from poverty and starvation; political and religious freedom.
George and Lennie are drifters, seeking work where available, a common feature in many of Steinbeck’s novels and very well defined as a focal point in this particular novel. Lennie can’t keep a job, “ lose me ever’ job I get. Jus keep shoving’ all over the country all the time”. Eventually they find work on a ranch in California’s Salina’s Valley, but their hopes are doomed as Lennie , struggling against extreme cruelty, misunderstanding and feelings of jealousy becomes a victim of his own strength, “done a bad thing”.
The two main characters in “Of Mice And Men” are George and Lennie. George is the brain whereas Lennie is the brawn, due to the fact that Lennie is mentally deficient, “They walked in single file down the path and even in the open one stayed behind the other”. Immediately it’s clear who the master is, George is responsible for both of them and ensures they get from one job to the next.
George is “small and quick …with restless eyes…sharp, strong features”. He is sharp and quick to temper, “we could…rode clear…bastard bus driver…God damn near four miles…too God damn lazy to pull up”. Although George is a kind, moral, compassionate and intelligent man, he is exhausted from the trials and tribulations that are part and parcel of this life he lives.
Lennie is polar to George, he’s described as being a big man with unusual feature’s, “shapeless of face…wide sloping shoulders …walked heavily, dragging his feet the way a bear drags his paws”, “snorting into the water like a horse”. Although he is mentally deficient he depends on, and trusts George to keep him on the straight and narrow and remind him of what he is supposed to be doing. Other people can’t understand this companionship until they hear Lennie speak and then they see that he is a child in a man’s body. Lennie is a kindhearted person. At the ranch in Soledad they meet:
Candy who is the swamper, he is responsible for looking after the bunk-house; it is here introductions to most of the other characters occurs. He is described as a “tall, stoop-shouldered old man”with “a round stick-like waist, but no hand, and “bristly white whiskers”. Candy feels inadequate as his only use is to carry out menial tasks. He is devoted to his old dog, “I’m so used to ’im”thus these two provide a parallel to George and Lennies relationship.
Curley is the Boss’s son, he is a small, spoilt, arrogant and discontented man. A selfish, jealous man with no sense of identity due to his own insecurities and those concerning his wife. He is a man full of self importance, lacking confidence who likes to portray himself as an uppercut above the hired hands, “alla …picking scraps with big guys”. A brutal man capable of immense cruelty, both mentally and physically.
Curley’s Wife is a major character in “Of Mice And Men”, who eventually leads to the downfall of Lennie. Although a beautiful young woman, she is a misunderstood, and described as a “tart”and “jail bait”. She dreams of being in the “Pitchers”, a flirtatious woman who is lonely. A naïve young woman, who recognises her sexuality as her only weapon and the only thing that will get her noticed “standing…doorway… her body thrown forward”. A woman capable of cruelty through ignorance.
Slim is a Jerk-line skinner on the ranch, he is a tall thoughtful man who drives the mules. He is well respected amongst his employers and fellow workers, to the point his opinion “…was taken on any subject…”; “Stetson hat…..moved with a majesty… achieved by royalty…master craftsmen…prince of the ranch”. A quiet, confident, intelligent man who is a good listener and comfortable within himself, a moral arbiter.
Crooks is the sole black-man on the ranch. He is described as a “proud, aloof man…his eyes lay deep in his head,…seemed to glitter with intensity…lean face…deep black wrinkles…thin…pain-tightened lips…”. However, he carries a double burden of being a black man in America as well as being a partial cripple: “His body was bent over to the left by his crooked spine,”.A lonely man “..guy needs somebody…a guy ..lonely…an’…sick”, a man who would like a bit of stability for the unforeseeable future.
Cruelty takes many forms and there are subtle hints about how people feel towards one another. One example is when George tells Lennie, “…You was gonna leave your big flapper shut and leave me do the talkin’. Damn near lost us the job…you keep your big flapper shut.” Outwardly this is cruel considering Lennie is a gentle mannered, simple man. As George really loves Lennie the reader seemingly accepts this verbal outburst, as in everyday life with a parent or guardian the fringes of patience can be frayed also desperate times called for desperate measures.
Crooks endured racial cruelty because of his colour, even the Boss gives “the stable buck hell”when he’s mad at other everyday aspects on the ranch. The fact that he is considered low enough as a human to be placed not with other men, but rather with horses says something about the prejudices against blacks, although he is treated well by the ranchmen and has a good life in comparison to some blacks in the same period. We can see how racism is still present from some of the things Crooks tells us in when he is talking to Lennie about why he isn’t allowed in the bunkhouse: “’Cause I’m black. They play cards in there but I can’t play because I’m black. They say I stink.”. This means he has to spend all his time reading books, alone, because there are no other African-Americans on the ranch. He tries to show Lennie how he feels by comparing Lennie’s life without George to Crooks’ own life now: “S’pose you didn’t have nobody. S’pose you couldn’t go into the bunkhouse and play rummy ‘cause you was black…S’pose you had to sit out here an’ read books…Books ain’t no good. A guy needs somebody-to be near him…I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an’ he gets sick.”
Ignorance is another way through which cruelty can be seen as displayed by Curley’s Wife. At one point when she is searching for company, she finds Lennie, and Candy along with Crooks in his room, she says, “An’ what am I doin’;? Standin’ here talkin’ to a bunch of bindle stiffs-a nigger an’ a dum-dum and a lousy ol’ sheep-an’-likin’ it because ain’t nobody else. Later she says to Crooks, “Well you keep your place then Nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny”. She is an ignorant woman, who is behaving cruelly, possibly because her husband is treating her cruelly. In this instance she reduces Crooks to nothing by demeaning and demoralising him. Crooks could not change the colour of his skin any more than Curleys Wife could change her uneducated ways, pointing out to Crooks that once again he was inferior subject with no influence.
Within the novel various aspects of kindness are shown. George is Lennie’s guardian and always looking out for him.They have a great friendship bond, George organizes Lennie’s life and reassures him about their future, and provides him with meals, he also takes care of Lennie’s work card. Also George points out to Lennie that the water in the pool “looks kinda scummy”. George looks after Lennies well being by getting rid of the dead mouse, “Aw, Lennie …I ain’t takin’ it away for meanness. That mouse ain’t fresh, Lennie…”.Lennie admires George because he’s smart and clever, if he sees George do something he always tries to imitate it and do exactly the same, “drew up …knees….looked over to George to see….it just right”. George and Lennie have a different relationship than other ranch hands, “ …I got you to look after me, and you…look….after you”
Candy is devoted entirely to his dog which is a canine form of Candy himself, being very old, ‘stiff with rheumatism’, smelly and equally devoted to Candy. Like Candy, before his old age he was a good working dog, but now he has been reduced to a shadow of his former self-‘a drag-footed sheep dog, gray of muzzle, and with pale, blind old eyes’. Candy and his dog are reliant on each other and provide a parallel to George and Lennie’s master-dog relationship. His dog is shot by another ranch hand, believing it to be the kindest thing for the dog, which it probably was. Candy is devastated and lost without his dog, and this is when his loneliness really sets in. There is little future left for him, except misery and a life of being alone, and he tries valiantly to change this by buying into Lennie and George’s dream. “Suppose I went in with you guys. Tha’s three hundred an’ fifty bucks I’d put in.” He is desperate for friendship and the only way he can see to get that friendship is by ‘buying’ into one already forged. George and Lennie allow this as it will put them a step closer to their dream, giving Candy a purpose and hope in life.
The kindest, yet most devastating, act in the story comes at the end when George must kill Lennie to protect him from a reality he would never be able to comprehend or handle. Just before the end George tells Lennie; “everybody gonna be nice to you. Ain’t gonna be no more trouble. Nobody gonna hurt nobody”, then he tells him , “I ain’t mad. I never been mad. I ain’t mad now. That’s a thing I want ya to know”Here one sees the presentation of a very difficult and important yet sacrificial act of kindness.Although the ending of this novel is very sad and people might think that the killing of Lennie was cruel they have to consider the other side of reality. If Lennie had been incarcerated he wouldn’t have been able to accept or comprehend the situation. Lennie’s dream was to “tend rabbits”, and there would have been no comparison between the two. George once again proved his love for Lennie by saving him from a worse fate, and doing what was best for Lennie even though he’d have to live with the fact he killed his best friend.
When all is said and done, nothing can ever be the same again. George has lost his companion and best friend and with his death their dream. George is devastated and Slim consoles him, “ A guy got to sometimes”. George is now a lonely migrant worker like the rest of the ranch hands. Candy and Crooks have lost their dream of a place of their own- security and a hope for the future.George and Candy are similar victims of the twists which fortune presents for mankind; they suspect anything that looks good. Lennie and Curley’s wife represent a different view of reality.
Both dream their impossible dreams and are unable to relate them to the realistic situation they are in. Lennie does not know his own strength or how to control it; Curley’s wife can only think of life as movie glamour and happy-ever-after; she’s too caught up in fantasy even to realize the threat Lennie poses to her unhappy life. Of course, despite Lennie’s death, George could very well decide to persevere in his dream, and take Candy on as his new partner. The relationship between George and Lennie, however, suggests this is not likely. The former is out of patience with his relentlessly confused companion; he frequently complains that there is no reason to put up with such stupidity as Lennie’s. However, he does, for they are tied to each other as body is tied to soul. When the body dies, a victim of the cruelties of daily reality, the soul is left to wander by itself. It is my opinion that for this reason George will remain alone. The aspect of the novel I remember the most is when George has to kill his best friend and companion. It was a hard decision for him to undertake but Lennie died happy and content with visions of his dream and tending his rabbits. I found that the cruelty was over powering and extreme, also that cruelty overshadowed Lennie and his kindness who through his child-like mannerisms knew no better. I very much liked this novel as I got a mental picture of the characters from the storyline, and found the language from that era added to the realism of the novel and enabled me to understand how they felt as the events took place.