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Does Steinbeck reflect a desperate society or does he offer some hope and optimism in his novel “Of Mice and Men”
In Steinbeck’s novel ” Of Mice and Men” there are many different characters each expressing there own opinion on whether they are living in a desperate society or that there is indeed some hope and optimism in the world around them. At the time the book was set, which is in the 1930’s great American depression, many people were unemployed and jobs were hard to come by. Steinbeck’s novel centres around the exploits and happenings of a few men, and one women, at the time of this great depression. Steinbeck shows how the most unusual friendships can be created in the mist of this depression and sadness. Such as the strong friendship between Lennie and George. Which in the end, drove George to kill Lennie for his own good. Some characters such as Lennie show how many people at this time had dreams of owning there own piece of land and being able to retire in peace with no one to tell them what to do. This reflects the view of optimism and hope in the book. However some characters such as Crooks see the world around them as desperate and solitary. Crooks believes that no ones dream will come true and that nothing will ever get better, this is shown in the line, ” Nobody ever gets to heaven, and nobody never gets no land.” (page 106) He also says that Lennie’s dream will always stay as a dream and will never come true. The novel ” Of Mice and Men” on the whole gives many views of hope and optimism and many views of the characters in the book living in a desperate society. I believe that the book balances itself out and that there are equal amounts of each view. The book being as equally optimistic as it is pessimistic. I will discuss how Steinbeck shows these views through his selection of characters and scene settings over the next few paragraphs.
At the time the book Of Mice and Men is set many people in America and other countries had a very pessimistic outlook on life. The book reflects this view in its character opinions and scene settings. From 1929 to 1939 there were failed businesses, harsh poverty and many people were in long term unemployment. Many people made the migration to California looking for work. Most travelled alone, however, in the case of Lennie and George they travelled together. This is evident when George says, ” We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us.” (page 32). Here George is saying how that he and Lennie are different from the rest of the no-hopers in the world around them and that they have a chance to make things better for themselves because they with always have each other. In some cases in the book there is a pessimistic side to Lennie and George’s friendship. The line said by George ” Hide in the brush till I come for you.” (page 34). George repeats this statement about hiding in the brush until he comes many times, to emphasise the point to Lennie. This is suggesting that George does not trust Lennie and that he believes he will do something wrong in the near future. Therefore giving the impression that George believes that the society they are living in is desperate and that Lennie will make the same mistakes over and over again. Another example of how George and Lennie’s friendship sometimes reflects a desperate society is how George says “You crazy son of a bitch.” (page 29). This is when George is reflecting on how he could have a much better life without Lennie with him all the time. Also in this section, George shows some compassion for Lennie. After he has finished shouting at Lennie we get the line, “He looked ashamedly at Lennie’s anguished face through the flames” and also the line, “Poor Bastard”. This is showing us how George now feels sorry for Lennie and maybe he realises that he is lucky to have a friend in this desperate society, therefore reflecting some hope and optimism in the book. With George now thinking that he may be able to get to that imaginary piece of land with his friend, which for the moment only exists inside the head of Lennie and George.
Moving on to section two we see how the Candy like to gossip a lot. Saying things like, “Last guy that had this bed was a blacksmith” and ” Used to wash his hands even before he ate” (page 39). This is unimportant information and just general gossip. This could show how the society is desperate because it shows how the Candy is lonely and doesn’t get to speak to many people. So when there is someone to speak to he seizes the chance to make the most of the conversation. Candy does have one friend though, an old dog. This further emphasises the lonely, desperate environment which the men live in. It shows how Candy has to resort to having an animal as a friend because he knows that an animal will not answer him back and that his dog will always be there, unlike a human at this time which may go off and leave him.
Later on in the book (page 124) we see how Curley’s wife has no friends, not even her husband. She is all alone on the ranch being the only women and finds it hard to talk to people. She wants to communicate with people, this is shown in the line “passion of communication.” This is a pessimistic view of the desperate society around her. In another sentence though, Curley’s wife shows some hope and optimism in the way that she describes her dream in the line, ” He was gona put me in the movies” and in the line ” I coulda made somethin of myself.” She then goes on to say “Maybe I will” (page 124). This shows that Curley’s wife does indeed have some hope and optimism and believes that maybe one day her dream of being a star will come true.
Slim is the character in the book who is described as being the one who is always right. He is quite high up the chain of command on the ranch but still dresses the same as the other working men. This means that quite a few people seem to like him. He comments on how it is unusual at this time for two people to go around with each other searching for work (page 57). This shows how Slim may believe that the society around him is desperate and not many people have friendships as good as Lennie and George’s Friendship. Slim does not seem to have a dream in the book. He just keeps working and working until he gets a stake. Then he goes into town and spends it. His life seems constant and monotonous. This could be seen as a positive side to Slim in that nothing will ever get worse in his life, or it could be seen as a pessimistic comment in that his life will never get any better than what it is like at the moment.
Crooks has no friends and this is because he is black. At the time the book was written the people in society were very racist and not many people would make friends with a person who is black. Crooks believes that hardly any of the characters in the book will ever get to live there dream. With Crooks having no friends it seems to give the impression that he is living in a desperate society. In one case however, Crooks seems to have some hope and optimism in that for one moment Crooks seems to believe that Lennie’s and George’s dream may come true. This is evident in that line, “Maybe I could help washin dishes or somethin”. This line shows how he is starting to believe that the dream may come true because he is now saying in this line that there dream is actually going to come true and he is just asking if he could lend a hand. This would give Crooks something to look forward to and thus representing some hope and optimism in Crook’s life. Curley seems not to have many friends either. He is the bosses son and therefore I believe that people would be scared to make friends with him incase they did something wrong and they got “canned” The men on the ranch also seem to have a hatred for Curley because of the way he acts cocky because of his position (he is the bosses son). This is shown in the line, ” I hate his guts.” (page 60). This is showing not just a dislike for Curley but a hatred for him and this feeling seems to be felt by most of the men on the ranch. This shows a pessimistic view on society in that people tend not just to dislike a person but to have a hatred for them.
Carlson is someone on the ranch who is not mentioed much in terms of friendship. The only scene we can pick out is the scene where he is about to shoot Candy’s dog. He seems to make an enemy of most of the people in the room by wanting to shoot Candy’s only true friend. He then tries to make up for this by saying, “You can have one of my pups if ya want Candy” (page 77). In this line he is trying to make people like him again and he may also feel sorry for Candy. He may also feel guilt at this time aswell. This shows a pessimistic outlook on life because it shows how hatred and guilt were common feelings at this time in American history.
In the book Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck uses the characters perseption of loneliness and fear to show how this time in American history was very solitary. Most of this section is showing how the characters in the book live in a desperate society, but there are some dreams of always having somebody there to talk to and this represents hope and optimism.
Possible the loneliest character in the book is Crooks. At the time the book was set in the 1930’s American depression there was a lot of racism. White men would not socialise with black men and this shows through in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Crooks is considered an outcast and when all of the men go to town they leave Lennie, Candy and Crooks behind. This symbolises how at this time period if you went “normal” then you were coincided an outcast. Lennie being not very bright, Candy being very old and Crooks being Black. This shows how the society at this time was desperate and that many people were lonely. Curley’s wife emphasises this point by saying, ” IM stand-in here talkin to a bunch of bindle stiffs, a nigger and a dumdum and likin it.” (page 111) This also shows how lonely Curley’s wife is. She is saying how she is stood there talking to these three outcasts because she has no choice and there is no one else around that she could speak to.This is showing how she is lonely and there is no one of her mental and, indeed of her own gender on the ranch to talk to. This is showing a desperate society because it shows how women who lived on ranches at this time were lonely and isolated. There is also a positive side to Curley’s wife’s lack of friends and loneliness in the book. Curley’s wife still strives to have some one to talk to and this is expressed in the line, “Passion of communication” (page 124) This shows how she is still optimistic in how she still dreams of having this passion of communication and this reflects hope and optimism in Curley’s wife. Most of the characters in the book are lonely in some way. Although Lennie and George have each other, George lacks someone of his intellectual understanding to talk to and Lennie lacks someone of his low mental ability to talk to about his dream of owning rabbits and owning a farm of his own. Candy was not lonely at the start of the book because he had his faithful dog to keep him company. At the end of the book though Candy is left feeling quite lonely because when his dog gets shot he loses the friend he has known for the longest. With these people all being lonely in one sense or another it gives the impression that the society is very desperate at this time.
Dreams are something which feature heavily throughout Of Mice and Men. Each character has there own dream and this section will be largely full of optimism and hope.
Lennie has the most prolific dream which runs right from the beginning to the end of the story. His constant need to be reminded by George of the story about where they go to live on a farm together with rabbits, this is shown in the line, “Tell me again George, tell me about the rabbits.” (Numerous pages throughout the book) This line also symbolises Lennie’s constant need to be reminded of why he is working and why he is doing all this hard labour. In Lennie’s simplistic mind he believes whole heatedly that his dream of owning the rabbits will come true eventually and this shows great optimism and hope in the way that Lennie thinks. George shares this dream with Lennie of owning the land, but he does not believe in it as whole heatedly as Lennie does. George is seen as the father figure and therefore more intelligent and practical about the way things are, he knows that the dream that they both share is out of reach and that it will never come true but he is hopeful and optimistic for Lennie’s sake, just like a father would be towards a child.
Crooks has a dream to be like all the others on the ranch. He has a dream of being accepted and having the rights that any normal human being should have. He shows that he is proud of the rights that he does have at the moment, which although are very few are very important to him. This is shown in the section of the book were Lennie and candy go into Crook’s room. Crooks states, “You got no right to come in my room … Nobody got any right in here except me.” (page 99)
Curley,Slim or Carlson do not seem to show any dreams in the book and this could be counted as optamistic and hopeful in nothing will ever get worse or it coould be counted as a symbol of a desperate society in that nothing will ever get better.
Curley’s wife has two dreams. These being that she wants to talk to otheres, most probably women as she has lacked talking to another woman for a long time, this is shown in the line, “passion of communication” (page ??). Curley’s wifes other dream is to be a star in Hollywood. Her dreams are mainly optamistic in that she believes in themm fully. This is shown in the line, “Maybe I will” (page ??). This is when she is talking to Lennie about her dream of being a movie star and she says that maybe she will be a movie star yet. This shows great optamism and hope in Curley’s wife’s character.
The surroundings in Of Mice and Men are constant throughout. This shows how although the characters change dramaticly throught the course of the book nature always stays the same. Many thing which are at the start of the book such as, “Words
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