In his 1937 novel, Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck explores the hopes and dreams of the characters against the reality they are faced with living and are each trying to survive. Through the characters of George, Candy and Crooks, Steinbeck explores the realities of loneliness and powerlessness, and discrimination towards race, disability and age that these characters face and their hopes and dreams for a better life, independence, security and respect to overcome those obstacles.
George, a main character, is sick of working for others and not being his own boss. George’s dream to own his own small farm and “live of the fatta the lan” (page 16) is repeated throughout the novel. George’s wants to own a farm so he can have independence and not have to answer to anyone. George wants to be able to “… put in a crop … [and] know what come of [his] planting” (page 65).
When Candy offered to help buy the farm, George begins to think this dream could happen and “[t]his thing they had never really believed in was coming true” (page 67). However, George’s dream to own a farm is short-lived when he decides to shoot Lennie after Lennie killed Curley’s Wife. When George discovered that Lennie killed Curley’s Wife and Candy asks him if they can still get the farm, George tells Candy “I think I knowed from the very first. I think I knowed we’d never do her” (page 107). George tells Candy that “’ll work my month an’ I’ll take my fifty bucks ... An’ then I’ll come back an’ work another month an’ I’ll have fifty bucks more” (page 107) which seems to be George giving up on his dream and resigning himself to the fact that he will not gain independence nor be his own boss.
The character Crooks is faced with discrimination towards his race and the isolation he feels because of that discrimination. Crooks is the only black man on the ranch. He is not allowed to live in the bunkhouse with the other white men or play cards with them, but instead stays in his own room and reads books and has no-one to talk to. Crooks tells Lennie “I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an’ he gets sick” (page 82). When Candy tells Crooks about buying a farm with George and Lennie, Crooks ask to join the farm telling Candy “… If you … guys would want a hand to work for nothing – just his keep, why I’ld come an’ lend a hand” (pp 86, 87). If Crooks was part of the farm, he might not be as alone or discriminated against. When Crooks realises that George did not want any knowing about buying the farm, Crooks withdraws his offer to Candy to work on the farm, telling Candy “I didn’t mean it. Jus’ foolin’. I wouldn’t want to go no place like that” (page 94). While Crooks wanted to be a part of the dream of the farm, the reality of this dream was short-lived for Crooks.
Candy’s character is facing the reality of old age and suffers from disability as he has lost a hand on the range. Candy old dog has also been put-down which makes Candy lonely. When Candy learns of George and Lennie’s dream to buy a farm, he offers to put his own money in to help buy the farm. Candy wants to be part of this dream as it will provide him security because he is old and fears that we will eventually be put out of work if he stays on the ranch. The dream of being part of the farm also helps Candy cope with the loneliness he feels having lost his beloved dog. After Lennie kills Curley’s Wife, Candy still wants the dream of the farm to happen and Candy asks George “You an’ me can get that little place, can’t we, George? You an’ me can go there an’ live nice, can’t we, George? Can’t we” (page 107). As with the dreams of George and Crooks, it seems like fate and forces out of the Candy’s control (being Lennie killing Curley’s Wife) put and end to Candy’s dream and his hopes of escaping his fear of being put out of work because of his age and physical handicap.
While the hopes and dreams held by the characters George, Crooks and Candy do help them survive the reality of their situations of powerlessness, discrimination and loneliness, by giving them something to look forward, the reader sees that those dreams are short-lived and not realised by the novel’s end. This leaves the reader wondering if these characters will ever realise their dreams of independence and security and freedom from isolation and discrimination, or whether they will give up on their dreams.