A major problem and issue with today’s world is loneliness and the many ways it can be cultivated by society. John Steinbeck explores this idea in his historical fiction novel, Of Mice and Men through three different characters that show three different literary elements of loneliness. These characters live on a farm in Soledad and each one is discriminated by others based on their unchangeable characteristics . Steinbeck uses them to show the struggle of being looked down upon by society, eventually creating loneliness and maturing it more and more everyday. Through conflict, setting, and discrimination, Steinbeck concludes that loneliness can drive a person mad.
Steinbeck first uses the conflict with Candy to show that society looks upon him as a subhuman and isolate him to himself, leaving him with his feelings, and eventually cultivating loneliness. Candy was once a much respected, well treated worker, and is now only referred to as the “Old Swamper” after a “work related injury” involving his right arm. To supplement Candy’s loneliness, he keeps his old, smelly dog along to accompany him. Candy has spent so much time with this dog that it feels as though he has completely forgotten how one’s word choice can affect a person. As it shows when he converses with George and figures out that the dream of “living off the fatta the land”, won’t happen after Lennie murdered Curley’s Wife, Candy questions, “You and me can get that little place, can’t we? George? You and me can go there and live nice, can’t we, George? Can’t we?” (Steinbeck 93). When he gets no response, the mood changes back to dark and lonely, and Candy feels more alone than ever. Another big part of his life, and the only reason why he still wanted to be alive, was his dog. After a stranger shoots Candy’s dog for him, he feels regret and a deep sense of depression. It alters his personality and makes him even more isolated from the rest of the guys and he never feels the same as when his dog was around, which could symbolize Lennie’s death and how George might have felt afterwards.
Steinbeck then uses Curley’s Wife as an example of loneliness through setting, as she has no interactions with another woman, because of her isolation from the world and her life at the farm, ultimately making her lonely and on her own. Even with her husband, she never feels comfort and is constantly going around trying to find it, however it usually gets herself or someone else in trouble. She is never given a name other than Curley’s Wife, to show her lack of sovereignty and that her identity rest in the fact that she is married to Curley. When she talks with Lennie, minutes before being murdered, she describes, “I get lonely, You can talk to people, but I can’t talk to nobody but Curley. Else he gets mad. How’d you like not to talk to anybody?” This scene in the novel is very ironic as she complains about not being able to talk with anyone, else she gets in trouble, and because she talks with Lennie, she dies. The only reason she talked to Lennie is because all the other men knew her as a problem, and wouldn’t dare to open their mouths to her, further proving her isolation and loneliness from the setting of which she is trapped in without other women.
Steinbeck lastly uses Crooks to show lonliness through discrimination, and isolation of society. Crooks, an Afrian American stable buck, is looked poorly upon by the people at the farm. He is discriminated by his color by the white people and not allowed to go in the bunkhouse, and he spends most of his time alone, reading. Crooks loves to read and it seems as though he uses it to escape from reality. After Lennie stumbled into Crooks’ room, Candy tried to enter and Crooks even put up a little act to not look so eager to have company by declaring, ““Come on in. If ever’body’s coming’ in, you might just as well” It was difficult for Crooks to conceal his pleasure with anger” (Steinbeck74). Later on when Curley’s wife enters the barn, she shows her power against him after he tells her to get out of the barn by stating, “Well, you keep your place. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny” (Steinbeck 80). Crooks is discriminated and isolated to himself because of how society sees him and it cultivates his loneliness.
Ultimately, Steinbeck shows a harsh reality of how easy it is for society to cultivate loneliness on a person based on their gender, color, and their conflict. It shows in Curley’s Wife being the only woman on the farm, and that even the places we call home can cause loneliness. It shows in Candy with his work related injury, being isolated from the other men on the farm, and with Crooks being discriminated only because of the color of his skin. Steinbeck proves that loneliness isn’t something you are born with, but rather a disease that society spreads like a wildfire to those who are less fortunate than the upper class of the white man.