The theme of loneliness is presented in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. In the novel Of Mice and Men, loneliness is an important emotion that often drives the characters to behave in a different manner to usual. Steinbeck uses characters, some of the most important ones including Curley’s wife, Candy, and Crooks, to reflect on the bigoted time period that ultimately leads to the characters’ loneliness and unusual behavior.
Curley’s wife is a major character in Of Mice and Men and is married to Curley, a very aggressive ranch worker that proves his masculinity by fighting other workers and marrying an attractive woman; he was the boss’ son. Curley entirely controlled his wife which was very common during the book’s time period. He had forbidden all of the workers from talking to his wife. Desperate for attention and respect, Curley’s wife uses her beauty to her advantage. In chapter four, she intimidated and threatened Crooks’, the stable buck. When he told her to leave his room, she told him, “You keep your place then, nigger, I could get you strung up so easy it ain’t even funny.”. The way she behaved resulted in her being labeled as a “tramp”, “tart”, “rat-trap”, and many other derogatory names. She felt powerless and lonely. The only person that Curley’s wife could talk to was Lennie because he was not aware of her current situation. In her last moments with Lennie in the barn, she finally felt like she was being acknowledged and listened to. For the first time, she confessed that “I don’ like Curley. He ain’t a nice fella”. She became vulnerable after telling Lennie to feel her soft hair and this then leads to her death. Curley’s wife is a brilliant example of the oppression and sexism against women in the 1930’s.
There are other reasons why people were discriminated against and isolated, some of which include ageism and ableism. Candy was the oldest ranch worker in the book, that lost his right arm in an accident. He was discriminated against because of his age and disability and was an outcast. He had no family, except for the dog he raised. His dog used to be of great usefulness, but as the dog became older, he became less useful and helpless. This resulted in him being shot by Carlson which intensified Candy’s loneliness.
Workers were expected to be productive on the ranch, and if one no longer met that demand, due to age or ability to perform certain tasks, they would be dismissed and left to suffer and die. Candy recognizes that the same thing will happen to him, and he tells George that “Jus’ as soon as I can’t swamp out no bunkhouses they’ll put me on the county”. To escape his loneliness and eventual fate of getting kicked, Candy became quickly interested in George and Lennie’s dream, offering a total of $350 towards the dream farm. “S’pose I went in with you guys. Tha’s three hundred and fifty bucks I’d put in. I ain’t much good, but I could cook and tend the chickens and hoe the garden some. How’d that be?”. He was very attached and hooked onto the dream of the farm, and persisted to have the farm in spite of what happened with Lennie later in the novel. The farm would have eliminated his fear of being alone and would have developed another relationship worth having.
One of the biggest issues that were existed in this time period was racism, which Crooks was a victim of. He was physically separated from the other men and had limited contact with others. As a replacement for friendship, he kept himself occupied with books. Still, he admitted that “Books ain’t no good,” and that “A guy needs somebody – to be near him. A guy goes nuts when if he ain’t got nobody”. In the Great Depression, black people faced racial discrimination and segregation from the dominant, white people. However, this was greatly exaggerated in the story as Crooks was the only black man on the ranch. Unlike Curley’s wife and Candy, Crooks accepted his role in society because he knew that he was powerless against the oppressive forces of racism. He was aware that he was treated as if he was less important than the other men and did not have a voice in society. “This is just a nigger talkin’, an’ a busted-back nigger. So it doesn’t mean nothing, see?”. The sad reality of this deprived Crooks of his right to be treated as an equal human being with self-worth and connection with others. His acceptance of the situation ironically intensified his loneliness as he gave up trying to talk to others and became harsh and bitter.
The Great Depression was a time of intolerance, which is present in Of Mice and Men. Curley’s Wife, Candy, and Crooks were some of the characters who represented the loneliness and isolation brought on by their time period. These characters faced social issues like racism, sexism, and ageism, resembling the oppression of minority groups by the discriminatory nature of their society.
Each character recognized their loneliness and depending on what their current situation and role in society was, they took specific actions to fight against, or cope with it. Steinbeck has made it clear that the loneliness brought on by discrimination does impact their behavior, actions, and mindsets.