Of Mice and Men was published in 1937. At this time it was the beginning of the end of the age of modernism in literature. Modernism focuses more on the progression of characters rather than religious, political, and social views like Victorian literature did. However, Steinbeck is thought to have been influenced by sexism and racism that were both heavily apparent in history during the time he was writing Of Mice and Men.
The protagonist of Of Mice and Men are George Milton. Lennie Small is also a highly important character, but George is the one who is developed as a character throughout the novel. George is a quick-witted farmworker who is not displayed as a very kind-hearted person. However, he does love his best friend, Lennie, despite the way he treats him. Being best friends with a man like Lennie gives George hope and allows him to dream of the future. He loves the fact that he has someone to talk to and capitalizes on his companionship with Lennie. Although he does not appear to be a nice person he is deep down.
The antagonist in Of Mice and Men is Curley. Curley is a power seeker who lives by making the workers on his father’s farm miserable, especially Lennie and George. He is constantly angry and vindictive most likely because he knows he can not control his extremely flirty wife.
Lennie and George are two friends struggling to find jobs to earn money so they can someday own a farm together. George is intelligent however his best friend Lennie is extremely childish and has an odd yearning to pet things such as mice and women. This odd fetish-like behavior is normally what gets the two fired from jobs they are able to land. Finally, they find work at a farm and meet all the other workers. Curley is the boss’s son and his wife is very coquettish. One day Lennie is in the barn looking at a puppy he killed accidentally when Curley’s wife finds him. There he explains what happened and she lets him touch her hair. His strength leads to him pulling her hair too hard which aggravates her and he covers her mouth to keep her quiet. He also shakes her and breaks her neck killing her. When the rest of the workers find out they want to lynch him and George knows he has to find him first. He finds Lennie in the brush near a pond and kills his best friend to save him from being lynched.
Hope is a huge theme in Of Mice and Men. George and Lennie both believe they will one day be able to own a farm together and have a happy life. This hope is what keeps the two going and trying to find jobs that will help pay for their big plans.
Justice is also a huge theme prevalent in Of Mice and Men. The justice system on the ranch is its own set of rules. Slim is the one who tells everyone else the consequences of their actions in many scenarios. To George justice meant he had to kill his best friend because it was” the right thing to do” not because he wanted to or thought it was truly ethical.
Symbolism is commonly used in Steinbeck’s novel. The different characters for example all symbolize the greater population. Crooks for example symbolizes African Americans during the time the novel was written and how racism was a part of everyday life for them. Curley’s wife symbolizes the repression of women and the thought that they could not be equal to men. Rabbits are also highly symbolic. They represent false hope and the belief that anything is possible even when it’s not.
Symbolism is a recurring theme in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. The setting is also highly symbolic. The pool of water for example is where the story begins and ends. It is a safe place for them to meet without worrying about others. In the book, George says, “Lennie- if you just happen to get in trouble like you always done before, I want you to come right here an’ hide in the brush.” (pg. 15). This shows the amount of security this place holds for the two characters. It’s a place of safety and George feels it’s the only place Lennie will be safe. This is also somewhat ironic because it’s the place where George kills Lennie. He feels that killing Lennie is keeping him safe. The bunkhouse symbolizes a place of conflict and violence. It is where Curley punches Lennie in the face and as a result, Lennie shatters Curley’s fist in his hand. The dream farm is symbolic of the two men’s friendship. It’s what bonds them and keeps their relationship so strong. It is something for them to both look forward to together and gives them hope. Without the hope of this dream farm they have created in their minds their friendship would most likely not be so close and strong because George wouldn’t have a reason to take care of Lennie. Mice are also highly symbolic to the book. The fact that it is in the title is a clear hint that they are important to the outcome. The first mouse encountered in the story is a dead one that Lennie enjoys keeping in his pocket so he has something to pet and comforts him. This shows how Lennie doesn’t really take account for or care about death but more about his own comfort. This makes Lennie’s own death a little less hurtful because he was killed by his best friend in a non-violent way rather than angry men he barely knows.
“Lennie dabbled his big paw in the water and wiggled his fingers so the water arose in little splashes; rings widened across the pool to the other side and came back again. Lennie watched them go. ‘Look, George. Look what I did.’” (pg.3). This quote from Of Mice and Men is more important than one would first think it to be. Lennie’s hands are described as “paws” as if he were a bear. This symbolizes the fact that he is almost beast-like, which is ironic he is kind at heart and never means harm. Referring to his hands as paws implies the fact that he is just some massive creature who is ruthless and violent instead of a human being. There is also a second important meaning behind this quote. Lennie has a mental disability and because of this, he is unable to see the effect of his actions beforehand. In this scene, he is amazed by the ripples in the water he is creating by simply moving his finger. This is because he would have never thought something would come from his actions. His disability blinds him from the fact that every action has an effect on the world. This quote sets up all his confusion in the rest of the book. Like his finger in the water, his yearning to pet things has a consequence. He speaks of how his aunt used to give him mice as a child but then stopped because he always killed them. This is an effect he did not see coming. His careless actions also led to him and George losing their previous job because he grabbed a woman to feel her dress. Later he kills a puppy because he smacked it to keep it from biting him. Ultimately Lennie is killed by his best friend because of his actions. Lennie killed Curley’s wife by accidentally breaking her neck. This fact plays into his description of a violent animal and that he does see cause and effect in the real world.
The personality of George at the beginning of the book is extremely different compared to the personality of George at the end of the book. Although he is mean to Lennie multiple times George truly does care for Lennie and that is the one thing that does not change throughout the story. In the beginning, George is extremely hopeful of his future with Lennie. He truly allows himself to believe that they will own a farm with ten acres of land and rabbits that Lennie will be able to look after. He uses this belief and his friendly love towards Lennie to motivate his life. Despite the fact that Lennie keeps causing them to lose jobs and they are broke, George remains hopeful and never stops speaking of their futures together. He even allows for candy to come in on their plans because it’ll mean that the chances of it actually happening are greater. Candy reminds the men that the chances of them actually being able to obtain the farm are very unlikely. George will not give up though he still says he believes it’ll happen for them. He believes until the end. When Lennie kills Curley’s wife every plan George ever had and every ounce of hope dies with her. He is then forced by his own beliefs to kill his best friend. He does so in a mercy killing because he thinks it’s the right thing to do. He does so to keep him from being lynched because it coming from him would have been better in his eyes. George lost his best friend and with it lost all hope of the future. Lennie was the source of all his hope. He lived for being able to take care of him and promise him a happy future where everything would work out as they had imagined. When Lennie dies George realized how stupid he had been forever thinking he’d have a chance of getting that farm. The very last sentence of the book is, “ Now what the hell ya suppose is eatin’ them two guys?” (pg 107). The thing “eatin’” George was the loss of not only his truest companion but his plans and hope for his future.
I highly recommend you read John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. It is a great read that is both emotional and thrilling. It really makes the reader think deeper i to the symbolism the author used and what each individual character represents in the world. Steinbeck does an amazing job of not sugar coating life during the times he wrote this. He does well by making the readers realize that the American Dream, although different from everyone, is a hopeless dream. He also points out the injustices of the times through racism and the inequality of women. Through the lives of his characters, he shows real-world poverty, social injustices, human intolerance, and violence. Steinback uses many examples within the novel to point out the racism and the wrongs in society, in the book Crook says, “ Cause I’m black. They play cards in there, but I can’t play because I’m black. They say I stink.” (pg. 68). His character development is also very interesting. The way he develops the protagonist, George, and makes him completely switch his beliefs is something I really didn’t expect. Steinbeck shows his characters as they are and never anything different. There is no implying but instead just straightforwardness. This is very nice to see in a novel because instead of having to decipher what every paragraph means you truly understand what is going on because he’s telling you all you need to know. There is a lot of symbolism but it is very easy to pick up on and makes the story that much more interesting to read. In conclusion, I think you would enjoy this book very much. It is definitely worth taking the time to read.