Society has high expectations that are expected to be met, in a world like this there’s an extensive amount of challenges and high levels of pressure that must be endured throughout life. This harsh reality is consistently represented in the book Of Mice and Men as a variety of the characters apart of weak or minority groups are isolated from the rest of the ranch. The book is set in the time of the Great Depression, a time of desperation and struggles where a large portion of the population was unemployed. People fought to survive and the challenge to meet social norms were even greater than the current society’s. The story follows two companions that have a dream, a hope. They find themselves working on a ranch with people who have a wide range of personalities and power. In the novella Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck uses external conflict, the motif of loneliness, and the symbol of Crooks’ room to reveal how alienation and standards of society can affect the actions, attitude, and well-being of people.
Steinbeck’s use of external conflict between Lennie and Curley highlights how a non inclusive and hostile environment can lead to the occurrence of bad events because of its effect on people’s choices. In chapter 3, Curley is trying to find his wife and he jumps to the conclusion that Slim may have been with her. As a result of Curley’s quick accusations the other people of the ranch start their assault of words and Curley’s loses his patience when he sees “…Lennie was smiling with delight at the memory of the ranch. Curley stepped over to Lennie like a terrier.
‘What the hell you laughin’ at?’ Lennie looked blankly at him, ‘Huh?’ Then Curley’s rage exploded,” (Steinbeck 62). The authors use of the word “exploded” puts focus on the severity of how Curley reacted. This word can also relate to a bomb, as if the author is implying that Curley was like a ticking time bomb waiting to be set off. Curley is also described as a terrier, which shows how he shouldn’t be very threatening, but to Lennie he is. This is because Lennie is mentally weak and doesn’t know how to handle situations due to his inexperience talking to people since he isn’t included in activities. So, while Curley may already have a bad temper the weight of him being targeted and Lennie not knowing what to do because of the separation from the rest of the men is what ultimately results in the event of Curley assaulting Lennie. Another use of conflict between Curley and Lennie is shown at the end of chapter 5 as the men are heading out to find Lennie and George proposes an idea to Curley, “‘I’ll come. But listen, Curley. The poor bastard’s nuts. Don’t shoot ‘im. He di’n’t know what he was doin’.’ ‘Don’t shoot ‘im?’ Curley cried. ‘He got Carlson’s Luger. ‘Course we’ll shoot ‘im.’ George said weakly, ‘Maybe Carlson lost his gun,’” (98). The use of the phrase “‘Course we’ll shoot ‘im’” displays how Curley’s decision to shoot Lennie is unwavering, he has no hesitation or second thoughts. George replying to this “weakly” shows how the conflict of Curley wanting to shoot Lennie is taking its effect on George as the reality that he’s gonna kill his best friend sets in. The use of the word “weakly” also sheds light on how George feels defeated, as if he knows that he has run out of options. George is made completely aware that if he doesn’t kill Lennie himself then Curley will either kill him or he’ll be locked up. Neither the society or Curley will not have sympathy for his mistakes and he knows that Lennie’s own loneliness will swallow him whole. Overall, we see Steinbeck use external conflict to reveal how unforgiving society can be and how it affects actions, and Steinbeck also reveals the complexity of how loneliness affects people’s attitudes and reactions to certain situations through the use of a motif.
Steinbeck’s use of the motif of loneliness in the characters Candy and Crooks exhibits how the separation from others has the potential to cause people to have a desperate or cold attitude. In chapter 3 when Candy finds himself listening to George and Lennie’s dream he proposes to join in, “He leaned forward eagerly. “S’pose I went in with you guys. Tha’s three hundred an’ fifty bucks I’d put in. I ain’t much good, but I could cook and tend the chickens and how the garden some. How’d that be?” (59). Candy’s tone of excitement and the use of the word “eagerly” in response to George and Lennie dream of getting land reveals his loneliness and his desire to find somewhere to be after he isn’t considered to be important on the ranch. Despite the fact that joining George and Lennie won’t benefit him much and he would be giving up the money he has, he’s excited to be apart of something. He does this because he doesn’t have anybody to rely on at the ranch and he longs to have company when he really starts getting old. Candy’s eager attitude to be apart of something that won’t truly benefit him shows how his need for company influences his attitude towards certain ideas. He’s old and isn’t considered to be helpful on the ranch and things that aren’t helpful get kicked to the curb. In chapter 4 we see how Crooks acts towards others, an example being how he reacts when Lennie stands in the doorway of his room “For a moment [he] did not see him, but on raising his eyes he stiffened and a scowl came over his face. His hand came out from under his shirt… ‘Nobody got any right in here but me,’” (68). The author’s use of the word “stiffened” to describe Crooks’ reaction to Lennie standing in the doorway puts the focus on his body language. He reacts to Lennie in a way that shows uncomfort, as if he doesn’t usually have people around. This also shows how he has his own wall put up, as if to protect himself from the consequences of being involved with people who don’t include him. Crooks mentioning that nobody has a “right” in his room shows his attempt in trying to go against what boundaries society sets for him. Crooks is not only seen as being cold, but he is also closed off. He doesn’t have many rights or a place to truly be involved on the ranch. He’s told what he can or can’t do and oftentimes is not given proper respect, all due to what society says is correct. All in all, it is shown how society leads to loneliness which ends up having effects on attitude and Steinbeck further displays how society leads to alienation through symbolism.
Steinbeck uses the symbol of Crooks’ room to emphasize the unequal and suppressing thoughts in society that people have to face and how it results in isolation for the “weaker” groups. In the middle of chapter 4, Candy enters Crooks’ room for the first time stating that “‘[he] been [there] a long time,’” and that “‘Crooks been [there] a long time. This’s the first time [he] ever been in his room.’ Crooks said darkly, ‘Guys don’t come into a colored man’s room very much. Nobody been here but Slim. Slim an’ the boss,’” (75). In the phrase “guys don’t come into a colored man’s room very much” reveals that the guys don’t go into Crooks’ room, but not because Crooks is a bad guy, but because he’s a “colored man”. This choice of words displays how Crooks doesn’t just represent himself as an individual, but rather, he’s a symbol of minorities. So, Crooks represents the entirety of minorities, in a place where not everyone is always given an equal chance or opportunity. Crooks ends up being isolated and separated from the rest of the men on the barn in his own little shed among the animals. In chapter 4 while Lennie and Candy are both gathered in Crooks’ room Curley’s wife walks in and one of the first things she says is “‘they left all the weak ones here,’ she said finally. ‘Think I don’t know where they all went? Even Curley. I know where they all went,’” (77). Curley’s wife’s use of the phrase “weak ones” highlights what groups are seen as weak and what happens to them. They are left behind and ironically she is apart of the “weak ones” left behind. The groups which are considered to be inferior are left alone and they all end up in Crooks’ room. They were left to think and sink in their feelings of being abandoned and forgotten. The fact that the lesser groups end up gathered in Crooks’ room connects back to how Crooks and his room represents minorities as a whole. They are left in an area that is meant more for animals instead of humans which also sheds light how they aren’t seen as equal. They are seen as weak which ultimately makes them feel weak despite the fact that they have the potential to be strong and this inequality results in a bad state of health. As a whole, Steinbeck uses this strong yet subtle symbol to show how society is unequal leaving the weak to rot, how they feel isn’t as important and they must find their own way to survive in a world that is against them.
In the novella Of Mice and Men Steinbeck’s use of external conflict, motif of loneliness, and symbolism emphasizes how ostracism and harsh standards in society cause people to change how they act, react, and feel. Society has different expectations and standards for different people, some people get more opportunities than others because they are considered stronger. Isolation causes the feeling of loneliness and one of the main causes of being isolated is if you aren’t what society expects you to be. Steinbeck shows this throughout the book by using different characters and devices to represent big ideas. The characters who have a certain level of social power and support have less problems presented to them. The world is challenging and complex, some start off weaker than others, but the ones who are weak can become stronger and break social boundaries. Social tiers shouldn’t have the power to cause loneliness or suppression and they shouldn’t affect what people do, instead, it should be what people do that affects people’s place in society.