In Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck references the lonely lives of ranch hands in the 1930s. The 1930s were a rugged time period, featuring the Great Depression, which caused many workers to lose their jobs and find a new job as a worker or ranch hand. In this time period, ranch workers lived tough lives that usually resulted in them feeling isolated with company around. In the novel, multiple characters such as Curley’s wife, the only woman on the ranch, and Crooks, the African American stable buck, exude loneliness. Through symbolism and these characters, Steinbeck conveys the loneliness of ranches in the 1930s.
One of the main ways Steinbeck conveys a sense of loneliness is through symbolism. Throughout the novel, multiple symbols express how lonely the people who live and work on ranches truly are. One of the biggest examples of symbolism Steinbeck uses is the game solitaire. In the novel, George plays a game of solitaire, even though Candy and Lennie are both in the room with him: “George looked carefully at his solitaire hand” (Steinbeck 56). This expresses that even though there are people to talk to, George chooses to play a game of cards by himself. This is a perfect analogy for people’s lives on the ranch. The average man in this time is tough and hardened by their work that they only care about themselves. Men in this time period would rather be isolated than have each other.
Another way Steinbeck conveys loneliness is through the characterization of Curley’s wife. Unlike the men who live on the ranch, Curley’s wife lives a unique life because she is the only woman. Throughout the novel, Steinbeck shows us glimpses of her expressing her true feelings of loneliness. One of which happens when she has a conversation with Lennie, who has been advised not to speak with her. She is angry at George and the other men for never wanting to have a conversation with her. She says, “Seems like they ain’t none of them cares how I gotta live.” (Steinbeck 88). Here, she lets loose, truly showing how lonely she is chained to the house all day. Curley’s wife is fed up with all the rumors and being called a tart, she is even tired of being married to Curley. Steinbeck further expresses her loneliness by not giving her a name. In the novel, Steinbeck always refers to her by her husband’s name. This is a microcosm for how women were treated in the 1930s. They were expected to stay in the house and be known by their husband, which all leads to Curley’s wife living a lonely life.
Additionally, Steinbeck expresses loneliness through the characterization of Crooks. In the novel, Crooks is the only African American and has been on the ranch longer than most men. He works as a stable buck and is forced to live in the barn, isolated from the rest of the men. This is the main reason for his loneliness. Crooks explains to Lennie that he hates living alone. He wishes he had someone to talk to and keep him company. He says, “A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody, don’t matter who the guy is” (Steinbeck 72). Here, Steinbeck bluntly states Crooks’ desire to have someone to talk to. Crooks wishes he had someone to talk to, but instead he is an outcast who lives by himself. Crooks also lives challenges because he is different from the other men in other ways, which only strengthens how lonely he is. Crooks is not allowed in the bunkhouse with the other men because he “stinks.” The other men use this as an excuse for not having to live with an African American. Crooks also has a physical disability which causes him to stay on the ranch. The boss knows this and uses Crooks as his punching bag whenever he lets out his anger. Because of his skin color, disability, and inability to leave, Steinbeck shows us multiple instances of Crooks expressing his loneliness.
Steinbeck conveys loneliness multiple times through symbolism and in characterization. He writes about the men playing solitaire, even when they have friends to play euchre with. Steinbeck further shows loneliness through characterizations of Curley’s wife and Crooks. Within their individual characterizations, he describes the loneliness of women and African Americans in this time period. Revealing them as perfect microcosms for women and African Americans. He shows expresses in many ways that these people were forced to live hardened, rugged lives that eventually left them feeling lonely, even with company around them.
- Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. Penguin, 1993.