The Role Of Steinbeck’s Use Of The Word “Silence” In The Book Of Mice And Men
Steinbeck’s use of the word “silence” plays a vital role in communicating the characters’ difficulty with emotional commitment during this period in time. The many characters in the book, Of Mice and Men, all face forms of alienation and loneliness. Steinbeck associates sound with an activity that allows hope to happen. For George, the sound of the dream of owning his own farm. For Lennie, the sound of the animals. The characters in this novel all struggle with poverty. The financial conditions that characters like George, Lennie, or Candy undergo are tiring. Steinbeck also displays how poverty can be very emotional. This emotional poverty inhibits the characters from supporting one another. Steinbeck shows emotional poverty is just as crippling as financial challenges.
Steinbeck brings light to the word “silence,” in chapter three. This is when Carlson proposes the idea of shooting candy’s dog. Carlson believes the dog is of no effective use and it smells. In this moment Candy looks to the rest of the men in the bunkhouse for support and advice on what to do. The men in the bunkhouse fall silent and show no emotional support toward Candy and his longtime best friend. The silence could show a lack of emotional grounding. These men don’t know how to communicate their feelings, because they have become so lonely, moving from ranch to ranch. This makes Candy feel alone and alienated. The impending doom of waiting to hear the gunshot also shows how Candy feels weak and vulnerable. The men around when Candy’s dog is shot, all struggle with poverty. Steinbeck shows how emotional poverty stops the men of the bunkhouse from supporting one another, by revealing how the men do not stick up for Candy. Although the shooting of Candy’s dog is an obvious event where silence plays a vital role in the developing the morale, Crooks’ character may be an even better example.
Crooks’ life is a notable example of Steinbeck using the word ‘silence’ to develop a sense of loneliness and alienation. Through the description of Crook’s room, his past life, and his current life on the ranch. Steinbeck continually enforces his theme of loneliness and barriers between people. Crooks’ world is silent because of his lack of connections with other people. At most times Crooks feels isolated from the others at the farm. Crooks suffers because he is treated as an outcast and forced to play card games and read books by himself instead of socializing with the other workers. Crooks is the unfortunate victim of racial discrimination and is forced to live separately from the other workers, which is the main reason he is lonely. When Lennie finds Crooks, he is alone. He is surrounded by many items that signal his loneliness and alienation. For example, much of his room is filled with boxes, bottles, harnesses, leather tools, and other accouterments of his job. It is a room for one man alone. This signifies his loneliness, thus fulfilling Steinbeck’s theme. When Crooks is being yelled at by Curley’s wife, he falls silent, barely saying a word. In this moment, he realizes he is alone, and he will always feel alienated in this environment because of his race and social status. Both before and after Lennie and George reside at the farm, Crooks’ life is silent.
Furthermore, the lonely feeling at the farm originates largely from how little the men talk to each other about meaningful things, like how George was afraid to tell Slim the events that kicked him and George out of Weed, “‘Like what happened in Weed-’ [George] stopped… looked alarmed and peered over at Slim” (Steinbeck). Every character tries to keep to themselves and be incredibly secretive. When all of the men are in the bunkhouse, George “rippled the edge of the deck nervously, and the little snapping noise drew the eyes of all the men in the room, so that he stopped doing it. The silence fell on the room again.” (Steinbeck). The symbolism in this quote is aimed at showing the readers why none of the men dares to break the silence. The “little snapping noise”, is representative of one of the men being open and talking about themselves, which results in “drawing the eyes of all the men in the room, so that he stopped doing it.”. When George tried to break the silence, the other men quickly made him feel self conscious until he stopped. The men on the ranch fear the same will happen to them if they open up to each other. Additionally, Due to his distrust of the other workers, he is unable to communicate and have a proper conversation with them, “George fell silent. He wanted to talk… he just sat back quiet and receptive.”(Steinbeck). George’s silence is caused by fear. He is afraid to connect with the other workers since he will eventually have to leave to escape trouble or find better work. Communication also caused fear to be instilled in George because he is afraid of saying too much and endangering himself and Lennie. Also, George’s danger and fear of communication connects to Lennie as well. George is afraid if he talks to Lennie while the others are around, he will unveil Lennie’s mental disability and get the pair fired, “When Whit and Carlson were gone and the door closed after them, George turned to Lennie.”(Steinbeck). George cautiously talks to Lennie when others are not around to ensure they do not find out about his obvious disability. If the others were aware of Lennie’s mental disability, they may take advantage of him or even hurt him.
Adding to this, Lennie’s character is literally silenced. As some of the men were verbally attacking Curley, “Lennie was still smiling with delight at the memory of the ranch” (Steinbeck). Since Curley took Lennie’s actions as a sign of disrespect, Curley decided to silence him. Without a chance to speak and defend himself, Lennie was forced to deal with the consequences. This forces Lennie to believe he is doing many things wrong and lowers his self-esteem. Also since George only came to Lennie’s aid after the whole thing was over, Lennie may begin to question George. And Lennie’s guilt from standing up for himself only complicates his already messy situation. The whole ordeal forced Lennie to view things differently than he had before. This also affected how Curley viewed Lennie during their time at the farm.
To elaborate, Curley, surprisingly, is also affected by the word silence to show loneliness and alienation. After Curley took a beating from Lennie, Slim explains to him, “if you don’t tell nobody what happened, we ain’t going to. But you jus’ tell an’ try to get this guy canned and we’ll tell ever’body, an’ then will you get the laugh” (Steinbeck). Using blackmail, Slim offers Curley a chance to escape humiliation and trouble. With his reputation of a fierce and fearless man who can knock out anyone he encounters, Curley knew news of his defeat would hurt him, and this fear scared him into silence. The event itself also silenced Curley with both the pain he felt and a new fear of Lennie he created. As he witnessed Lennie’s power compared to his own, Curley realized he had finally been defeated, and there was nothing he could do about it. Curley’s silence is actually his submission to Lennie and his decision let him be, at the time being. The silence Curley has been trapped by is a result of his fear of Lennie, and the fear that he will hurt him again.
Additionally, Curley’s wife is one of the many characters that are being silenced throughout the book. Curley gets incredibly jealous whenever his wife talks to one of the men living in the bunkhouse. When she is found by Curley, speaking to another man, she is silenced by his jealousy. It seems whenever the wife wants to do something, Curley manages to show up at the right time and silence her from what she wants to do. To the other men of the bunkhouse she is dangerous because she can get them into trouble with Curley. So it is not just Curley silencing her, but all men, “She’s gonna make a mess” (Steinbeck). This quote shows that the men want nothing to do with the wife of Curley. They are scared of what could happen if Curley finds one of them involved with his wife. They are essentially silencing her by ignoring her. She seems to be very dependent on Curley and his father for everything. She has no female friends to support her and give her a voice, since many females generally share the same ideas for life. She is married but is always alone and sad. She didn’t follow her dreams or marry out of love. Instead, she settles for a ring, a roof over her head, and a man she didn’t know well enough to make that sort of connection with. She wanted love like most characters, but ended up with isolation, loneliness, and silence. Had she not married Curley, she may have had a bigger voice and not be silence by the world of men.
In conclusion, Steinbeck’s use of the word “silence” plays a vital role in communicating the characters’ difficulty with emotional commitment during this period in time. All the characters in the book, Of Mice and Men, face forms of alienation and loneliness.
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