Steinbeck relies heavily on the stark contrast between reality and fantasy to present the characters’ dreams for a better life within of mice and men. Two major themes in Of mice and Men – foreshadowed by the reference to Burns’ mouse within the title – are loneliness and dreams. These two conflicting themes interlock: it is apparent that people who are lonely have the greatest need of dreams to help them through. This is particularly evident within the cases of George and Lennie and Curley’s wife. Through Steinbeck’s use of characterisation, the reader is able to empathise with the characters in their dreams for a better life but still however the realise the futility of these dreams within the harsh society of the 1930s.
A major motif of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is the American Dream and the drive to attain it. This is clearly exemplified within the dream of George and Lennie. ‘Someday, we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and..”An’ live off the fatta the lan’,” Lennie shouted.’ George and Lennie’s stoic attitude towards ranch life is fuelled by their shared dream of independence and prosperity.
George is aware of the despair and grim reality of the lives of itinerant workers like himself and Lennie. George refers to his fellow workers as ‘they’, ‘Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place’ This clearly highlights George’s opposition to become one of ‘them guys’. George also feels that himself and Lennie’s situation is unique in comparison to other ranch workers as they have each other, ‘Because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you.’ This shows that George and Lennie share a symbiotic relationship; they depend on each other to provide a sense of hope and escapism in an otherwise bleak life.
Lennie’s undoubted faith within the dream also enables a cynical George to imagine the possibility of the dream coming to fruition and allows the dream to become a central focus within his life. Lennie’s main objective within the dream is to ‘tend the rabbits’ – he constantly looks for reassurance within George that he will be able to tend the rabbits when they achieve their dream. ‘The rabbits we’re gonna get and I, I get to tend ’em.’ Lennie’s dream revolves solely around George and the rabbits; This shows the simplicity of Lennie’s dream, and the innocence within his childlike mind. The reoccurring reference to the rabbits and ‘soft things’ that Lennie enjoys to touch, is a technique of foreshadowing employed by Steinbeck to forebode future events within the novel.
Despite the obvious joys of self dependency and the pride of rearing their own crop, for George the dream is much more revolved around achieving freedom; the freedom of not having to work but instead, having the liberty to choose when he will work – ‘And when it rains in the winter, we’ll just say the hell with goin’ to work, and we’ll build up a fire in the stove and set around it an’ listen to the rain comin’ down on the roof.’ This shows the simplicity and selflessness of the dream.
Steinbeck effectively employs an appeal to the senses within his depiction of the dream in order to conjure mental imagery for the reader and consolidate the heavenly idea of the dream in contrast with the hopeless and depressing lives of others.
Despite their destitute state, George and Lennie are optimistic in their dream for a better life.
This positivity is reflected in George’s use of the definite future tense to describe the dream, as he often talks about how they’re ‘gonna have’ and ‘will have’. George also uses ‘we’ as opposed to ‘I’ to show the unity and comradeship of himself and Lennie.
In Of Mice and Men the most obvious and significant climax is the murder of Curley’s Wife. To prepare the reader for this, Steinbeck writes about a number of tragic episodes such as the killing of Lennie’s puppy and the girl in Weed to highlight Lennie’s strength, mental capacity and naivety. Steinbeck’s use of an ominous tone throughout informs the reader of Lennie’s capabilities.
As a result of this killing, George feels he has no other choice but to kill Lennie. Although this appears inhumane and cruel, the reader is able to see that this a mercy killing to protect Lennie from the worse alternative of being lynched by the angry mob of ranch workers. George begins to recite the dream for the last time, to fill his dear friends’ last few moments with joy and hope before shooting him, The fact that George shoots Lennie in the midst of retelling the dream, and his use of ‘we gotta’ as opposed to ‘ I gotta’ consolidates the solidarity of the men through their dream right until the very end when George finally kills Lennie. However there is a clear tonal shift within this recital; ‘His voice was monotonous, had no emphasis.’ The prevalent sense of demoralization is clear within George’s elegiac tone when compared to previous occasions where it is said that ‘Georges voice grew warmer’ when speaking of the dream.
The dream cannot exist without their friendship which is most demonstrable through George’s loss in hope and pessimistic tone whilst reviewing his situation due to Lennie’s death.”I think I knowed from the very first. I think I knowed we’d never do her. He usta like to hear about it so much I got to thinking maybe we would.” Lennie embodied the dream and without Lennie, the dream inevitably ended and provides the novel with a obvious anti-climatic ending to pose Steinbeck’s realistic personal view of the lives of itinerant workers within the 1930s.
Steinbeck presents the importance of dreams within those whose lives are lonely. Curley’s wife is the epitome of Steinbeck’s ideology.
Curley’s wife is depicted as a very lonely woman, seeking attention and companionship from the men. This is outright denied by all of the other ranch workers and she is branded derogatory terms such a “tart” and “jail bait” . The workers avoid her as they are scared of her husband Curley, the bosses son and his authority within the ranch. The fact that Curley’s wife remains unnamed throughout the entirety of the novel shows the oppressive misogyny posed against her and how she is only seen through her relation to Curley and is ultimately a possession of his , unworthy of a unique identity.
However, the reader is able to detect a parallel within Curley’s wife and the ranch workers. Like so many of them, including Lennie and George, she dreams of a better life, yet has ended up in a similar, or arguably worse situation. Curley’s wife is effectively trapped in her marriage to Curley, and the perceived role of women within society. This prejudice is evident within the workers attitude towards women, ‘A ranch with a bunch of guys ain’t no place for a girl’ This shows that the men dissociate themselves with Curley’s wife despite her endless attempts to conversate. Curley’s wife is characterized negatively by Steinbeck. The predominant association between red and Curley’s wife connotes danger and a siren, which foreshadow future events within the novel. Steinbeck also uses light symbolisation to project the negative aura surrounding Curley’s wife and evoke atmosphere due to her entrance within a scene. It is suggested that Steinbeck’s negative representation of Curley’s wife could be an example of moralization, however this is negative projection is not because Steinbeck advocates misogyny but is presenting the reality of society at the time.
In chapter five, Steinbeck uses Curley’s wife in the first person narrative, and gives Curley’s wife humanity through her story. She is then allowed to share her dream with the reader.
Curley’s wife’s naivety is demonstrable in her approach and attitude towards her dream, ‘I coulda made something of myself’ she refuses to accept that her dream has no chance of coming to fruition by continuing, to say ‘maybe I will yet’ Curley’s wife uses her dream as an escape from her loveless marriage and pitiful life; she is deluded that her dream will be realised and clings to the hope of a better life.
Curley’s wife also blames others for the breakdown of her dream, particularly her mother; ‘My ol’ lady wouldnt let me….If I’d went I wouldn’t be livin’ like this you bet’ Curley’s wife uses as her mother as a scapegoat for the failure of her dream, and her current situation. Therefore,
by marrying Curley, she has managed to escape her mother who she feels is responsible for preventing her from achieving her dreams of being ‘in the pictures’. Curley’s wife dreams of the fortune and fame associated with being an actress. ‘ An’ I coulda sat in them big hotels, an’ had pitchers took of me…an’ all them nice clothes like they wear’, Curley’s wife’s dream revolves around what her life could have been, and what she still intends it to be. She yearns for financial security, luxuries and the salient aspect of her dream; attention. Like the men she desires friendship, but her dream is more materialistic; she seeks the appreciation she feels she deserves.
The fact that Curley’s wife ‘escape plans’ from her tribulations always contain an explicit connection to men highlights the male dominated society in which she resides, and her dependency upon them as a woman for a better life.
Whilst telling Lennie about her dream, Steinbeck states that ‘He words tumbled out in a passion of communication as though she hurried before her listener could be taken away’ This shows Curley’s wife at her most poignant. It demonstrates her desperation for interaction and on page 85, Curley’s wife echoes Crooks words ‘ I get lonely’ this reinforces the compulsion for companionship within her life and suggests she is used to people walking away from her.
There is a clear contrast between the life Curley’s wife wishes to live, and the reality of her situation. ‘Sat’iday night, ever’body out doin’ som’pin … and what am I doin? Standin here talkin to a bunch of bindle stiffs’ Curley’s wife resents the ranch workers rejection, as she feels she is superior to them and they should want to talk to her because she ‘could of went with shows’
Her flirtatious attitude can be seen as her way of prolonging any form of interaction and coping with the reality that her dream of being an actress will never come true.
Steinbeck’s description of Curleys wife after her death is evidently more complimentary than previous occasions – ‘The meanness and the planning and the discontent and the ache for attention were all gone from her face’ He also uses words such as ‘sweet and young’ to project Curley’s wife more positively as a pretty young woman, free of all of her mean qualities.. This suggest that this is what Curley’s wife may have been like in other circumstances and how her life has sculpted her personality which derives an increasingly sympathetic and piteous view on Curley’s wife from the reader. This would also support Steinbeck’s tendency towards naturalistic writing, an approach in which Characters are influenced by their relationship to their surroundings and are essentially controlled by the environment in which they are situated through chance.
Steinbeck shows his audience that even though Curley’s wife is initially portrayed as a nuisance she is still similar to the others because she, too, has a dream.
To conclude, by the end of the novel, neither of the 3 highlighted characters found fulfilment in his/her dream.