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Masculinity (group one)
The ranch is a place of barren masculinity; the big, draughty barn, the clinical bunks, the
apple ...
Friendship (group five)
Of Mice and Men explores the dynamics of male friendship. When Lennie asks George
to tell him why ...
Loneliness (group two)
Humans crave contact with others to give life meaning. Loneliness is present
throughout this novel....
Fate destiny and broken plans (group three)
Of Mice and Men takes its title from a famous lyric by the Scottish poet Rober...
Nature (group four)
Steinbeck also uses nature images to reinforce his themes and to set the mood. In
Chapter 1, for examp...
Powerlessness (group six)
Steinbeck's characters are often the underdogs, and he shows compassion toward
them throughout t...
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Themes revision: Of Mice and Men

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Themes revision: Of Mice and Men

  1. 1. Masculinity (group one) The ranch is a place of barren masculinity; the big, draughty barn, the clinical bunks, the apple boxes nailed to the walls as shelves for their personal bits and pieces; razors, soap and dog eared top shelf magazines. It is a place where every man is for himself. They are all alone in the world, living transient lives that discourage relationships and attachments to people, to places, to things. To the men already at the ranch, Lennie and George’s situation is completely odd, and as such, they are suspicious of their relationship from the start. Quickly, however, George and Lennie’s arrival appears to create a new sense of camaraderie amongst the men, especially as Curley, the boss’s son, takes an instant dislike to the new arrivals, and threatens to ruin their chances of making their ‘stake’. The men band together to protect Lennie and George, and when Lennie crushes Curley’s hand after he accuses George of flirting with his wife. The men live in a world closed to females, and women are not welcome unless sought in the stripbars of the local town. Curley’s wife, a coquette, dressed in red, prowling around the barn in search of someone, anyone, who will pay attention to her, is not an attraction but a danger zone; her presence signals trouble, and trouble is what these men can’t afford to stir up. It is somewhat inevitable that she will be the catalyst for the novel’s tragic ending There are two different visions of women in Of Mice and Men: the male characters' view of women, and the novel's view of women. The men tend to view women with scorn and fear, dismissing women as dangerous sexual temptresses. Women are often referred to as "tarts," a derogatory word for women that means "tramp." Lennie and George have a mutual friend in prison "on account of a tart," and their own troubles result twice from the enticing allure of a woman—the woman in Weed, and Curley's wife. Yet although Curley's wife plays into her role as sexy temptress, Of Mice and Men presents her, at least partly, as a victim. She craves the attention of the men because she's desperately lonely, and flaunts her power over the men because she herself feels weak. Similarly, the novella's portrayal of Aunt Clara as a vision of wholesome femininity from a more innocent age contrasts with the male characters' consistently negative view of women.
  2. 2. Friendship (group five) Of Mice and Men explores the dynamics of male friendship. When Lennie asks George to tell him why they're not like other ranchers, George explains that they're different because they have each other. Usually ranchers have no family, no friends, and, therefore, no future. George and Lennie's friendship strikes the other ranch workers as odd: their dependence on each other makes the boss and Curley suspicious; and Slim observes that ranch workers rarely travel together because they're scared of each other. Although most of the men in the novel are entirely alone, they all crave true companionship. As Crooks, perhaps the novel's most solitary character because of his black skin, puts it, "A guy needs somebody—to be near him." One of the reasons that the tragic end of George and Lennie’s friendship has such a profound impact is that one senses that the friends have, by the end of the novella, lost a dream larger than themselves. The farm on which George and Lennie plan to live—a place that no one ever reaches—has a magnetic quality, as Crooks points out. After hearing a description of only a few sentences, Candy is completely drawn in by its magic. Crooks has witnessed countless men fall under the same silly spell, and still he cannot help but ask Lennie if he can have a patch of garden to hoe there. The men in Of Mice and Men desire to come together in a way that would allow them to be like brothers to one another. That is, they want to live with one another’s best interests in mind, to protect each other, and to know that there is someone in the world dedicated to protecting them. Given the harsh, lonely conditions under which these men live, it should come as no surprise that they idealize friendships between men in such a way. Ultimately, however, the world is too harsh and predatory a place to sustain such relationships. Lennie and George, who come closest to achieving this ideal of brotherhood, are forced to separate tragically. With this, a rare friendship vanishes, but the rest of the world—represented by Curley and Carlson, who watch George stumble away with grief from his friend’s dead body— fails to acknowledge or appreciate it.
  3. 3. Loneliness (group two) Humans crave contact with others to give life meaning. Loneliness is present throughout this novel. On the most obvious level, we see this isolation when the ranch hands go into town on Saturday night to ease their loneliness with alcohol and women. Similarly, Lennie goes into Crook's room to find someone with whom to talk, and later Curley's wife comes for the same reason. Crooks says, "A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody. Don't make no difference who the guy is, long's he's with you." Even Slim mentions, "I seen the guys that go around on the ranches alone. That ain't no good. They don't have no fun. After a long time they get mean." George's taking care of Lennie and the dream of the farm are attempts to break the pattern of loneliness that is part of the human condition. Similarly, Lennie's desire to pet soft things comes from his need to feel safe and secure, to touch something that gives him that feeling of not being alone in the world. For Lennie, the dream of the farm parallels that security. George and Lennie, however, are not the only characters who struggle against loneliness. Although present in all the characters to some degree, the theme of loneliness is most notably present in Candy, Crooks, and Curley's wife. They all fight against their isolation in whatever way they can. Until its death, Candy's dog stopped Candy from being alone in the world. After its death, Candy struggles against loneliness by sharing in George and Lennie's dream. Curley's wife is also lonely; she is the only female on the ranch, and her husband has forbidden anyone to talk with her. She combats her loneliness by flirting with the ranch hands. Crooks is isolated because of his skin color. As the only black man on the ranch, he is not allowed into the bunkhouse with the others, and he does not associate with them. He combats his loneliness with books and his work, but even he realizes that these things are no substitute for human companionship. Steinbeck reinforces the theme of loneliness in subtle and not so subtle ways. In the vicinity of the ranch, for example, is the town of Soledad. The town's name, not accidentally, means "solitude" or "alone." Also, the others' reactions to George and Lennie traveling together reinforces that, in Steinbeck's world, traveling with someone else is unusual. When George and Lennie arrive at the ranch, four other characters — the boss, Candy, Crooks, and Slim — all comment on the suspicious nature of two guys traveling together. This companionship seems strange and, according to at least the boss and Curley, the relationship is sexual or exploitative financially.
  4. 4. Fate destiny and broken plans (group three) Of Mice and Men takes its title from a famous lyric by the Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759 - 1796). Burns's poem "To a Mouse" contains the lines, "The best laid plans of mice and men / Often go awry." Nearly all of the main characters Of Mice and Men harbour dreams and plans that never come true. Most notably, George, Lennie, and Candy share a doomed dream of buying their own farm and living off the land. George often laments the life he could have had as a freewheeling bachelor, free of the burden of caring for Lennie. "[I]f I was alone I could live so easy," he says. Lennie has his own private dream of living in a cave with his own rabbits, while Curley's wife often regrets her missed chance to become a Hollywood actress. In the end, the novel's main theme is that people must learn to reconcile their dreams with reality, to accept that everyone's best laid plans often perish. These plans "go awry" not because the characters in the novella give up on them, but because forces beyond their control destroy them. In the bleak economic outlook of the Great Depression, during which the novel was written and set, coming to terms with dreams broken by out-of-control economic forces became a reality nearly everyone in America faced.
  5. 5. Nature (group four) Steinbeck also uses nature images to reinforce his themes and to set the mood. In Chapter 1, for example, before Lennie and George get to the ranch, George decides they will stay at the pond overnight. This pool is a place of primeval innocence, a sanctuary away from the world of humans. If Lennie gets in trouble, it is the place to which he should return. In this scene, nature is a place of safety, a haven from the troubles of the world. When Lennie returns to the pond in the last scene, nature is not so tranquil. The sun has left the valley, and a heron captures and swallows a water snake "while its tail waved frantically." The wind now rushes and drives through the trees in gusts, and the dry leaves fall from the sycamore. Instead of a place of happiness, dream retelling, and fellowship — as it was at the beginning — the pond is now a place of loneliness, fear, and death. Here, nature reflects the mood of the human world. Steinbeck's thoughts on man's relationship to the land is a motif throughout his writing. Survival of the fittest Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, or ‘survival of the fittest’ promoted the idea that individuals having any advantage over others, however slight, ‘would have the best chance of surviving and of procreating their kind’.
  6. 6. Powerlessness (group six) Steinbeck's characters are often the underdogs, and he shows compassion toward them throughout the body of his writings. Powerlessness takes many forms — intellectual, financial, societal — and Steinbeck touches on them all. Although Lennie is physically strong and would therefore seem to represent someone of power, the only power Lennie possesses is physical. Because of his mental handicap and his child-like way of perceiving the world, he is powerless against his urges and the forces that assail him. Another type of powerlessness is economic. Because the ranch hands are victims of a society where they cannot get ahead economically, they must struggle again and again. As long as the men spend their money on the weekends, they will continue to be powerless. On the other hand, living lives of unremitting loneliness and harshness makes companionship — even for a weekend — alluring enough to overshadow a dream. Furthermore, the men are paid so little that it is difficult to save enough to make a dream come true. Crooks represents another type of powerlessness. As the sole black man on the ranch, he is isolated from the others, and, in ways that the others are not, subject to their whim.
  • JadeEngland

    May. 20, 2016
  • 09mtoure

    May. 31, 2015
  • akousar

    Apr. 27, 2015

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