John Steinbeck’s of Mice and Men
John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is a 1973 novella that tells the story of two migrant ranch workers, George Milton and Lennie Small, who travel across California seeking new job opportunities during the Great Depression. Lennie is a large, mentally challenged man with a love for soft things. Although he is very simple-minded, he is a hard worker. George, who plays the leader in the story, looks after the dependent Lennie. Although, George frequently states that he would be better off without his companion, he is motivated by his desire to protect Lennie. Unfortunately, Lennie is one of the characters who suffers through a great amount of discrimination throughout the story (CPP Web Portal).
The character of Lennie Small was based on the stereotypical image of the moron as a menace. This type of character was particularly popular during the early 20th century (Margolis and Shapiro 18). Lennie is stereotyped as being a big dangerous guy, primarily due to his size; however, he has the mind of a child. Sure he’s jes’ like a kid. There ain’t no more harm in him than a kid neither, except he’s so strong, Slim states in the novel, describing how Lennie is viewed (Steinbeck 43). Prior to their arrival at the ranch, George Milton gives Lennie a short speech:
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We’re gonna go in an’ see the boss. Now, look-I’ll give him the work tickets, but you ain’t gonna say a word. You jus’ stand there and don’t say nothing. If he finds out what a crazy bastard you are, we won’t get no job, but if he sees ya work before he hears ya talk, we’re set. Ya got that? (Steinbeck 6)
George believes he is trying to protect his friend from discrimination by their potential boss and coworkers; however, he is, at the same time, discriminating against Lennie himself. George believes that the way Lennie acts will affect their chances at getting the job, so he attempts to hide who Lennie actually is. After their new coworkers find out about Lennie’s handicap, they frequently exclude him from nights out and other activities. On page 68, when Lennie sees Crooks trying to sleep in the stables, Lennie tells him, Ever’body went into town. Slim an’ George an’ ever’body. George says I gotta stay here an’ not get in no trouble.
George also often refers to him as a crazy bastard, both to his face and to their fellow ranch hands.
Although George discriminates against his friend, his worries are merited. The duo had been chased out of town at their previous place of employment after Lennie was accused of sexual harassment. Lennie has a passion for all things soft. He loves rabbits and even carries a dead mouse in his pocket that he would randomly start petting-until George finds out and takes it from him (Steinbeck 6). In Weed, Lennie sees a woman wearing a dress. According to George, Lennie attempts to feel the dress for the same reason he pets the mouse-because it is soft. The lady misunderstands the action and accuses Lennie of attempting to rape her. Because of the backlash, the two men are forced to sneak out of town before Lennie is caught and lynched (Steinbeck 11).
Unfortunately, a similar incident to what happened in Weed occurs. Lennie is playing with a puppy that was given to him by Slim. Unfortunately, he gets too rough and accidentally kills the puppy. Curley’s wife walks in and sees an upset Lennie sitting in the barn. She attempts to talk to him, and Lennie, at first, tells her that George does not want him to talk to her.
Lennie soon confides in her about the death of the puppy. After he explains his obsession with rabbits and soft things, she offers to let him stroke her hair. She gets angry because he begins stroking it too hard, and Lennie panics when she begins to yell. He begins shaking her, attempting to make her be quiet, but unfortunately, he accidentally kills her (Steinbeck 84-91). He runs, and when George finds him, he kills Lennie, believing it would be easier for Lennie to die in that way than by lynching (Steinbeck 106).
Lennie is not the only character who is discriminated against in Of Mice and Men. Another character, Crooks, is frequently at the receiving end of racist and derogatory comments from his peers. One particular word Is used incredibly often to refer to the stable-hand: Nigger. On pages nineteen and twenty, Candy explains to George and Lennie, who have just arrived, that the boss had asked where they were during breakfast. He also mentions that the boss give the stable buck hell, too.
When George asks why, Candy says, Ya see the stable buck’s a nigger. He uses this term in place of Crooks’ names six times on page twenty. Crooks received his name after being kicked by a horse, causing him to suffer from a crooked back. Similar to Lennie, he is often left out of activities due to his race and disability. He tells Lennie that he has been forced to sleep in the stables. When Lennie asks why they forced him out of the bunk house, Crooks tells him, Cause I’m black. They play cards in there, but I can’t play because I’m black. They say I stink. Well, I tell you, you all stink to me (Steinbeck 68).
Candy is also outcast by the rest of the ranch hands. He is kept around at the ranch due to his old age. However, due to having a hand accidentally amputated while working at the ranch, he can only do odd jobs that do not require strength and the use of two hands. Candy is eager to become part of Lennie and George’s dream to own their own ranch and even offers to let them use money he has saved up, because he doesn’t believe the boss will allow him to stay around much longer. I ain’t much good with on’y one hand. I lost my hand right here on this ranch. That’s why they give me a job swampin’, Candy explains to the two (Steinbeck 59). The duo begins to grow a friendship with Candy, but he is still looked down upon by the others, who say that he and his dog stink. The other ranch hands even peer pressure Candy into letting them put his dog down.