It has been said that a person can be in a room full of people yet feel deeply lonely and detached from everyone. It is alsxo true that a person can be left all completely alone but not feel at all lonely. No one wants to experience the ache of loneliness, yet we have all known what it feels like. John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer winning novella, Of Mice and Men, explores the theme of loneliness against the backdrop of the Great Depression.
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Dreams are pivotal to the characters’ lives, as they provide them with a sense of hope, purpose, and belonging. Dreams are coping mechanisms to take characters out of their miserable reality. Despite their attempts to change reality, a tragic loneliness prevails in the souls of many characters. Crooks, an African stable buck suffers from loneliness due to Racism; Curley’ wife is lonely because she is stereotyped; and Candy, an old man in his seventies, is lonely because people fail to understand his needs. To understand the reasons for each character’s loneliness supports further the tragic ending in Steinbeck’s novel.
Steinbeck’s choice to feature Crooks in only one chapter highlights the depth of Crooks’ loneliness, revealing an African American man whose entire life existed in a time of segregation, illustrating him as the loneliest character in the novel. In the fourth chapter, he is more closely examined when talking to Lennie, and behind his closed off personality, we began to see a more secluded side of Crooks. “‘…some of them was pretty nice. My ol’ man didn’t like that. I never knew until long later why he didn’t like that. But I know now.’ He hesitated, and when he spoke again his voice was softer… ‘He laughed. ‘If I say something, why it’s just a _____ sayin’ it.’” (page 70). Crooks is the only Black man on the ranch, and years of past discrimination and racism have made it hard for him to not be alone. However, later that same chapter Crooks start to change his mind. “… If you … guys would want a hand to work for nothing—just his keep, why I’d come an’ lend a hand. I ain’t so crippled I can’t work like a son-of-a-_____ if I want to” (page 76). Crooks starts to think that this plan will work. He is convinced by Candy’s money and Lennie’s confidence; however this is also when conflict strikes. Curley’s wife enters the room, trying to cause drama, and Crooks retaliates against her. “Well, you keep your place then, _____. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny… Crooks had reduced himself to nothing. There was no personality, no ego—nothing to arouse either like or dislike. He said, ‘Yes, ma’am,’ and his voice was toneless” (page 81). Crooks is again hit with racism, reminding him that it would be better not to pursue the dream. His past experiences taught him that this wouldn’t go well, and he was right. While Crooks attempted to pursue the dream with Lennie and George, he realizes the hard truth that it won’t work and decides to live the rest of the book and probably more of his life lonely.
Another very lonely character who hides her solitude under an attitude is Curley’s wife, stereotyped for her gender and not understood. In the beginning of the book, Curley’s wife was introduced as a character that was just trying to get others attention, however her character is deeply investigated in paragraph 5. When talking to Lennie she starts talking about her past. “I tell you I ain’t used to livin’ like this. I coulda made somethin’ of myself.’ She said darkly, ‘Maybe I will yet.’ And then her words tumbled out in a passion of communication, as though she hurried before her listener could be taken away. ‘I lived right in Salinas,’ she said. ‘Come there when I was a kid. Well, a show come through, an’ I met one of the actors. He says I could go with that show. But my ol’ lady would’ let me. She says because I was on’y fifteen. But the guy says I coulda. If I’d went, I wouldn’t be livin’ like this, you bet.’” (page 88). Curley’s wife is the only woman living on the ranch and has nobody who will talk to her normally, even her own husband, which is ironic because the only name we are given is Curley’s wife. Being the only girl, Curley’s wife is isolated from the rest of the characters because of her sexuality. She has become lonely and bored and her attempts to seek the others’ attention had backfired and made her even more secluded.
Candy wasn’t always lonely, but him being older than everyone and losing his best friend made him lonely. In the beginning, while people didn’t exactly understand the needs of Candy, like why kept his dog even though it was very old. “‘Why’n’t you shoot him, Candy?’ The old man squirmed uncomfortably. ‘Well-Hell!’ I had him so long. Had him since he was a pup…’” (page 44). Candy has always had his dog as a friend and didn’t need a dream because of it. Later in the book Candy’s dog is shot, by someone else, and Candy is suddenly even more lonely that he was before. “George half-closed his eyes. ‘I gotta think about that. We was always gonna do it by ourselves.’ Candy interrupted him, ‘I’d make a will an’ leave my share to you guys in case I kick off, ’cause I ain’t got no relatives or nothing…’” (page 59). This quote shows Candy clearly interested in the dream. Candy is interested in involving two people he doesn’t know that well and even willing to put them in his will. The author is illustrating how Candy wants to be accepted, feeling lonely and remorseful after loosing his only friend. Finally, nearing the end of the book, just before Lennie is killed, George tells Candy the truth. “‘Now Candy spoke his greatest fear. “You an’ me can get that little place, can’t we, George’…George said softly ‘-I think I knowed from the very first. I think I knowed we’d never do her.’” (page 94). In this quote George tells Candy the cold reality of the dream, that is was just a dream, and nothing more.
Of Mice and Men is a complex novella which features many different themes, but loneliness is one that prevails in almost all the characters. Crooks, Curley’s wife, and Candy all had a dream, a dream of having a better life and a hope for a bright future. Though, as the book progresses more and more challenges are put against this dream, the biggest one being their loneliness. This makes the end to the story even more tragic, having all the characters experience loneliness instead of achieving their dream. Candy had lost his dog and only friend, and after confiding in the dream, finds out that it will never happen. Curley’s wife had a dream of being an actor, but by trusting Curley, she is now living on a ranch where no one will talk to her, stereotyped because of her gender. Crooks, a man who has been treated horribly because of his skin color, wanted to have friends, is submit to more racism and left alone, separated from everyone else.
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