Of Mice and Men – a Classic Work of American Literature
John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is a classic work of American literature set in California during the Great Depression in the 1930s. The protagonists, George Milton and Lennie Small, are migrant workers who find job opportunities on a ranch near Soledad, having fled from their previous place of employment in a town called Weed. During the time George and Lennie spend in the Salinas Valley, they encounter many different people with distinct backgrounds, personalities, and experiences that exhibit sharp contrast when compared to those of the two close companions. Steinbeck’s portrayal of characters such as Crooks and Curley’s wife illustrates the theme of loneliness, as these are two individuals who are discriminated against repeatedly throughout the novella.Crooks serves as the stable hand on the ranch, responsible for the tending and care of the horses.
As the only colored man on the ranch, Crooks’s physical disabilities serve to make others believe that he is incapable of certain interactions. He lives in solitude in the harness room attached to the barn, and he has more possessions than the other men, as the ranch is his permanent residence. However, his books and material items do not provide him with the companionship that another person might. Crooks explains to Lennie why he is isolated from the others, responding to his question about not being wanted in the bunkhouse by saying, ‘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, all of you stink to me’ (Steinbeck 68). This is evidence of the ways in which the other men on the ranch discriminate against Crooks because of his race. Despite being a man of color, Crooks shares the same American Dream as many, many other workers during the Great Depression, fantasizing about owning property and living a life free of responsibility. Unfortunately, his physical challenges and traits prevent him from pursuing these dreams, and he is forced to create a harsh and brittle facade for himself.
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This facet acts as protection from the bitter reality that was unveiled as he lost his childhood ignorance, the fact that not all white people view those of color as their equals.Crooks only wishes to feel like someone else cares for him because A guy needs somebody to be near him A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody’ (Steinbeck 72). Crooks feels as though he may be going crazy; he tells Lennie about having seen things that are not really there. Yet, he has no companions to tell him whether what he sees is a figment of his imagination. Without another man by his side, the only way for Crooks to escape his life filled with loneliness and affliction is through his memories of the past and his hopes and aspirations for a brighter future.On the contrary, Curley’s wife is a young, privileged white woman. Nevertheless, Steinbeck illustrates the same theme of loneliness in the fact that she is the only female on the ranch. She is initially described as a tart and depicted as a pretty, yet flirtatious girl. Curley’s wife appears on multiple occasions throughout the novella when there are only a few men present, claiming to be looking for Curley but truly seeking company. She tells Lennie, I never get to talk to nobody. I get awful lonely You can talk to people, but I can’t talk to nobody but Curley.
Else he gets mad’ (Steinbeck 86). This, when coupled with her being unnamed, illustrates her association with Curley. Curley regards his wife as a possession, an object of his that he refuses to share. He commands her to stay in the house, but she disobeys. In this way, Curley’s wife isolates herself; the men who work on the ranch avoid her because they are afraid of Curley, who, being a pugnacious and possibly superior man, will grow angry and seek a fight. She is discriminated against because of her gender, such that the men want nothing to do with her. The message Steinbeck sends in Of Mice and Men by means of this theme of loneliness is the importance of relationships. Though some of the characters on the ranch, such as Crooks and Curley’s wife, are not entirely isolated, they are lonely because they are discriminated against due to their race, disabilities, or gender. The scenes that focus on Crooks and Curley’s wife reveal that the two are sorely lacking a sense of companionship and camaraderie with others, unlike George and Lennie.