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In the novella Of Mice and Men, author John Steinbeck uses particular symbols to foreshadow tragic events and to help project the overall theme of the novel. These symbols, such as the water snake and the Heron, Candy’s dog, and the rabbits, help convey the themes of dreams, friendship, and sacrifice throughout the novella.
The water snake and the Heron bring to light the idea of coexisting friendship and later sacrifice. Just like the water snake and the Heron, George, and Lennie have this coexisting friendship at the beginning of the novella as they travel together and always watch each other’s back no matter the circumstances. Steinbeck clearly shows this as we learn they have been together since their childhood. George has always taken care of Lennie, who doesn’t realize his own strength and who has the mind of a small child. Even so, as the story progresses, their friendship and dreams go awry as Lennie accidentally kills Curley’s wife. Approaching Lennie’s death, Steinbeck once more describes the Heron and the water snake. However, instead of coexisting together, the Heron devours the water snake and flies off down the river.
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This symbolizes the sacrifice in George and Lennie’s friendship and dream. In the novella, when George is getting ready to kill Lennie, they recount their dream of owning a piece of land and how they would live off their land with Lennie tending to the rabbits. It is then when George shoots Lennie that not only their friendship ends but also their dream. The Heron represents Lennie, and the water snake represents George and their dreams. Lennie is symbolized by the Heron that devours the snake. George and the dream of owning land, symbolized by a snake that is devoured by the Heron, represent the death and sacrifice of their friendship and dream. Lennie’s death can also be inferred as a way for Lennie to no longer have to suffer and for him to live their dream in heaven. The Heron’s flight after eating the water snake in the novella symbolizes this as it represents Lennie’s departure from Earth to heaven.
Another important symbol in the novella is Candy’s dog which represents the friendship between Lennie and George. Candy loved his dog even if he was no longer useful as a sheepdog and smelled terrible. Candy, even though he loved his dog, had let Carlson shoot his dog to put the old aching dog out of its misery. Like George’s and Lennie’s friendship George like Candy, had to shoot his best friend to put them out of their misery and put them to rest in a better place.
Another symbol that helps project the overall theme of the novella is the rabbits that Lennie is constantly dreaming of. The rabbits are a symbol of Lennie’s and George’s dreams, as when Lennie refers to their dream of owning their own land and living off the land. He always connects their dreams to the rabbits and how he will tend the rabbits. The rabbits are also mentioned by Candy and how the rabbits will help them make a profit on their land. The rabbits not only show the dream but the success of those dreams. Candy mentions how the rabbits will help them make a profit on their land.
Candy’s mention of the profit of the rabbits connects to the idea that they would succeed in owning land and will show the success of the dream. Therefore showing their passion for the American dream and how close they were to reaching that dream. However, the failure of the dream is also shown as we get closer to the end of the novella. A giant rabbit appears from Lennie’s mind and speaks with Lennie saying, “Tend rabbits,” it said scornfully. “You crazy bastard. You ain’t fit to lick the boots of no rabbit. You’d forget ’em and let ’em go hungry. That’s what you’d do” (97). The rabbit saying this not only symbolizes Lennie’s fear at the loss of his friendship with George but also the loss of their dream. He fears forgetting the dream and not being able to complete his dreams.
Of Mice and Men shows that dreams such as the American dream, no matter how close they seem, are unreachable, and friendship requires painful sacrifice. Just like the snake and the Heron, George sacrifices his dream and his friendship for Lennie. Candy’s dog foreshadows this moment as just like Candy putting his dog to rest in hopes of a better life in the afterlife and peace, George shoots Lennie putting not only Lennie to rest in hopes of a better place in the afterlife but also giving his unreachable dreams to rest. The rabbits symbolize the unreachable American Dream of George and Lennie. These symbols and the novella shows that no matter how close they were to reach their dreams, in the end, the dream will never be reached and that, in the end, friendship requires a type of sacrifice and pain.
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