Themes – of Mice and Men
Of Mice and Men, a novella written by John Steinbeck, is a tragedy incorporating a hero with a tragic flaw, a climax, and a tragic resolution. The title of the novella, “Of Mice and Men”, is the first clue to Steinbeck’s specific cultural issues. The title is a line taken from a poem called, “To a Mouse”, by Robert Burns.
This poem talks about man’s enslavement to forces of both elemental and human nature which cannot be controlled, destroying hopes and dreams. This stems into the theme of the loss of the American Dream. Along with alienation, the American Dream is a major theme explored throughout the course of the novel.
Of Mice and Men is a story about the nature of human dreams and aspirations and the forces that work against them. Humans give meaning to their lives by creating dreams. George and Lennie’s dream — to own a little farm of their own — is so central to Of Mice and Men that it appears in some form in five of the six chapters. The telling of the story, which George has done so often, becomes a ritual between the two men: George provides the narrative, and Lennie, who has difficulty remembering even simple instructions, finishes George’s sentences.
To George, this dream of having their own place means independence, security, being their own boss, and, most importantly, being “somebody. ” To Lennie, the dream is like the soft animals he pets: It means security, the responsibility of tending to the rabbits, and a sanctuary where he won’t have to be afraid. This theme not only applies to George and Lennie, but also to Candy and Crooks. To Candy, who sees the farm as a place where he can assert a responsibility he didn’t take when he let Carlson kill his dog, it offers security for old age and a home where he will fit in.
For Crooks, the little farm will be a place where he can have self-respect, acceptance, and security. Having and sharing the dream, however, are not enough to bring it to life. Each man must make a sacrifice or battle some other force that seeks to steal the dream away. Some of these obstacles are external – the threat from Curley’s wife, Curley’s violence, and the societal prejudices that plague each man; others are internal – Lennie’s strength and his need to touch soft things. For George, the greatest threat to the dream is Lennie himself; ironically, it is Lennie who also makes the dream worthwhile.
In addition to dreams, humans crave contact with others to give life meaning. Alienation 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, similarly to the American Dream, 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 people on the ranch. Crooks is isolated because of his skin colour.
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. Of Mice and Men is a novella that tries to explain what it means to be human. Man is a very small part of a very large universe; in the greater scheme of things, individuals come and go and leave very little, lasting marks. Yet deep inside all people is a longing for a place in nature — the desire for the land, roots, and a place to call “home. ” Steinbeck explores the themes of the America Dream and alienation to portray the uncertainty of success.