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Thesis Statement: the cycle of oppression and insecurity seen in society is in fact reflected in the novel itself where the author attempts to create a microcosm of the current state of society by having the characters portray the various types of personalities people encounter on a daily basis.
How the Novel Relates to the Greater Theme of Human Society
In the novel, “Of Mice and Men”, Steinbeck relays an unfortunate facet of human nature, namely, the fact that humans have a predatory nature of existence which is epitomized by the saying “it’s a dog eat dog world” (Cardullo, 19 – 29).
This is exemplified by the actions of nearly all the characters wherein at one point or another in the story, despite displaying a sense of loneliness or a form of isolation with each character seeking some form of companionship, they still choose to exploit or demean those who they believe are weaker than they are (Cardullo, 19 – 29).
For example, the African American, Crooks, demeans Lennie for his dependence on George yet he himself is lonely and wishes to have the same type of companion. Such apparent derision is followed by a scene involving Crooks and the wife of Curley who demeans Crooks on the basis of his race and various social prejudices yet she herself admits later on in the story that she feels lonely and isolated due to neglect on the part of Curley and her desire to be a movie star.
What must be understood is that throughout the novel a certain cycle can be seen wherein each character apparently demeans and derides the other with each form of derision going from character to character until it completes a full circle and arrives back at the character that started this apparent cycle of continued derision (Jain and Bloom, 45 – 46).
From this it can be seen that Steinbeck is apparently trying to impart to readers the fact that the only way humans can cope with their own feelings of weakness and insecurity is to find it in others and deride them for it (Jain and Bloom, 45 – 46). In fact it can be stated that feelings of insecurity various characters have throughout the novel is in effect the result of the cycle of derision wherein each character continues to foster the feeling of weakness and insecurity in the other.
In a sense this cycle of derision can thus be interpreted as a form of oppression wherein Steinbeck is trying to relay the message that oppression itself does not originate only from the hands of the strong but from the weak as well and that it is this very cycle that people apparently seem to draw a certain degree of strength (Jain and Bloom, 45 – 46).
Such a cycle can actually be seen in a regular high school setting wherein popular kids demean geeks, nerds and the “less popular” but they themselves are insecure due to the tenuous nature of popularity in that they deride and shame others in order to remain popular and maintain their status.
This is also seen in various parts of the novel wherein in order to maintain the sense of identity the characters have forged for themselves they oppress other characters in order to maintain the sense of who they are yet such a method of creating an identity is in itself based on nothing more than a method of covering up their own inherent weaknesses.
Such a case can be seen in various social examples wherein women deride and demean other women due to their appearance yet they themselves are inherently insecure. Men oppress other men on the basis of the other’s sexuality yet they themselves are insecure about their own sexuality. Finally, even children demean other children in the form of bullying yet in most cases such actions are the result of their own troubled households (Sardar and Saunders, 48).
Based on this it can be seen that the cycle of oppression and insecurity seen in society is in fact reflected in the novel itself where the author attempts to create a microcosm of the current state of society by having the characters portray the various types of personalities people encounter on a daily basis.
Concept of Hopes and Dreams
Another facet of the novel and how it relates to human society is the concept of hopes and dreams and how it helps people to survive despite never becoming real. This is actually a continuing theme in the novel wherein each character displays a particular type of hope or dream that never truly materializes yet is one of the driving forces behind their behavior.
For example the concept of George and Lennie’s farm is actually symbolic of the idyllic life that the characters in novel are after(Person Jr. et al., 71- 72). This is evidenced by the fact that so many of the main characters in novel are entranced by the idea of owning a farm that they even request to be part of the venture.
It must be noted that the farm itself symbolizes freedom for the various men within the ranch. For Candy it symbolizes freedom from the fear of being cast out of the ranch due to his old age while for Crooks the farm is symbolic of his freedom from the prejudices of the world where the color of ones skin dictates the amount of respect and opportunities one receives.
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Thus the concept of the farm is one closely related to the shared dream of freedom by all the men which enables them to continue to persevere despite events and occurrences heaping more problems onto their lives (Person Jr. et al., 71- 72). This is evidenced by the scene involving George wherein he felt relaxed enough to go with the other ranch hands to the town despite Lenny getting into an earlier fight with Curley.
An examination of the character of George in the novel reveals that early on he came to the realization that the world itself, or perhaps society, is designed to prey on the weak. This rationalization comes after his introspection regarding his previous actions towards Lennie wherein he actually abused Lennie in order to amuse himself.
It must be noted that in similar novels where the character comes to realize that the world around him is a dystopia such characters often wind up sinking into a hopeless depression yet in the case of George such a situation does not come about. In fact it can be seen as the story progresses that despite the continuing problems he encounters he still continues to behave in the same manner and does not sink into a depressing state.
The reason behind this can be connected to his dream of freedom, of being able to leave work when he wants to, watch a baseball game at his leisure and be in a place where he and Lennie can live in safety and comfort (Tecott, 646). It is this particular dream that becomes the driving force behind the actions of George despite the problems he has to endure from Curly or Curly’s wife.
It must be noted that the concept of hopes and dreams helping a person survive is actually based off the notion that people created the concept of God in order to find a form of sanctuary. Various scholars have posited the idea that God is nothing more than a concept created by people in order to fulfill the specific purpose of helping man comfort himself. This is done by having all the negative problems that occur in his life be justified by the fact that there is a entity greater than him who will give him his just rewards when he dies.
In fact the justification of the afterlife is firmly embedded in the concept of God wherein fear of the unknown that comes after death is tempered by the belief that there is a God and that when we die there will be an afterlife. As such it can be seen that this concept was developed in order to help comfort people, to give them solace and to help them focus on something else other than the situation they are in.
This particular method of thinking is similar to the concept of hopes and dreams helping people survive since it is hopes and dreams that help to distract people from the hopelessness of their situation. It gives them the ability to see what could potentially be in front of them should they continue on the path they striving on, past the difficulty they are currently experiencing. In no situation is this more exemplified than that of Candy in the novel.
Due to his increasing age and the fact that he is missing a hand Candy eventually comes to see the farm described by Lennie as freedom from a world where his deteriorating age and handicap serves as a constant reminder of the potential for him to be kicked off of the ranch by Casey (Doren and Bloom, 26 – 27). In fact it can even be seen that at times Candy seems even desperate for the concept of the farm to actually succeed which is an indication of how strong the influence the dream has had on his own life.
It can be said that the novel itself is reminder of how dreams can have such power over a person’s life and actions that they even determine how they behave (Andrews, 131 – 134). This particular concept can actually be seen and is even directly alluded to in the novel by Curly’s wife. Towards the latter part of the novel she admits that she feels incredibly dissatisfied with her life and dreams to become a movie star and leave the confines of the ranch (Doren and Bloom, 26 – 27).
It is seen that her demeaning attitude towards the other characters in the novel is actually a result of her frustrations at the course of her own life yet she still clings to the dream of being a movie star despite there having absolutely no chance of it occurring in the future (Doren and Bloom, 26 – 27). For her it is a coping mechanism, designed to conceal and help her cope with the frustration of the utter hopelessness of her situation (Watt and Bloom, 37 – 38).
It must be noted that a continuing theme in the novel is the loneliness and isolation each character faces however Steinbeck creates a coping mechanism for each character by having each of them have a particular dream that they want to obtain (Watt and Bloom, 37 – 38). In fact it is strongly alluded to in the novel that it is hopes and dreams that continue to give people the will to live and survive and that once it is taken away people tend to die due to the lack of a goal, even though it is unattainable.
Such an assumption is proven by the symbolic death of Lennie. In various scenes throughout the novel it is strongly alluded to that Lennie will eventually meet a rather grisly end such as the scene involving Candy’s dog and his fight with Curly. It is when these factors combine and culminate that the concept of the dream vanishes since it no longer becomes even marginally possible to achieve resulting in the death of Lennie.
Lennie Being the Personification of a Dream
As mentioned earlier the novel itself can be interpreted as a microcosm of human nature and society, reflecting the nature of humanity and how society reacts to human nature. Based on this it can be said that the various characters within can even be interpreted as being nothing more than symbolic representations of aspects of humanity and society.
The character of Lennie can thus be interpreted as being the personification of the human dream, his innocence and purity are similar to that of the dreams of many individuals which when examined lack the harsh realities of the real world and like a dream Lennie does not realize the capacity of his own strength.
This particular interpretation of the character of Lennie can actually be seen in the way how Candy, Crooks and George all seem to believe in and are snared by the vision of the farm created by Lennie and the freedom it entails for all of them. Lennie is the personification of the innocent hopes and dreams people tend to have in order to survive yet just like these very dreams when faced with the stark harshness of reality they tend to die.
His death is symbolic of the death of dreams when faced with reality, in that the scenes involving his habit of stroking soft things culminating in the death of the Curly’s wife could in fact be interpreted as the harshness of reality slowly creeping up on Lennie with the subsequent deaths of the animals and Curly’s wife being symbolic of the way in which reality slowly eats away at a dream till nothing is left at all.
Andrews, Christopher. “The Essential Criticism of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.” Steinbeck Review 6.2 (2009): 131-134. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web.
Cardullo, Bert. “On the Road to Tragedy: Mice, Candy, and Land in Of Mice and Men.” American Drama 16.1 (2007): 19-29. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web.
Doren, Mark Van, and Harold Bloom. “Mark Van Doren on the Unrealistic Characters in of Mice and Men.” Bloom’s Notes: Of Mice & Men (1999): 26-27. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web.
Jain, Sunita, and Harold Bloom. “SUNITA JAIN ON EVIL IN OF MICE AND MEN.” Bloom’s Notes: Of Mice & Men (1999): 45-46. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web.
Person Jr., Leland S., and Harold Bloom. “LELAND S. PERSON JR. ON THE DREAM OF A MALE UTOPIA.” Bloom’s Major Novelists: John Steinbeck (2000): 71-72. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web.
Sardar, Ziauddin, and Francess Stonor Saunders. “Of mice and men.” New Statesman 129.4517 (2000): 48. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web.
Tecott, Laurence H. “The Genes and Brains of Mice and Men.” American Journal of Psychiatry 160.4 (2003): 646. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web.
Watt, F. W., and Harold Bloom. “F. W. Watt on The Characters in of Mice and Men.” Bloom’s Notes: Of Mice & Men (1999): 37-38. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Web.