Loneliness and Friendship in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men
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The novel Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck describes the life of a man and his best friend who has the mentality of a child. Their friendship is very strong and this is unusual due to the other characters in the book being very lonely. Every time George and Lennie manage to stick a job out, Lennie makes a mistake and they are forced to leave. But they hope after all of their intense work that they can finally have their dream and get a place they can call their own. Through many difficulties and hardships they manage to deal with the arguments and lack of companionship at their workplace. Between the two key themes of friendship and loneliness Steinbeck makes the novel Of Mice and Men a real success.
One of the ways Steinbeck establishes the theme of loneliness is through setting itself. Section one of the book is set at a pleasant and peaceful river a few miles south of Soledad. The first four letters sole meaning only. Also Soledad means lonely place in Spanish. The river seems very secluded and isolated. There’s nothing but nature. It’s a very harmonious and tranquil place. A clearing so quiet you could hear a pin drop. It’s also the place George tells Lennie to meet him if he gets into any sort of trouble. This is a complete contrast to where the rest of the book is mainly set. A ranch where George and Lennie the two main characters manage to find work. The ranch displays isolation mainly through the actions characters take and the events that happen.
Characters in the novel also contribute to the understanding of the theme of loneliness. George Milton and Lennie Small are the two main characters in the novel. They are like two halves. “The first man was small and quick, dark of face, with restless eyes and sharp strong features.” George is the smaller of the two men but has taken care of Lennie for a while, since Lennie’s Aunt Clara died and this highlights the theme of friendship. He is the more knowledgeable one of the two. “You crazy son-of-a-bitch. You keep me in hot water all the time.” George gets a little irritated with Lennie at times but looks after him no matter what. Their friendship is solid has to watch over him at all times, as Lennie is incapable of looking after himself and is one of the many characters who doesn’t change at all through the novel.
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George is genuinely proud of Lennie and needs him otherwise he would be very lonely. “Behind him walked his opposite, a huge man, shapeless of face with large pale eyes.” Lennie is a very large man who has the strength of an animal. With Georges brain power and Lennies strength they become one whole. Lennie has a very short attention span and cannot concentrate on anything for a long length of time. Because of his slow mind Lennie cannot distinguish right from wrong, and doesn’t know anything about the consequences of his actions. Lennie is always reassured everything will be okay. "We have a dream. Someday, we'll have a little house and a couple of acres. A place to call home." Also we are shown this by George saying "Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world...They got no family. They don't belong no place...With us, it ain't like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us." Guys like us are the loneliest guys in the world. This is interesting as George and Lennie are the only workers that have a companion. Its also unusual as this is what introduces the theme of loneliness, while George and Lennie are the only workers their that know what if feels like to have someone to care for you.
Crook’s is another important character in Of Mice and Men in the terms of loneliness. Given the name for his crooked back, he is still a very respectable worker. He is incredibly self sufficient and this highlights the theme of loneliness. Crook’s sleeps in the barn, apart from everyone else. He is racially discriminated against, as he is the only black person on the ranch. Curley’s wife in particular is a bully towards him as she thinks she has more power over him than anyone else, as she is married to the bosses’ son and she’s white. Crooks longs for friendship with someone but nobody wants to communicate with him as he is coloured. Excitement in his actions when Lennie turns up to talk to him shows just how lonely he is. But Lennie only talks to Crooks when all the other men are out in town. He’s quite cruel towards Lennie and torments him. He keeps telling Lennie that George might not come back. The feeling given here shows that Crooks wants Lennie to feel just as isolated as he does. Loneliness is also shown when he offers to go and hoe the garden if Lennie and George accomplish their dream. He desires to be involved with other people and he hopes he can be a part of their dream. He also dreams that he was treated equally to white people. He knows his civil rights.
Although Curley’s wife is higher in authority she is also very isolated. She has nobody to talk to and looks to the men at the ranch for attention and is besieged by her loneliness. She is married to a man she doesn't love and who doesn't love her. There are no other women on the ranch and she has nothing to do in the house so she tries to seduce the workers and hangs around the bunkhouse. “She had full, rouged lips and wide spaced eyes, heavily made up. Her fingernails were red. Her hair hung in little rolled clusters, like sausages. Her voice had a brittle, nasal quality.” By the description given here, we see that Curley’s wife sounds like a beautiful women. She seeks the friendship of Lennie as she can see he is mesmerised by her, even although the other workers describe her as being a tart, a tramp and a bitch. Lennie having the mentality of a child he sees what he likes and wants to touch. We know this, as that’s why he had to leave his last job when he tried to feel a little girls soft red dress. Curley’s wife tries to become closer to him and tries to give him the things he wants. She invites Lennie to stroke her long soft hair. Lennie sees no wrong in this and does so and ends up breaking her neck. Loneliness is portrayed here, as Lennie has no one to talk to about this and can only turn to his best friend George. Lennie then makes his way back to the river to wait for George to come for him, as he is in trouble.
Candy is another significant character in Of Mice and Men. His only friend was his dog, but after the other workers pressure him to let the dog go he is influenced and forced to agree. He is helpless. After the passing of his dog, Candy doesn’t have anything to attach himself to so finds himself getting involved with George and Lennie’s dream, and hopes they can all get a place together. He needs something to hold onto and the dream is all he has got and his savings is what would make the dream possible. Also as the workers say Candy’s dogs useless, Candy gets the feeling that the boss thinks he’s useless and will declare he is not longer able to work.
Slim is the only character in the book that seems to be at peace with himself. He likes being alone and being able to think about things. He is the peacemaker and is always the one the other workers go to if they are in need of advice. Slim is the only one that really understands the friendship between George and Lennie and this is significant at the novels tragic ending.
Steinbeck also uses contrast to emphasise his theme of loneliness as he uses the two central characters George and Lennie, to show an alternative to this isolation. George and Lennie are the only workers on the whole ranch who actually have a strong friendship with one and other. George needs Lennie as a friend. Not only because he is a talented worker but also because he would be lonely otherwise. But this is contradictory to the end of the book. As all the workers know that it was Lennie that killed Curley’s wife, they all set out to kill him. George is being put under severe pressure and has to think about if he is going to bail Lennie out once again. In many ways nearer the end of the book you could say that George does what he does in an act of friendship, but in other ways an act of betrayal. George steals Carlson’s gun – a ranch worker and blames it on Lennie. George thinks that if anyone is to kill Lennie it should be him. George sets out and goes to the river that was the setting at the start of the book. He finds Lennie and reassuringly talks to him about the place they are going to get to thereselves when they have enough money. George tells Lennie about the rabbits he is going to be able to have and their couple of acres of ground. Lennie as usual gets excited about this and cannot tell that anything is different. At this point in time George is still acting as if everything is fine and that their friendship is as strong as ever. George having the gun tries to shoot Lennie many times before he actually does so. He cannot bring himself to do it as they’ve been friends for so long. Loneliness dominates the end of the novel as George had been a character with stable support throughout the novel but now he has murdered Lennie he doesn’t have someone he can properly trust. When the worker find George they assume that he got the gun of Lennie and shot him in self-defence only Slim really knows what has gone on.
In the end Steinbeck makes clear that isolation can be a big part of peoples lives. The novel ends with a description of the sunset. This symbolises George and Lennie’s friendship as it has come to an end. Only Slim really understands what has happened and how George is feeling. The ending of “Of Mice and Men” is tragic and a result of the pursuit of friendship and desire to escape loneliness.
Depending on the requirements for the essay, you might focus your essay on the idea that Of Mice and Menshows the complexity of friendship. Typically, when we think of two people who are friends, it's very clear how those friends should treat each other. George and Lenny, however, have a very unique relationship. They may be the best friend each other has, but George also looks after Lenny, which makes things complicated. He has...
Depending on the requirements for the essay, you might focus your essay on the idea that Of Mice and Men shows the complexity of friendship. Typically, when we think of two people who are friends, it's very clear how those friends should treat each other. George and Lenny, however, have a very unique relationship. They may be the best friend each other has, but George also looks after Lenny, which makes things complicated. He has to be a disciplinarian and keep Lenny in line while also treating him as a friend. At time, George is even frustrated with Lenny and questions whether he would be better without him. Lenny, on the other hand, looks up to George unwaveringly and never questions his friendship.
Your thesis might look something like this:
In the novel Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck uses the relationship between George and Lenny to show that friendships, while strong, may not always be easy and can be quite complex for one or both of the parties involved.