Of Mice and Men Power and Powerlessness Notes

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Power and Powerlessness in `Of Mice and Men'
Steinbeck's characters are often the underdogs, and he shows compassion toward them
throughout the body of his writings. Powerlessness takes many forms -- intellectual, financial,
societal and Steinbeck touches on them all.
Although Lennie is physically strong and would therefore seem to represent someone of
power, the only power Lennie possesses is physical. Because of his mental handicap and his
childlike way of perceiving the world, he is powerless against his urges and the forces that
assail him. For example, he knows what it is to be good, and he doesn't want to be bad, but
he lacks the mental acuity that would help him understand and, therefore, avoid the dangers
that unfold before him. Hence, he must rely on George to protect him.
George, in this regard, is also powerless. Although he can instruct Lennie on what to do and
not do, and although he perceives the danger posed by Curley's wife, he cannot be with
Lennie every hour of every day and, therefore, cannot truly protect Lennie from himself. In the
end, the only power that George has is that he can try and protect Lennie from the others.
Another type of powerlessness is economic. Because the ranch hands are victims of a
society where they cannot get ahead economically, they must struggle again and again.
George and Lennie face overwhelming odds in trying to get together a mere $600 to buy their
own land. But they are not the only ones who have shared the dream of owning land, nor the
only ones who have difficulty securing the mean by which to do it. As Crooks explains, "I seen
guys nearly crazy with loneliness for land, but ever' time a whorehouse or a blackjack game
took what it takes." In other words, it is part of the human condition to always want instant
gratification rather than save for tomorrow. As long as the men spend their money on the
weekends, they will continue to be powerless. On the other hand, living lives of unremitting
loneliness and harshness makes companionship -- even for a weekend -- alluring enough to
overshadow a dream. Furthermore, the men are paid so little that it is difficult to save enough
to make a dream come true.
Crooks represents another type of powerlessness. As the sole black man on the ranch, he is
isolated from the others, and, in ways that the others are not, subject to their whim. This is
never more apparent than when Curley's wife threatens to have him lynched. Despite his
inherent dignity, Crooks shrinks into himself, essentially becoming invisible under her assault.
The fact that she, another powerless person, wields such power over him demonstrates how
defenceless he is in this society.
The Boss is obviously powerful on the ranch as he owns it and commands the workforce. His
word is final, but he is respected by all of the men on the farm. Whereas Curley on the other
hand is not respected by anyone on the farm. Curley is powerful on the farm, but as he is not
respected he struggles to wield this power. A powerful leader has to have the respect of the
workforce, as Curley does not have this, he is not very powerful on the farm, and he doesn't
even have power over his wife.


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