- The Great Depression
- Mass unemployment led to poverty
- Farming was affected: Itinerant (travelling) farm workers moved from farm to farm looking for work ( a lonely and isplating existence)
- Workers had few rights
- The American Dream - promise of a better life
- Treatment of women (sexism)
- Treatment of black people (segregation/racism)
- Disability and ageism
- The rise of Hollywood - ecapism
John Steinbeck - born 1902 in Salinas California
- Great Depression. Contrast between the driving force of capitalism in the 1920's and the economic hardships of the 1930's is highlighted through the way the characters articulate their own version of the American Dream, and the fact tht they will never be able to realise their version of this dream
- Role of women, civil rights and the growing influence of Hollywood are present in the narrative
- Novel makes a plea for sympathy and understanding for the lonely, the exculded and the vulnerable; it is permeated by an understanding based on Christianity, that human beings are fundamentally flawed
- George and Lennie embody an idea friendship and love that leads ultimately to tragedy but also, arguably, to the ultimate expression of that friendship in the poignant and sacrrifical act of killing Lennie
Ideas and Influences
Title a quatation from the poem 'To a mouse': 'the best laid schemes o'mice and men gang aft agely'
May be interpreted as no matter how hard we try things do not always go to plan. It connects men with mice, defalting men's sense of his own importance, or on a literal level it is linked to Lennie's fascination with mice which is connected firmly to the tragedy at the heart of the novel
Like the poem, the novel is written in collaquial language and deals with a deceptively simple idea. Burn's lines suggest the ultimate human tragedy of human existence which is that we are often at the mercy of random events
Strong moral message that resonates through the novel is the vulnerability of human beings who are in any way different. We see many examples of loneliness, isolation and sadness which are often met by cruelty and indifference, as well as occasionally by great kindness, understanding and love
Euthanasia: the death of Candy's dog foreshadows the death of Lennie and raises questions about how society treats the old, the weak and the vulnerable.
The Fall of Man: Religious connatations. The beauty of the natural settings is described lyrically and contrasted with the flawed and repressed characters that inhabit them. Imagery of light and dark, representing good and evil is frequent.
Many characters feel lost and excluded from a 'paradise' they yearn for. The necessity to toil for little reward is a reality for George and Lennie and the other ranch hands. These all have biblical, social and political significance.
The American Dream: tragedy of Lennie's death and backdrop of the economic hardship of the Great Depression could be seen as an ironic response to the idea that all American citizens have the opportunity to better themselves.
The Dream - for George the dream means independence, security and being 'somebody'. To lennie the dream is security, resposibility and a sanctuary where he doesn't have to be afraid. To Candy it offers security in old age and a home where he will fit in and for Crooks it's a place where he can have self - respect, acceptance and security. For all the men, human dignity is an integral part of the dream.
Position of Women
- Portrayal of women is limited and unflattering.
- CW is dissatisfied with her marriage and bored so is constantly looking for excitement and companionship. In one of her more revealing momnets she threatnens to have Crooks lynched if he complains about her. Her instinence on flirting with Lennie seals her fate.
- Although Steinbeck does finally offer a sympathetic view of Curley's wife by allowing her to voice her unhappiness and her own dream, women have no place in his idealised vision of world structured around the brotherly bonds of men.
- The characters are doomed: there seems no way out their lonely and tedious day-to-day lives
- Life on the ranch for itinerant farm workers is hard
- No one gets to live their dreams
- There's lots of death and dashed hopes
Lots of things are doomed:
- Quality of life
- Lennie id particularly doomed
- Trouvle is inevitable
- No one is happy at the end
Importance of Setting
- Descritption of the natural world is poetic and lyrical although he also reveals nature to be cruel and savage.
- Peace and harmony of the natural world is a contrast to the violent behaviour of the people.
- Idyllic setting turns predatory in the final chapter - instead of a place of sanctuary the pool is now associated with death; instead of rabbits playing the heron swallows the snake whole. Instead of green leaves and a gentle breeze they are brown, dying leaves and a gust of wind. Instead of safety for Lennie there is death; instead of companionship for George there is a future of lonliness.
- The final scene is poigant, Lennie dies in blissful ignorance, George must surrender his dream. Lennie was the only thing that distinguished his life from the lives of other men and gave him a sense of purpose.
- Carlson and Curley represent the harsh realities of the real world - this a world where the weak will be vanquished by the strong.
Crooks: he has a crooked back; a crook is a theif - sterotype of black men (racism)
Carlson: is just an average guy on the ranch. Carl in America means "a man of the common people"
George Milton: has no obvious connotations or associations. Protagonist - perhaps Steinbeck wants us to think of him as a real person, rather than a stereotype.
Curley's Wife: No name
- Possesion of her husband - no identity of her own
- Not respected by men
- Even the prostitutes in Soledad have names
- She wants recognition, attention, her own identity and her own life but she never gets this
Places names are meaningful:
- Soledad means loneliness in Spanish - all the characters are lonely in some way
- Weed is where George and Lennie have come from where "Lennie did a bad thing"
- A weed has negative associations: they grow rapidly and are unwanted. They derive plants of space, food and water. They spoil things just as the memory of what happened in Weed spoils G and L's new life.
Language is realistic:
- Men speak in an American accent
- Full of slang and dialect
- Dialogue is spelt phonetically
- Dialogue is informal and collaquial
- Sometimes grammatically incorrect
- Could suggest that the characters are ignorant or not very well educated - but not stupid
- Lots of dialogue. The men like talking as they are lonely and crave companionship