Of Mice and Men Theme notes:

Notes on the Of Mice and Men themes. Credit to Shmoop, Yahoo voices and Gradesaver  for notes on these.

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The theme of weakness

There are many different types of weakness presented in Steinbeck's novel- in fact, it's almost as diverse as all of the characters.

Mentally, Lennie is weak. George is weak because he is unable to achieve or fight for his dream. Curley also feels weak, and so resents being quite a small man.

Weakness is a reality for almsot everyone who lives on the ranch. However, this suprisingly forces them to brush up against each other, and accept fights, often inspired by their own weaknesses as they come. This could be because of their environment, where weakness is frowned upon on a ranch full of strong men, where maculinity dominates.

Many characters know their own weaknesses, and so they are quick to try and cover them up, but this can lead to confrontation, a typical bullying situation- characters' weaknesses make them insecure, and so the men fight and judge others, in order to avoid having their flaws exploited or exposed to the other men on the ranch.

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The Theme of strength against weak

Steinbeck explores and illustrates how the power of strength is nonetheless a weakness.

Physical strength is the first strength that Steinbeck comments about. He uses Lennie to demonstrate and illustrate physical strength as the main character of the novel. At the start of the Novel, Lennie is pictured by the reader to be taller, broader and stronger than a typical ranch worker.

Ultimately, Lennie demonstrates his strength with Curley. Curley picks of Lennie after getting angry at laughing at him. Curley however didn't know the strength Lennie owned, and that he was strong enough to defend himself. With the clench of his fist, Lennie is able to break Curley's hand, teaching a lesson that he'll never forget.

For Lennie, it is phsical strength that is admired and most desired by other men on the ranch- it gets Lennie a job offer on the ranch, as he is able to carry a larger workload and work much faster than the majority of other men. However, Lennie is made weak by his mental disability, making it difficult to remember things. This means that his character is balanced out with this weakness.

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The Theme of strength against weak cntd.

One symnol of the strong over the weak is the death of Lennie's puppy, who Lennie accidentally pets too hard. He strangles it, breaking its neck, and so he buries it beneath some old hay. Here, the puppy represents the weak.

The weak are those who were discriminated against, made a mockery of and constantly oppressed. These were the migrant workers. Lennie however represents the physcially strong, who were people with guns, money and women. These people, primarily, were rich and high in staus. Leading on from these ideas, the puppy's death symbolizes how the strong destroy the weak, with the weak left helpless when the strong oppress (dominate harshly) them, take advantage of them and then leave them to die.

In contrast, Candy's dog's death foreshadows Lennie's own death. Everyone on the ranch keeps persisting that Candy should kill his dog, and so put it out of its misery. But Candy is so attached to the dog- he doesn't want to. Nonetheless, no-one on the ranch appears to care for his opinion. In one sense, the ranchers' carelessness for his dog represents how the strong desire to dispose of weak, just because they are weak, but this carelessness fuels the foreshadowing of Lennie's death, as he is weak in the sense that he has a mental disability.

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The Theme of loneliness of the intinerant worker

Loneliness is a key theme in Of Mice and Men. Steinbeck subtly makes this theme present, with his decision to set the novel in Soledad, California, which means "solitude" i.e. loneliness in Spanish. He also makes the theme outspoken. The presence of loneliness defines the actions of the different characters within the novel.

It was almost imossible for the intinerant farm worker during the Great Depression to find and establish a fixed home. This meant the men were forced to wander from ranch to ranch in search of temporary employment, to live in bunk houses with strangers and to suffer the abuses of different bosses. George is able to sum up the misery of the situation at several points during the novel as he talks to Lennie- "Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They go no family. They don't belong no place."

However, George clearly says that "With [George and Lennie] it ain't like that.". Both he and Lennie have found companionship- they watch out for one another. Beyond this, they have a dream of finding a fixed place that they are able to call home, a farm of their own. They are doing whatever they can to resist suffering from the miserable loneliness, that other workers have to put up with.

However, the death of Lennie shows the end of the mens' dream. Steinbeck appears to believe that loneliness is something that we are forced to live with, and no matter how for or how long you try to avoid it, it will find you.

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The Theme of loneliness at home

Most of the characters in the novel appear to show signs of desperate isolation.

Candy is the only other character, aside from Lennie and George, who has an unconditional love for a fellow creature. He however is left utterly deprived when Carlson takes his dog and shoots it. Candy's immediate attachment to George and Lennie's plan to settle on a farm of their own can be seen as a natural emotional progression, following his loss. Candy looks for new companionship now that he has lost his dog.

Candy is not the only one who shows desperate loneliness. Crooks and Curley's wife also suffer from this, but they respond quite differently. Each of these two characters are isolated because of special mistreatment. Crooks is shunned by other men because of his race. At the beginning of section four, we see that Crooks spends his time in his room, alone and bitter. Curley's wife too spends her days harassed by her mean husband. She attempts to reach out to the other men to escape her loneliness, but this backfires, and she wins a reputation of a flirt (although this is deserved).

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The Theme of loneliness at home

Most of the characters in the novel appear to show signs of desperate isolation.

Candy is the only other character, aside from Lennie and George, who has an unconditional love for a fellow creature. He however is left utterly deprived when Carlson takes his dog and shoots it. Candy's immediate attachment to George and Lennie's plan to settle on a farm of their own can be seen as a natural emotional progression, following his loss. Candy looks for new companionship now that he has lost his dog.

Candy is not the only one who shows desperate loneliness. Crooks and Curley's wife also suffer from this, but they respond quite differently. Each of these two characters are isolated because of special mistreatment. Crooks is shunned by other men because of his race. At the beginning of section four, we see that Crooks spends his time in his room, alone and bitter. Curley's wife too spends her days harassed by her mean husband. She attempts to reach out to the other men to escape her loneliness, but this backfires, and she wins a reputation of a flirt (although this is deserved).

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The Theme of "The Rabbits"

Steinbeck describes the acitivity of the natural world in both the novel's opening and closing chapters. These passages of text are rich and interpretable in many directions. Steinbeck writes about the rabbits who happily "sit on the sand". However they are distrubed by the arrival of George and Lennie as they "hurr[y] noiselessly for cover". This later on reveals a richer significance, as we learn thar rabbits represent for Lennie, and slightly less of George, the dream of obtaining a farm of their own, living "off the fatta the lan". The scattering of the rabbits at the beginning of the novel already suggests that their dream will prove hard to get hold of.

Lennie takes pride in the fact that he will be trusted to protect the rabbits and feed them out of their alfalfa patch. His entire future happiness is placed on this one image of caring for the rabbits.

The dream of having rabbits literally becomes a dream at the end of the novel, when Lennie hallucinates a giant rabbit who tells him he will never be able to tend the rabbits. This highlights the extent to which Lennie bases his entire life around the goal of tending the rabbits. The only though Lennie therefore has after doing something terribly bad is that George will now not allow him to tend the rabbits. The fact that Lennie fails to see his actions in terms of good and evil reveals just how unfit Lennie is for society.

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Women

Very few woman are illustarted within the Novel, but this isn't very suprising when you consider the characters concerned within the novel. It seems that the labourers don;t have an opportunity or the time to settle down with woman in mutually respectful relationships. Instead of this, they seek the company of prostitutes to "a flop" on the weekends.

Their attitudes toward women may be linked to their dissatisfying life. Out of all the men, you could say that Curley has the best life, especially wife his dad as the boss of the ranch, leaving no reason for him to be 'canned'. His luckiness in comparison to the other men could be represented by having a wife. Slim could also be seen as quite lucky, and this could be represented by Curley's wife keen interest in him as opposed to the other men on the ranch, including her own husband.

George expresses respect for only two types of women- on one hand, he has a maternal figure who is represented by Aunt Clara, for whom George took over the role of looking after Lennie. George also respects the prostitutes, where he likes how straight-forward the arrangement at the house of prostitution is.

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Women Cntd

There is only one female character presented within the novel. She has not even been given a name of her own, and does not fit in neatly with either of George's two categories. She is a domestic figure, especially as she is married to Curley and spends the majority of her time at home. However, at the same time, she is a flirtatiuos, highly sexualised figure. Her status between these two traits makes her extremely problematic within the novel, and makes her a source of anxiety and unrest. She leads to trouble, which is immediately observed by George.

The reader may question Steinbeck's simple willingness to pin the role of a trouble-maker on one unamed woman. Curley's wife is regulary used as a scapegoat within the novel, blamed for the lustful feelings that she inspires. Even after she has been killed, Candy still shouts insults at her corpse.

Curley wife's life is clearly miserable, but we are not encouraged to see things from her persepctive. Even when she does express her miserable loneliness, these episodes are followed by instances of manipulation or threating. Her death was hardly sad or emotional- and her corpse is praised more in death that she was in life. The reader therefor has ever reason to question Steinbeck's motives in giving us such an unsympathetic view of this woman and women in general.

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