OF MICE AND MEN THEME OF DREAMS, HOPES, AND PLANS
George and Lennie may dream a little dream of owning a farm, but they don't get very far with their to-do list before it all crumbles in heartbreaking failure. As Crooks points out, all ranchhands dream of owning their own farm; it's their version of the 2.5 kids and white picket fence. Unfortunately, white picket fences are in short supplyduring the Great Depression, and Of Mice and Men ends in the only way it can: with the utter collapse of everyone's dream—even Curley's.
OF MICE AND MEN THEME OF FRIENDSHIP
Of Mice and Men is the equivalent of a bro hug: all sublimated emotion, gruff affection, and hearty back pats. George and Lennie don't text each other eleven times a day, and they don't like every single cat picture the other posts on Facebook—but we still get the sense that they take their friendship more seriously than anything. After all, what else do they have? And what else do any of us have?
OF MICE AND MEN THEME OF ISOLATION
No man is an island… unless he's an itinerant worker during the Great Depression, and then he's about as lonely as you can get. But for all the talk about loneliness in Of Mice and Men, these guys sure do hang out together a lot. (They even go to the whorehouse together. We bet they visit the bathroom at the same time, too.) Does this mean they're not isolated? Or do they meet, make new friends, new enemies, and then head out to their next job, all the while failing to make any real, human connections?
OF MICE AND MEN THEME OF INNOCENCE
Lennie's mental disability makes him into a child, with a child's innocence: he likes hanging out with George and petting soft things. Sounds like a great Friday night!Oh, but there's a problem: he's a child trapped in the body of a powerful man. Innocence may protect Lennie, because he never has to deal with the reality of what he's done—but it doesn't protect the people (or pets) around him. Does Of Mice and Men see childlike innocence as the better path? Should we all be like Lennie? Or do we need to be more like George, crushing out our innocence to stay alive?
OF MICE AND MEN THEME OF FREEDOM AND CONFINEMENT
Lennie and George are tied down by their need for money. Curley's wife is limited by being a woman. Crooks is stuck because of his race. Except when they're caught up in the intensity of the dream, most characters in Of Mice and Men seem more focused on bemoaning their confinement than planning for their freedom. And you know what? In a world where death seems to be the only way out, we can't blame them.
OF MICE AND MEN THEME OF JUSTICE
Meet us at the OK Corral… and bring a gun, because you might end up having to shoot a dog. In Of Mice and Men, justice happens the cowboy way. The ranch operates by its own set of rules, without a higher order dictated by ethics, legal precedent, pity, or even common sense. Slim, the local ranch man of wisdom, hands down decisions, and the people around him accept his word as what's best, even if it's not always easy. Sometimes it means you have to get beat up because you had it coming, and sometimes you have to kill your best friend because it's the right thing to do.
OF MICE AND MEN THEME OF VISIONS OF AMERICA
Of Mice and Men's America is filled with dreamers and strugglers, who all have a different idea of what life should be: Hollywood, a quiet ranch, the pages of a pulpmagazine. What all these visions have in common in their absolute impossibility. Thewanna-be starlet never will be; the quiet ranch is just a bedtime story; the magazine is just peddling advertisements. Does the novel suggest that there's no such thing as the American dream? Or does that real America of hope and possibility exist somewhere just over the horizon?
OF MICE AND MEN THEME OF VIOLENCE
Of Mice and Men may be about men full of masculine bravado, and there may be some pretty shocking violence, but these guys also inflict psychological and emotional violence as though they're auditioning for Mean Girls: The Musical. Violence in the novel is physical, psychological, and emotional. Characters are so accustomed to suspicion and failure that they treat each other cruelly, more ready to destroy each other's dreams (and bodies) than to build them up. Violence may be a natural outlet for all of the ranch's despair and limited possibilities, but it sure does make the world an ugly place.
OF MICE AND MEN THEME OF PREJUDICE
Which –ism are you interested in today? Take your pick: Of Mice and Men offers racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, and (why not?) sizeism—and those who are discriminated against accept the prejudice against them as a way of life. There may be grumbling, but there's no sense that Curley's wife, Crooks, Candy, or Lennie feel like a grave and inexcusable injustice is being perpetrated against them. That's just the way it is, and people learn to operate in their little boxes. Our question: is Steinbeck speaking out against these prejudices? Or does he also just accept them?
OF MICE AND MEN THEME OF WEAKNESS
Some weakness are obvious: Lennie is a few knives short of a cutlery drawer;Crooks is black and crippled; Curley is short; Curley's wife is, well, a woman. Only a few characters in Of Mice and Men seem to rise above their subordinate positions by being willing to pull the trigger when no one else will. But is there more to strength than wielding a gun? Do Slim and George avoid weakness through force of character as well as firearms?
OF MICE AND MEN THEME OF WOMEN AND FEMININITY
In Choose Your Own Woman: Of Mice and Men, you have two options: a prostitute, or Curley's wife. There's no such things as a nice girl to settle down with, if your life is spent moving from ranch to ranch on the open road. So, women are reduced purely to sexual objects—and at least with prostitutes, George says, you pay for what you get. Curley's wife is a sexual object, but all she can really offer is trouble. We get the feeling that the characters in Of Mice and Men would really be better off without women.
OF MICE AND MEN THEME OF MAN AND THE NATURAL WORLD
Like the ranch, the natural world is a dog-eat-dog place, where animal instincts trump any sense of justice or goodness and people accept cruelty as, well, natural: Lennie loves animals, but kills them; Candy loves his dog, but can't stand up for it; and even Crooks tends to the horses that maimed him. In the natural world, love has nothing to do with safety: sometimes, things that we love die. And sometimes, they have to be killed. Of Mice and Men asks us to consider how different Lennie is from Candy's old dog—and how different Carlson is from George.