Of Mice and Men - Themes

Themes of Of Mice and Men

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  • Created by: naomi
  • Created on: 21-05-12 17:04

Loneliness and Isolation

Everyone on the ranch is lonely

  • The men on the ranch are like ophans - George says, "they got no family".
  • The bunkhouse guys blow their money every Saturday night on prostitutes and booze at "Susy's place". They go for some companionship, but it doesn't stop them from being lonely.
  • It's unusual for the ranchers to make friends. Most of the ranchers comment on how strange it is that George and Lennie travel together - "funny how you an' him string along together".
  • Crooks, the stable buck, lives all alone, he's segregated from the others because he's black.
  • When Lennie pays him a surprise visit Crooks doesn't seem to want his company. He's used to loneliness and he seems to find it hard to enjoy another person's company.
  • Curley is lonely even though he's married - the only time you see him with his wife is when she's dead.
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Loneliness and Isolation

No One can think of an answer

  • Lennie and George think that having their own place would solve everything. But George doesn't ever really seem to think this will happen.
  • Lennie and George look after each other, but George still seems lonely. He tells Slim, "I aint got no people", and that he and Lennie travel together because they're "used to each other".
  • Animals seems to provide temporary solution to the problem of loneliness, but Lennie kills all the animals he gets. Candy has his dog. Or at least he does until Carlson shoots it...
  • Steinbeck offers no solution to loneliness - even marriage doesn't stop people from being lonely. Loneliness appears to be part of human nature - it's not something the characters can change.
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Loneliness and Isolation

Looking for companionship can be dangerous

  • When anyone tries to grab hold of someone else it can end in disaster. For example, Crooks and Candy's attempt to grab hold of George and Lennie's dream ends in bitter dissapointment for them. Or Lennie holding his aimals, holding the girl's skirt in Weed, and holding on to Curley's wife.
  • Curley's wife isn't happy living in her father-in-law's house. She tries to get a bit of companionship by flirting with the ranchers and talking to them. But this ends in disaster for her.
  • George mentions how his friend, Andy Cushman, is in San Quentin (a prison) "on account of a tart". Looking for companionship was dangerous for Andy.
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Crooks is generally treated badly

  • Crooks is often treated with a mixture of conempt and indifference. He's either picked on or he's just ignored.
  • The boss is always giving Crooks "hell" - Crooks is an easy target for his frustration.
  • Crooks is even treated badly by characters who have little power, because he has even less power than they do. For example, Curley's wife tells him that she could get him lynched. As a married white woman her word is worth more than Crook's.
  • Candy calls Crooks a "nice fella", but he doesn't seem to care that the ranchers treat him badly. He pauses with "relish" at the memory of one of the ranchers picking a fight with Crooks.
  • Slim treats Crooks with civilty - he doesn't talk down to him. He's also the only person (other than the boss) to go into Crook's room before Lennie and Candy do.
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Prejudice makes Crooks bitter

  • Crooks is angry that he's not invited into the bunk house and so he won't let any of the ranchers come into his room.
  • However, despite giving the impression of being "proud" and "aloof", Crooks wants companionship just like the other characters - "A guy needs somebody - to be near him... A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody".
  • The dream farm appeals to Crooks because he believes that on the farm he'll be treated more as a equal. But  he's the first one to realise that the dream isn't possible - this is because he's so used to disappointment.
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People on the ranch have No Respect for their Elders

  • Candy is very old and knows it won't be long before they "can" (fire) him from his job. After that, no one will employ him because he "ain't much good with on'y one hand".
  • His feelings don't seem to be very important to the other men on the ranch - he doesn't get much sympathy when Carlson wants to shoot his old dog.
  • Candy's dog represents Candy himself. When it's too old to be useful it's got rid of. Just like Candy will be, one day. Candy is also related to the description that Steinbeck gives the dog; "grey muzzle".
  • Curley's wide looks down on Candy too. She dismisses him as a "lousy ol' sheep" and she sees him as no better than Lennie and Crooks - the "dum-dum" and the "******".
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There are three important women in the novel

Although we only meet one woman in the story, several women are referred to in the course of the novel

Curley's Wife:

  • Curley's wide is a very lonely and frustrated person. She tries to use he sexuality to get some attention, but the men dislike her for it and say she's a "God damn tramp".
  • She haunts the farm like a ghost - Candy says, "Jesus Christ, Curley's wide can move quiet".
  • She has her own impossible dream of being a movie star, and she's actually pretty naive.
  • She's like the men in a way - dreaming of another life and frustrated by the reality of her own.
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Lennie's Aunt Clara:

  • Lennie doesn't seem to remember Aunt Clara very well at the start of the novel - he refers to her as "that lady". But he does seem scared of her. We see this when he imagines being told off by her.
  • George seems to be looking after Lennie because Aunt Clara would have wanted him to - "No, you stay with me. Your Aunt Clara wouldn't like you running off by yourself". George seems to want to respect Aunt Clara's wishes.
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Susy in Soledad

  • Susy runs a brothel that most of the men go to on Saturday nights.
  • Whit says it's the best one because the girls are "clean", Susy has a sense of humour and they don't put pressure on the men - this shows what most of the ranch hands are looking for in life.
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The men and women don't understand each other

  • The men assume Curley's wide is a tart - George says, "she's a rattrap if ever i seen one".
  • She, in turn, assumes the men are basically useless. She says "If you had two bits in the worl', why you'd be in gettin' two shot of corn with it and suckin' the bottom of the glass".
  • Curley doesn't understand his wife's needs. His idea of 'being there' for his wife is covering his hand in Vaseline
  • In the novel, men stereotype women, and women stereotype men. They have a tendency to undermine each other's dreams.
  • Most of the men dislike Curley's wife, but technically she never does anything wrong.
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People on the ranch are going nowhere

  • George says that most men who work on ranches "work up a stake and then they go inta town and blow their stake".
  • George believes that men like this "ain't got nothing to look ahead to".
  • Sometimes George dreams of this life. He talks of having a girl, having an easy life drinking whisky, shooting pool and panning for gold.
  • At the end of the novel though, when it seems that his life might actually be like this, it doesn't seem to make him happy at all - "I'll take my fifty bucks an' I'll stay all night in some lousy cat house".
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George and Lennie dream of A Better Life

  • George and Lennie are different - they don't want to work on ranches every day until they die.
  • They dream of owning their own farm and this dream keeps them (especially Lennie) going during the tough times. (Less George, because he knows it probably won't come true).
  • But, even when Candy offers to provide the money to help buy the dream farm we never see any evidence that the farm George talks about actually exists.
  • We're  never really sure whether George believes in the dream. Sometimes it seems like he does: "I got to thinking maybe we would". Other times it seems like he doesn't: "I think i knowed we'd never do her".
  • George's changing attitude to the dream is also shown by his language. In Chapter One he speaks "rhythmically", but by Chapter Six his words are spoken "monotonously" - George has finally accepted that dreams don't come true.
  • Dreams often get physically crushed in the story. Lennie crushes Curley's hand - ending his boxing career. Curley's wide is crushed by Lennie - destroying her dreams and the dream of George, Lennie and Candy.
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Some characters have different dreams.

  • Whit and Carlson are average guys. They're physically fit, and are able to make enough money to buy themselves the whisky and sex that they want. They have no ambitions in life.
  • you might say that because they have no dreams, they're never truly happy or unhappy. They just exist.
  • Curley's wife dreams of being a movie star - but that is never going to happen because she's trapped now that she's married to Curley.
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George seems to be in control of his destiny... but he isn't

  • At the start of the novel George seems to be in control of his and Lennie's lives - Lennie asks him, "Where we goin', George?" Lennie expects him to make decisions.
  • However, George doesn't see himself as having all the answers - for example, when Lennie asks him about why the playing cards are the same at both ends he says, "I don't know... That's jus' the way they make 'em."
  • The reader knows that, at this time in history, things were bad for farm workers like George - they had little control over their lives.
  • George seems to be in control of Lennie's destiny at the end, but Slim points out that he had no other choice - "You hadda, George"
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Some characters have no control over their destiny

  • Lennie has no control over his destiny - he can't even control himself. He relies on George for everything and he's unable to survive on his own.
  • When Curley's wife was younger she couldn't control her destiny and become a movie start because, "my ol' lady wouldn' let me". But marriage has trapped her too because she has to stay on the ranch - she can't change her destiny.
  • Slim is described as "Godlike" and he has control over small things - like making Curley say he had his hand crushed in a machine. But he's powerless to stop more important things - like killing Lennie: "Well, i guess we got to get him".
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It's all destined to go wrong - the title of the book tells us

  • The title of Of Mice and Men comes from Robert Burns's poem 'To a Mouse". The Key lines are: The best laid schemes o' mice and men Gang aft agley (This means "often go wrong" And lead use nought but grief and pain For promised joy!
  • This gives the reader the impression that the characters' plans in the novel will go wrong - and that this will lead to unhappiness.
  • There are hints throughout the novel that it's destined to end in tragedy. For example, we know that Lennie is stong, has a tendency to harass girls in red dresses and accidentally harms things. Curley's wide is set up as someone who will inevitably run into trouble with Lennie (red nails, red shoes etc are signs of warning).
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Death is a part of life

  • Death is a big part of the novel and it often has something to do with Lennie.
  • Lennie kills a mouse, a puppy and Curley's wide. But he doesn't intent to kill any of them - it just happens. This is a reminder that death is unpredictable - you can't control it, it's just part of your destiny.
  • Just before Lennie returns to the pool in Chapter six, a heron catches a water snake. This is symbolic of life and death being a part of nature.
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Death is inevitable

  • Many deaths in the novel are warnings of what will happen in the future.
  • When Lennie kills his mouse and his puppy it creates a sense of foreboding. It helps to build the sense that it's inevitable that Lennie will end up killing Curley's wife.
  • The death of Candy's dog foreshadows Lennie death. The dog is killed by Carlson's gun - so when we learn that the gun is missing at the end of Chapter Five it's quite clear what is going to happen next. (The only difference is that Candy's dog is killed by someone who does not own it, whereas Lennie is killed by George, who practically owns him).
  • The characters react in different ways to Curley's wife's death:
  • Lennie sees no difference between killing her and killing the puppy. He can't understand that it's worse to kill a human than an animal.
  • George is more concerned about Lennie than Curley's wife.
  • Curley doesn't show any affected for his wife - he just wants revenge.
  • Only Slim pays any attention to Curley's wife and treats her like a person. 
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You could argue that death helps Curley's wife and Lennie to achieve their dream. Death makes Curley's wife the centre of attention - which is what she wants. Lennie dies in a state of absolute bliss as George describes the dream to him.

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