This is a pretty big theme in “Of Mice and Men”- in fact, it’s the basis of the novel. It’s a popular exam question too, so knowing about it in detail is very important!
What is the American Dream?
The American Dream is an aspiration that many ranch workers in the 1930s had- to have their own farm and be self sufficient. It seems like quite an achievable thing, but don’t forget that the farming industry had crashed after the Depression. Overfarming and drought had led to the Dust Bowl- infertile soil and more ranch workers than were needed. Many had been put out of work and had to travel around looking for temporary jobs on big ranches- they were called migrant workers.
Who has the American Dream?
Initially, it is a dream that Lennie and George have, and clearly they’ve had for a while. We can tell this because Lennie asks George “Tell me like you done before” Therefore Steinbeck suggests that Lennie and George have been dreaming about this for quite a long time but they’ve obviously had no luck.
Other characters later get attracted to the idea of the Dream. Candy overhears George telling Lennie the story and asks whether he can come with them. George tells him that “we were always gonna do it by ourselves”, suggesting that it’s a very personal thing to the men. For Candy it seems to be about having control of his own life- he tells George that he’s threatened with being sacked as he’s too old and disabled to work and seems happy with being “let to work in our own place”.
Crooks also comes round to the idea of the Dream. Although he doesn’t believe it can be done- “ever’ time a whore house or a blackjack game took what it takes”- he then begins to imagine what it would be like if they did get the ranch. But he’s then interrupted by Curley’s wife, who insults him so much that he becomes cynical again and gives up on the dream. Here Steinbeck might be implying that it’s other people who get in the way of the Dream, especially as it’s Curley’s wife who in the end stops the Dream from happening by getting killed.
A few other characters have dreams too. Curley’s wife reveals that she aspired to be an actress. When she tells Lennie about her dream, Steinbeck describes her as speaking quickly, “as though she hurried before her listener could be taken away”, suggesting that in the practical world…