Once again, the scene opens on the clearing in the woods, with the riverbed and its surroundings described as beautiful and idyllic toward the end of a day. Many details are repeated from the book’s opening passages, such as the quality of the sunlight, the distant mountains, and the water snakes with their heads like “periscopes.” This time, however, even the natural beauty is marred by the suffering of innocents. Steinbeck vividly describes a large heron bending to snatch an unsuspecting snake out of the water, then waiting as another swims in its direction. Death comes quickly, surely, and to the unaware. When Lennie appears, the fate that awaits him is obvious.
The final scene between George and Lennie is suffused with sadness, even though Lennie retains his blissful ignorance until the end. To reassure Lennie, George forces himself through their habitual interaction one last time. He claims that he is angry, then assures him that all is forgiven and recites the story of their farm. For George, this final description of life with Lennie, of the farm and the changes it would have brought about, is a surrender of his dreams. The vision of the farm recedes, and George realizes that all of his talk and plans have amounted to nothing. He is exactly the kind of man he tried to convince himself he was not, just one among a legion of migrant workers who will never be able to afford more than the occasional prostitute and shot of liquor. Without Lennie, George relinquishes his hope for a different life. Lennie was the only thing that distinguished his life from the lives of other men and gave him a special sense of purpose. With Lennie gone, these hopes cannot be sustained. The grim note on which the story closes suggests that dreams have no place in a world filled with such injustice and adversity.
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