Vulnerability in ‘Of Mice and Men’ is a core theme which Steinbeck explores both in the natural world and human society. In fact, the title itself seems to suggest that men and mice, essentially weak animals, are one and the same. Vulnerability relates to fragility. The mice and pup which Lennie crushes effortlessly; the dog shot mercilessly; Curley’s hand crushed in a matter of seconds and Curley’s wife’s neck also crushed unintentionally make Steinbeck’s message very clear. Our lives are at the mercy of larger forces beyond our control or understanding, and in most cases we end up the victims.
Steinbeck often portrays his characters as organisms caught up in a survival of the fittest race where the strong prey on the weak and the weak prey on the weakest. It comes as no surprise that Curley’s wife, who is often discriminated against because of her gender, is quick to tell Lennie, Candy and Crooks that they are “the weak ones” who have been “left behind” on the farm. In some ways her words hurt because they are true, as each man discovers by himself in the novel.
Crooks is discriminated against because of his skin colour. Unable to sleep with the other men in the bunk house; having no friends; not allowed to join in games – Crooks is quick to seize the opportunity to leave the farm, however his fate catches up with him. “You keep your place nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny.” In Curley’s wife’s malicious words, Crooks realizes his predicament – he will always be a “nigger”, white men’s property, and one of the weakest species, threatened even by a woman. Steinbeck describes how Crooks “reduce[s] himself to nothing” after this incident, going as far as to admit that what Curley’s wife had said was “true”.
Likewise, Candy too is another weak character whose fragility is determined by his age. Having lived on the ranch for most of his life, Candy’s security of mind is one day shaken when his dog, his life-long...
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