Of Mice and Men

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Of Mice and Men

Thomas Hobbes in his Leviathan states that, "in the state of nature mans life is nasty, brutish and short". In depression era America, no greater truth could be said. There were millions unemployed, largely unskilled and living on the margins of society. The lowest of the low were the migrant labourers travelling from place to place trying to scratch a living. They often had to travel illegally by freight car with all its consequent dangers. Their life expectancy was low, crime was rampant and despair was a fellow traveller. This is the setting of John Steinbeck's, ‘Of Mice and Men'.

The novel explores the predatory nature of human existence. It explores loneliness, isolation and friendship. A major theme is that of the illusionary nature of ‘Dreams'. In particular, ‘The American Dream'.

To paraphrase Robert Burns-"The best laid plans of mice and men go awry". This is a bleak statement and it is at the centre of the novel's action. George and Lennie have the dream of owning their own ranch and living a free independent life; they would be self-reliant and most of all they would be safe from a harsh and hostile world. Other characters in the book also try to buy into their dream ie, Candy and Crooks. Ultimately, the dream unravels and like a Greek Tragedy, the ending is terrible but also predictable.

Even though there is tragedy there-what Steinbeck seems to be saying is that the human spirit can and will endure despite immense privations. The will to live and endure will always overcome defeated hopes.

The Dream
The novel is an exposé of the harsh and vicious reality of the ‘American Dream'. George and Lennie are poor homeless migrant workers doomed to a life of wandering and toil. They will be abused and exploited; they are in fact a model for all the marginalized poor of the world. Injustice has become so much of their world that they rarely mention it. It is part of their psyche. They do not expect to be treated any different...
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