OF MICE AND MEN CHARACTERS
Of Mice and Men the characters are clearly drawn and memorable. Some could be the subject of a whole essay, while others would not. Of course a question on a theme (see below) might require you to write about characters, anyway: for example, to discuss loneliness, you write about lonely people.
George and Lennie
The principal characters are George Milton and Lennie Small (whose name is the subject of a feeble joke: “He ain't small”. Who says this?). Lennie is enormously strong. He is simple (has a learning difficulty) though he is physically well co-ordinated and capable of doing repetitive manual jobs (bucking barley or driving a cultivator) with skill. Lennie has a man's body, but a child's outlook: he gains pleasure from “pettin' ” soft things, even dead mice, and loves puppies and rabbits. He is dependent, emotionally, on George, who organizes his life and reassures him about their future. Lennie can be easily controlled by firm but calm instructions, as Slim finds out. But panic in others makes Lennie panic: this happened when he tried to “pet” a girl's dress, in Weed, and happens again twice in the narrative: first, when he is attacked by Curley, and second, when Lennie strokes the hair of Curley's wife. Lennie's deficiencies enable him to be accepted by other defective characters: Candy, Crooks and Curley's wife. He poses no threat, and seems to listen patiently (because he has learned the need to pay close attention, as he remembers so little of what he hears). As a child is comforted by a bedtime story, so George has come to comfort Lennie with a tale of a golden future. To the reader, especially today, this imagined future is very modest, yet to these men it is a dream almost impossible of fulfilment. As George has repeated the story, so he has used set words and phrases, and Lennie has learned these, too, so he is able to join in the telling at key moments (again, as young children do). George is a conscientious minder for Lennie but is of course not with him at all times; and at one such time, Lennie makes the mistake which leads to his death. He strokes the hair of Curley's wife (at her invitation) but does it too roughly; she panics and tries to cry out, and Lennie shakes her violently, breaking her neck. There is no proper asylum (safe place) for Lennie: Curley is vengeful, but even if he could be restrained, Lennie would face life in a degrading and cruel institution - a mental hospital, prison or home for the criminally insane. George's killing of Lennie, supported by Slim (who says “You hadda' ”) is the most merciful course of action. In the novel's final chapter we have an interesting insight into Lennie's thought. Until now we have had to read his mind from his words and actions. Here, Steinbeck describes how first his Aunt Clara and second an imaginary talking rabbit, lecture Lennie on his stupidity and failure to respect George. From this we see how, in his confused fashion, Lennie does understand, and try to cope with, his mental weakness. George is called a “smart little guy” by Slim, but corrects this view (as he also corrects the idea that Lennie is a “cuckoo”: that is, a lunatic - Lennie is quite sane; his weakness is a lack of intelligence). George's modesty is not false - he is bright enough to know that he isn't especially intelligent. If he were smart, he says, “I wouldn't be buckin' barley for my fifty and found” (=$US 50 per month, with free board and lodging). George is not stupid, but there is no real opportunity for self-advancement, as might be achieved in the west today by education. He is, in a simple way, imaginative: his picture of the small-holding (small farm) he and Lennie will one day own, is clearly-drawn and vivid, while some of the phrases have a near-poetic quality in their simplicity, as when he begins: “Guys like us...are the loneliest guys in the world”. Lennie is a burden to George, who frequently shows irritation and, sometimes,...
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