Of Mice and Men - Lifestyle of the Average Itinerant Worker in America During the Great Depression

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  • Topic: Great Depression, Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
  • Pages : 5 (1846 words )
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  • Published : March 20, 2011
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Diverse Cultures - English Coursework
What have you learnt about the of 1930’s, as depicted by Steinbeck in “Of Mice and Men?”

The Great Depression was a worldwide economic breakdown. It was the largest and most important economic depression in modern history; it began in the United States on Black Tuesday with the Wall Street crash of October 1929 and rapidly spread worldwide. It lasted about a decade, ending in the early 1940s.

Poverty stricken, life became a struggle to survive. Banks, stores, and factories were closed and left millions of people redundant and hopeless. With limited options, many men left their families and travelled a lonely road in search of work. The novel “Of Mice and Men” is a reflection of the suffering itinerant workers faced due to the physiological strain of loneliness and how this affected mood and behaviour.

Firstly, the title of any novel can hold great significance. Initially, the title “Of Mice and Men” seems ambiguous until you analyze the story and understand the reasoning behind Steinbeck choice of title. Mice are small, fragile creatures that require protection; a description that could also define characters such as Lennie, Curley’s wife or Crooks – the “mice”. The novel deals with a lot of death, however, ironically a mouse is the first creature to be crushed by Lennie’s hands. This again suggests the “mice” in the novel would not be smart or strong enough to survive the Depression. In contrast, the tough, smart characters such as George and Slim are the “men.” The Great Depression could be seen as the survival of the fittest; the weak against the strong – the “mice” vs. the “men.”

Steinbeck’s choice of setting further emphasises the theme of loneliness, our main characters, George and Lennie travel to a ranch “near Soledad.” The lexis “Soledad” means solitude and the card game “Solitaire” – which means by ones self. This gives the readers an early indication that loneliness will be a key idea in the novel. Also, this gives the reader the image of George and Lennie travelling together through a lonely path and prepares the audience for their tragic separation at the end.

George and Lennie are two typical agricultural labourers, searching for the American dream. George is a small man with strong, sharp defined features and a mind to match. While, Lennie a large strongly built man however, his metal immaturity and child-like mind make him venerable. Having left their previous job due to Lennie being accused of rape, they travelled to another ranch.

George shows his frustration of having to move constantly to find work. He accuses Lennie of keeping him “shovin’ all over the country all the time.” George is in an irritable mood and the pressure of looking after not only himself, but Lennie as well. Maybe George’s life would be “so easy and so nice” if “I didn’t have you on my tail.” Even though this may be true, George still travels with Lennie, Steinbeck is showing the extent of the pair’s unlikely friendship. On first appearances it seems that Lennie because of his mental disability is completely dependant on George for survival. However, more importantly could be how much George is actually reliant on Lennie. Surviving the Depression was hard and even harder alone, George needed Lennie for companionship and in general someone he could talk to. Possibly, this strong bond made them tougher and meant they coped relatively well considering the hostile environment. However, and alternative interpretation could suggest their friendship was the beginning of their downfall and was threatening to the other ranch workers.

Steinbeck shows us how life during the depression was difficult. The workers had no little extravagance they could enjoy, and Lennie was denied a simple item such a ketchup even though he “likes ‘em with ketchup.’ Ketchup is being shown as a symbol of luxury that they don’t have. The significance of this object shows the difference between a dream and...
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