Suffering of Individuals in "Of Mice and Men"

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“The novel Of Mice and Men is more than just the tragedy of Lennie; it shows the sadness and suffering of many individuals in a harsh world.” Discuss this statement, making close reference to the text.

The Great Depression, originating in the United States in 1929, was one of the toughest and most unbearable times in world history. It resulted in severe worldwide economic depression, which had devastating effects on trade and commercial activity. People lost their jobs and struggled to survive. Farming and rural areas suffered heavily. Of Mice and Men, a novella written by John Steinbeck in 1937, tells the story of two farm workers, Lennie Small and George Milton who are living through the Depression and who ultimately have a dream to own their own farm. Steinbeck was influenced by Robert Burns’ poem, ‘To a Mouse’, in determining the title of the novella. The key line of Burns’ poem ‘ the best laid plans of mice and men, often go awry’ is representative of the plot of the story as most of the dreams and aspirations of the main characters are not realized. Steinbeck grew up on a ranch in Salinas, California. This is the predominant setting for the novel. The environment of depression and resulting economic poverty and severe shortage of work in his local community engulfed his early life. This shaped his literary style to focus on the financial hardships of the times and was a likely source of inspiration for the novella. Although Of Mice and Men helped John Steinbeck achieve recognition as a writer, it was criticized by some for its raw portrayal of the difficulties faced by people during the Depression. Throughout the novel Steinbeck cogently depicts the adversity faced by the main characters, Lennie, George, Crooks and Candy and the detrimental effects on them living during this time. Through the use of characterisation, plot structure and setting, Steinbeck strengthens the statement that the novella is more than just the tragedy of Lennie, but that it highlights the sadness and suffering of many individuals in a harsh world. Loneliness is the major underlying emotion of the novel. Many of the characters admit to suffering from loneliness and sadness, and this is revealed in different ways throughout the novel. Furthermore the themes incorporated, which include the cruel nature of humans; friendship and the impossibility of realizing one’s dreams through an imbalance in social structure and opportunity at the time of the Depression, are enforced through the narrative conventions of characterisation, plot structure, symbolism and setting.

Lennie and George are the two lead characters in the novella and Steinbeck depicts them as victims amongst a predatory world, where everyone has to support himself or herself. Through George and Lennie’s relationship to each other and their interaction with others, the innocence of Lennie and the resultant suffering of George are highlighted. The reader is first introduced to them in chapter one, when on their way to a farm they stop temporarily at a pond for a drink. Through characterisation, Lennie is portrayed as a very large man with immense physical strength, but who suffers from a mental disability. By contrast, George is a small, wiry man with sharp features, dark complexion and intelligence. George acts as a father figure for Lennie and has a calming influence on him. They share an amazingly strong bond where each derives something different from the relationship. Lennie depends on George to take care of him, as he would not be able to survive in the world without him. This is due to his lack of understanding of social etiquette and grasp of ideas. George, on the other hand, has no other friends and needs Lennie for companionship. This relationship shows the innocence of Lennie such that he can’t fend for himself. An example of this inability to look after himself occurs in chapter one when George cautions “You never oughta drink water when it ain’t running Lennie. You’d...
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