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How Does Steinbeck Explore Loneliness in of Mice and Men

By raybrownie2 Jun 17, 2013 1157 Words
How does Steinbeck explore loneliness in Of Mice and Men?

John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men focuses on two ranch workers struggling to survive in the harsh socioeconomic climate of 1930s America. This climate was caused by the Great Depression, which was a result of the 1929 Wall Street crash. Because of this, many items dropped in price and became almost worthless. Many individuals who lost their jobs were forced to leave their communities and look for work around the country. These individuals started to develop feelings of loneliness, a main theme explored in the text using various techniques. Steinbeck also examines discrimination’s part in loneliness and the social effects of being lonely such as desperation and poor social skills. It is shown throughout the novel that loneliness also generates a feeling of helplessness with many side effects. Throughout the text, Steinbeck illustrates that discrimination is one of the main roots of loneliness. By using various literary techniques, the author shows that loneliness can be caused by the discrimination against the physical aspects of individuals. The characterisation of Crooks helps Steinbeck convey this idea in the form of racism. “S’pose you couldn’t go into the bunk house and play rummy ‘cause you were black,” Crooks says at one point, an effective use of dialogue that helps show that he is discriminated against just because of his colour. His crooked back symbolizes how heavily racism, and ultimately his loneliness, weighs on him. Because of his colour, Crooks “can’t turn to other guys,” and make sure he is alright. He starts feeling the mental effects of loneliness but he has nothing to measure it by. Because of the racism against him, Crooks is lonely. Steinbeck also uses the character of Curley’s wife to explore loneliness through sexism. Because of her gender she isn’t allowed to communicate with the other ranch workers, and she indicates her feelings through dialogue. “Why can’t I talk to you? I never get to talk to nobody. I’m awfully lonely,” she says, identifying that her loneliness stems from her being unable to communicate with other human beings. By not giving the woman a name, Steinbeck has used onomastic imagery to show that she is not considered equal and is therefore detached from the others, being more of a possession than a person. Through these methods, it can be seen that sexism can lead to isolation and eventually loneliness. One other form of discrimination portrayed in the text is ageism, characterised by Candy. Most of the ranch workers go out to a “cat house” but Candy is too old to do so. He is isolated and is also discriminated against due to his physical impairment. Many workers find it hard to communicate with him, and him with them. Unlike the other types of discrimination in the novel, this is unintentional but leaves Candy with a sense of hopelessness which intensifies his loneliness. This shows how varying types of discrimination can cause loneliness. A main source of loneliness which is explored throughout the text is how only the fittest will survive the harsh economic and social climate of the Great Depression, leading many men to only look out for themselves, a lonely way of life. This harsh environment is evident when George and Lennie first reach the ranch. Slim talks about how his bitch had pups and he “drowned four of ‘em right off.” This highlights that in such a cruel environment it can sometimes be easier to be dead then to live. The scene also foreshadows the fact that Lennie will die later in the novel due to this harsh climate. Another example of the survival of the fittest is the putting down of Candy’s dog. Carlson states that “he ain’t no good to himself” and that he should be put down. This yet again shows how only the fittest survive in these trying circumstances. Because of this, many men try to distance themselves so they don’t become emotionally attached to others and can instead focus on their own survival. Because of this concept the worth of others’ lives is devalued, as shown by the way Curley’s wife says, “Don’t you worry none. He was jus’ a mutt. You can get another one easy.” The mutts symbolize the ranch workers, meaning that no one really cares about them and that they are easily replaceable. This causes most people to only look out for themselves, which furthermore places them into isolation, ultimately leading to loneliness. This is why the ranch workers are suspicious when George and Lennie come in together. They don’t understand their companionship because they have isolated themselves for survival. Through this it can be seen that the harsh environment in 1930s America can lead to isolation and ultimately loneliness. Steinbeck also explores the social effects and desperation of those who are lonely. Loneliness has a massive effect on the mental state of humans and this idea is portrayed throughout the text. Curley’s wife is a character who is hugely affected by loneliness leading her to become desperate. She goes around the ranch looking for ways to talk to the men. She even goes to the lengths of taking Lennie’s hand and putting it “on her head” so that she can feel wanted and no longer feel lonely. But as soon as Lennie says that it “feels nice” she thinks that she is superior to Lennie and tells him to let go of her hair. This shows how her loneliness has affected her mentally and caused her to become desperate. Another mental effect caused by loneliness is a lack of empathy and care for others. This can be seen in the way Steinbeck uses strong imagery to explain Carlson cleaning his gun. “Candy turned over and looked for a moment at the gun before turning back and facing the wall,” portrays the sadness Candy is feeling, yet Carlson is unaware of it. Because of his isolation he does not feel what the other men feel, which is further illustrated using this dialogue: “Now what the hell ya’ suppose is eatin those guys up,” he says after George shoots Lennie. One other mental effect loneliness has on people is the lack of joy and happiness in a person when they are lonely, and Steinbeck shows this through dialogue and the characterisation of Slim. Slim is perceived as a wise character and he states that when people get lonely they start to become “mean.” This shows that loneliness has many negative mental effects and cause desperation. Steinbeck explores loneliness on many different levels in Of Mice and Men. Loneliness is caused by several forms of discrimination in the harsh environment of the 1930s, which in turn leads to many different social effects including isolation, desperation and a distracted mental state. Steinbeck’s novel builds a social ladder of interaction where everyone isolates themselves from those above and below them, leaving many in a state of hopelessness.

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