By John Steinbeck
Journey is a term that implies travel, which can offer up new insights, experiences, cultures and perspectives. Journeys can have positive or negative effects, as we see in John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”. In the novel, the writer takes us into the American outback, and we journey with the characters as they face the various challenges and barriers that arise as they attempt to achieve the ‘great American dream’ – settling down and farming their own land.
The physical aspect of journey in this novel was the traveling – George and Lennie running away from Weed because of something Lennie had done, and trying to find work on another ranch. The inner and emotional journeys were far more significant, and we see the changes in the characters from the first time we’re introduced to them.
The characters that undertake the most significant journeys would be George and Candy. At the start of the novel, George was Lennie’s best friend and protector, but at the end, he had to end Lennie’s life. From the very start, Steinbeck presents Lennie as an animal like figure with very little intelligence, “dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws”, “snorting into the water like a horse”, and throughout the novel, events build the mood up for the tragic ending – first it was the girl in Weed, then the dead mouse, then Lennie killed the puppy, then the fight where he crushed Curley’s hand, and finally – he killed Curley’s wife. Throughout the whole journey, George was there with Lennie, guiding him along and getting him out of trouble. After Lennie killed Curley’s wife, George finally realized that this couldn’t be allowed to go on any longer – Lennie lacked control over his strength and if he didn’t do something, these tragedies would just keep following them wherever they went.
Another character who went through a significant journey was Candy, the disabled, isolated, unhappy, lonely and insecure old man. Candy's loneliness is greatly attributed to the loss of his hand and his age. He believes he is a worthless old man who, like his old dog, is just wasting away. When Candy’s dog was shot, he started wondering what would happen to him when he could no longer work. No one would put him out of his misery like they did his dog; he would just be left to fend for himself out on the streets. When Candy heard about George and Lennie’s dream, he got exited and started believing that his future could be good. With the money he got from the accident where he lost his hand, Candy bought into the dream. But when Lennie killed Curley’s wife, Candy realized that the dream wasn’t going to happen – his hopes were shattered and he was once again directionless and alone.
The main themes of the text include journeys, friendship, loneliness, challenges and dreams. The themes of friendship and loneliness are embodied by the characters and their relationships on the ranch. Most of the men do not believe in friendship during the depression because it was each man for himself and they couldn’t afford to fend for another person. This is why they all found George and Lennie traveling together downright suspicious. The friendship that George and Lennie have allows them to dream, and thus, have hope, and without hope, there is no journey. On the ranch, Curley’s wife, Crooks and Candy represent outcasts in society. Curley’s wife represents women during the depression, Crooks represents African Americans, and Candy represents toe disabled and elderly. Curley’s wife is avoided because the men on the ranch do not want to get involved in a fight with Curley. Being African American, Crooks is isolated, and Candy is considered as useless as his dead dog who was his only friend. The theme of outcasts is always significant as we often empathize the outcasts or underdogs. Also, it is usually the outcasts who undergo the most challenging journeys.
Journeys are presented throughout the text through symbolism, a circular ending, dreams, challenges, and the physical aspect of journey. John Steinbeck uses nature as a warning or omen, similar to the way many Shakespearean texts manipulate nature. If Mother Nature is at peace, then all is at peace. If Mother Nature is disrupted by storms and such, then all hell breaks loose and something drastic is going to happen. This is shown in “the Salinas river drops in close to the hill-side bank and runs deep and green. The water is warm too, for it has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight before reaching the narrow pool” This extract is an exquisite description of nature at the beginning of the text which was used to convey a peaceful and natural scene. In contrast, at the end of the novel, “The shadow in the valley was bluer, and the evening came fast. One the wind the sound of crashing in the brush came to them.” This time, the description of nature is aggressive and harmful. Nature seems threatening in this circumstance. Stenibeck uses this to show us that something will definitely go wrong. The circular ending reminds us that there has been a journey throughout the text. It compares the end with the beginning and emphasizes the progress achieved. The image of the Salinas river is repeated in the ending to signify a full circle. John Steinbeck uses the American dream as a sort of trigger or sense of drive for George and Lennie. The American dream gives them hope, and something to work for, thus a reason to live in the harsh conditions of the depression. “Some day – we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple acres an’ a cow and some pigs.”
The central concept of journey expressed through the text is that they don’t always turn out as planned, and although having a dream is important, it doesn’t always work out the way you want it to. Journeys are inevitable, and once you make a decision, it’s hard to turn back, so the best you can do is to try and make good choices. The emotional impact of these journeys often stays with you for life, whether you want it to or not, as demonstrated in “Of Mice and Men” – the mental impact of having to kill Lennie will stay with George for ever.