Segregation by Unjust Social Norms in Of Mice and Men
In John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men characters in the novel are segregated by sex, race, age, physical and mental disabilities. John Steinbeck portrays the intolerance and bigotry of 1930’s America through the separation of his characters based on their handicaps. Lennie, Candy, Candy’s dog, Curley’s wife and Crooks all face social pressure from the other characters on the ranch based on their intelligence, physical disability, age, sex and color. Stereotyping based on ethnic or physical characteristics is typical to the 1930’s depression where civil rights for minority groups had not yet been addressed. Almost all of the characters who, in the 1930’s, classify as a minority in Of Mice and Men face social persecution and feel the force of society’s preconceived notions about the color of their racial and physical features. Because of this social persecution Lennie and George find that it is truly impossible to achieve the American Dream because of the segregation. This segregation causes conflict between the characters in the novel and causes those who hold the majority to not only maintain the majority but also to suppress those who comprise the minority.
The most obvious of the social persecutions is that of Lennie’s mental disability. Throughout the novel Lennie is segregated from the rest of the workers. After a hard day at work the farm hands play poker and other card games. Lennie is sent away to play with the puppies because he isn’t smart enough to understand the game and segregate him because of his stupidity. In order to appear superior to Lennie characters take advantage of his gentle and gullible nature. Curley, who is the owners of the farm’s son, physically assaults Lennie just to prove that he can (although Lennie breaks Curley’s hand because George told him to fight back). Because of Curley’s high social status in the farm’s microcosm Curley feels the necessity to maintain his hierarchy in the farm’s social structure. Another instance where Lennie’s mental retardation is taken advantage of is when he stumbles into Crooks quarters. Crooks appears displeased with Lennie trespassing on his personal space. But because of Crooks segregation from the rest of the farm hands he is happy to be joined by Lennie and is flattered to have someone try and make friends with him. Although Crooks knows the pain and the sadness that comes with the separation and social persecution based on a characteristic you have no control over he still tries to stay one rung above Lennie on the social ladder and as a result plays jokes on Lennie and his friendship with George. Crooks knowing Lennie’s dependence on George Crooks addresses the question to Lennie what happens if George were to leave and not come back by saying: ‘His voice grew soft and persuasive. ‘S’pose George don’t come back no more, S’pose he took a powder and just ain’t coming back. What’ll you do then?’” (80). Lennie is obviously displeased with this question. Even though Lennie is not intelligent he knows that his life is dependent to George’s. Lennie’s mental disability makes him an easy target for characters in Of Mice and Men to maintain their social status by suppressing Lennie and Crooks releasing “angst towards white supremacy in the 1930s” (Edmund C. Richards). An example of a character being segregated from the other farm hands because of physical disabilities is Candy. Candy lost his hand in a thresher and is also the oldest of the farm hands. Because Candy’s injury leaves him useless in the role as a traditional farm hand he spends his time cleaning the barracks where all the workers live. Candy’s age and his physical disability make it hard for the other characters to find a connection with him; that lack of a connection is the cause of segregation. Candy who absolutely despises this job, reminisces of the days when he was a great...
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