John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men deals with many different themes. Revolving these themes are characters overcoming issues and conflicts in their lives. One of the themes that have created the biggest impact on the characters in the novel is loneliness. Loneliness occurres in every character’s life, and impacts it drastically. Ronald Anthony says “When we truly realize that we are alone is when we need others the most.” This quotation means a person never fully realizes the importance of a friend and the impact they can set on a life, until they are gone. This quotation is illustrated in the novel various times by the characters, Lennie, Candy, Curly’s wife, and Crooks. Each of these characters come from a small town called “Soledad” which is South of California in the Salinas Valley. Soledad means “lonely,” so clearly Steinbeck has a way of introducing words to the novel to create a lonely and blue atmosphere. Furthermore, These characters all live a life of loneliness and despair. He makes it clear that all men that work on the ranch are lonely, with particular people who are lonelier then others. There are many situations when each character feels so alone in such an ominous world. Therefore, the purpose of this essay is to clearly show the many examples where each character needs someone by their side, so they are not alone. Evidence to support the validity of this thesis will be proven throughout the remaining of the essay.
There are particular people on the ranch who may be suffering from loneliness because they do not fit in; Lennie is one of these people. Lennie is too dim to understand anything, and he seems to live in his own world most of the time. He Gray 2
becomes anxious over the littlest things. George is always keeping his eye on Lennie, and therefore Lennie is a burden to George. Lennie and George share something no other men on the ranch have, they share true friendship. They are always there for each other. When Lennie’s Aunt Clara dies, Lennie cannot survive by himself. Lennie is not responsible, nor smart enough to take care of himself. Thus, Lennie needs George the most when he is alone. This is quite evident in the novel when George says to Lennie, “ ‘No, you stay with me. Your Aunt Clara wouldn’t like you running off by yourself, even if she is dead’ ” (Steinbeck 14). Secondly, Lennie does not know the difference of who and who not to talk to. One night Lennie walks into Crook’s bunk house. Crooks did not want Lennie in there at the beginning, but after they began a conversation Crooks became curious of Lennie and George’s friendship. He began to wonder what Lennie would do with out George, because that is how Crooks feels, lonely with know one around to talk to. Crooks says to Lennie “ ‘S’pose George don’t come back no more. S’pose he took a powder and just aint coming back, What’ll you do then’ ”(Steinbeck 78). After Lennie has realized what Crooks has just said, he begins to panic. At first Lennie is in denial, but after Crooks keeps worrying Lennie, he begins to show anger and freaks out. This is a brilliant example of Lennie becoming upset and nervous when he realizes George, his best friend may not come back for him. Lennie may become lonely and unable to support himself. From the previous examples, Clearly Lennie needs George the most when he is alone and unable to help himself.
Just like Lennie, there are many other characters who suffer from loneliness. Two of these characters suffer from discrimination and prejudice, and this results in loneliness and isolation. Candy is an outcast because of his age and physical disability. His only true best friend is his dog. However, his dog is considered old and useless, which this results in Carlson shooting the helpless, innocent dog. Eventually he tries to find friendship by attempting to join George and Lennie’s dream ranch. Candy offers his money and services. Candy offers three hundred dollars, Candy knows this is an irresistible offer, and knows George will let Candy work and live with them on their dream ranch. As Candy predicted, George says yes. Basically, Candy was so desperate for friendship he offers everything he can, so he does not die alone. This is one of Candy’s desperate attempts to be recognized in the society and have a purpose in life. It is quite evident when Candys says “ ‘I’d make a will an’ leave my share to you guys in case I kick off, ‘cause I ain’t got no relatives nor nothing. You guys got any money? Maybe we could do her right now?’ ” (Steinbeck 65). Another very important character in the book also suffers drastically from loneliness. This character is Curley’s wife. She is the only female on the ranch, and no one will socialize with her because her husband will start a fight, and they will get fired. Not only does no one talk to her, know one even knows her name. This shows that no one ever stays around long enough to be able to know her. Even though she is heard about frequently throughout the novel, no one knows anything about her. She has no one to express her feelings to, and is isolated in her own Gray 4
house. She dresses in bright colours and wears a lot of make up to seek attention from the men on the ranch. She says to Lennie “ ‘Well, I ain’t giving you no trouble. Think I don’t like to talk to someone ever’ once in a while? Think I like to stick in that house alla time?’ ”(Steinbeck 85). She is trying to tell Lennie she is desperately in need of someone to talk to because she is stuck in the house all the time. The only time she ever has a chance to come out and talk to someone is when her husband leaves. When Curly’s wife is killed by Lennie, Steinbeck writes “…the meanness and the planning’s and the discontent and the ache for attention were all gone from her face.”(Stenbeck 86) Steinbeck shows all of her sad and desperate emotions are gone from her face. She has been taken away from her world of loneliness and despair, and brought to a place where she can finally escape, and be happy. As clearly illustrated above, Candy needs George and Lennie the most when his dog dies, and he is all alone. Also, Curley’s wife became desperate enough to talk to Lennie, which is a bad idea, and she ended up dead. Therefore, The above characters show how they need someone the most when they are alone, and have no one to talk to.
Perhaps there are characters that suffer from loneliness more than others, Crooks has to be the most lonely character of all. Crooks may be the loneliest character for many different reasons. Some of these reasons he cannot avoid, such as being black. Crooks is the only black man on the ranch, in fact he is the only black person in the town, besides one of the families that live on the outskirts of town. He Gray 5
lives by himself, because the other men do not like him, and they think he stinks. He has a crooked back, so he does not partake in any of the social events, such as horse shoes. He also is excluded from card games, which all of the men play at night. Crooks is so lonely that he turns to books for excitement, which eventually become boring. His room is scattered and unorganized, this shows that Crook’s does not think anyone will ever come to his bunk house because he does not keep it tidy for guests. One night, Lennie wonders into Crooks bunk house, at first Crooks tells Lennie to leave because he is not welcome in his bunk house. Lennie questions this response, and Crooks realizes Lennie is different from the rest of the men. Crooks invites Lennie inside and they begin to talk. Crooks starts to vent to Lennie about being lonely. Crooks says “ ‘A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t make no difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you. I tell ya, I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an’ he gets sick’ ”(Steinbeck 80). This shows that Crooks is becoming desperate to talk to some one, and it is coming to the point where he is becoming emotionally sick because of his loneliness. Secondly, Crooks is so desperate to talk to someone he asks George and Lennie if he could work with them on their dream ranch for nothing. This goes to show that Crooks does not care what he has to do, he just needs to be around people. It also shows he does not care for true friendship, he just wants someone to talk to and he wants to be able to go to someone when he needs them the most. Crooks shows that he is very lonely and unlike most men, he would work for nothing as long as he does suffer from loneliness anymore. Crooks Gray 6
says “ ‘….If you….guys would want a hand to work for nothing, just his keep, why I I’d come an’ lend a hand. I ain’t so crippled I can’t work like a son-of-a-bitch if I want to’ ”(Steinbeck 84). As clearly shown Crooks needs some one around because he is becoming emotionally sick. Therefore, he needs someone the most when he is alone and has no one to talk to.
In conclusion, the words spoken by Ronald Anthony “When we truly realize that we are alone is when we need other the most,” have been proven true in the novel Of Mice and Men. This quote is very significant in the novel because each character needs someone all the time, but do not always have someone to turn to, therefore this quote influences the outcome of the novel. John Steinbeck expertly portrays the theme of loneliness in an interesting and original manner. He shows that everybody needs a friend to talk to, no matter what race, sex or age, a person has to have companionship to prevent them from suffering from loneliness. Every character suffers from loneliness in many different ways. Some cannot prevent this because of racism, sexism, and ageism. For example, Lennie is different from the rest of the workers on the ranch and therefore he is the only person who know one could really understand. Secondly, Candy is the oldest man on the ranch, he is also crippled and his dog who is his best friend is shot. Also, Curley’s wife is the only female on the ranch and is restricted from communicating to anyone else but her husband. Lastly, Crooks is the only black man on the ranch, which excludes him from any social activity or events. Therefore the novel’s theme of needing someone the most when they are also is an Gray 7
important one because the reader can learn from these characters, and realize how important true friendship can be without even recognizing it. Overall, the ways in which the theme is illustrated through creates a motivating and inspirational setback to the story.
Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. Toronto: Bantam books, 1937.
Of Mice and Men
June 21, 2010