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Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Loneliness is a dominant theme in Of Mice and Men. Most of the characters are lonely and searching for someone who can serve as a companion or just an audience. Discuss the examples of character loneliness, the efforts of the characters in search of companionship, and the varying degrees of success.
In his novel Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck depicts the essential loneliness of ranch life in the 1930s. He shows how people are driven to find companionship.
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I think loneliness is a key part of the book. Each character becomes lonely and seeks a friend, or even just an audience at least once, and every character has one or more confidants: George has Slim, and to some extent, Lennie. Lennie has George and Crooks, and Crooks has Lennie. Crooks says that Lennie is the only one of the men who will talk to him, apart from Slim, the rest ignore because he is black and say that he smells. Slim talks to George more than anyone else, and Candy seems to like to talk to George as well.
All the characters make some sort of an effort to have someone to talk to: George travels with Lennie and opens conversations with Slim, who can talk to anyone, but goes in search of George when he is forced to kill Lennie. Crooks and Lennie talk quite a lot, and I think that if Lennie had lived, he would have become friends with Crooks. Curley’s wife is always looking for Curley to talk to, but can never find him, so she talks with the other farm workers. Candy seeks out George and they seem to be friends as well. Curley doesn’t seem to talk to anyone much, but as he is son of ‘the Boss’, he thinks he is above the other men, until they offer to help him hunt down Lennie.
Another element of loneliness in the book is the fact that some of the characters remain nameless, and are known only by their association to things, eg. The Boss is known by his association to the ranch, and Curley’s wife is known by her association to Curley. This tells us that these are two of the most loneliest characters in the book, as they don’t even have a name of their own for people to call them by, and if they don’t have a name in the eyes of the workers, then why would anyone talk to them? And if no one would talk to them, then naturally they would be lonely.
Even though George and Lennie travel together, I think that they are both still lonely. Lennie isn’t fully comprehensive, but I think he misses having mice, or something soft to pet that doesn’t require extreme amounts of concentration, like have conversation, which are so much harder for Lennie than other people. I think he would just like to have a pet, that only wants attention from Lennie, and food, rather than large amounts of focus even for the simplest things. George, in my opinion, is also lonely in his own way. He always apologizes to Lennie after he snaps at him about how easy his life would be without Lennie, but I think in reality, that is the life he is longing for: no Lennie to take care of and get out of trouble, he could ‘just take his 50 bucks’ and go into town and have a good time, like every one else. I think George just wants to be able to settle down at one ranch, make firm friends, and get a ‘stake’ together for himself so he could maybe buy a small farm with some of his other friends, which is what he might do now that Lennie is out of his life for good.
I also think that Candy is one of the loneliest characters in the book. He is old, has only one hand and only about three hundred dollars to his name (which he was given most of in compensation for his hand by the Boss) to survive on once he is inevitably ‘canned’ because of his old age. His dog, which we are not given the name of, is very old and according to Carlson smells very bad and is shot by Carlson. The loss of his dog affects Candy very badly, as it had been his only companion for years. He tried to replace his dog with George and Lennie and form a plan for the future with them, but this became almost impossible when Lennie was killed. Before Lennie’s death, however, Candy seemed to be able to confide in him and, as Lennie didn’t have the ability to understand most of what he was told, he was an good listener, even though there were a few interjection about puppies!
Crooks is another very lonely character in the book. He isolated because of something he has no control over: his skin colour, and he was extremely deprived of some of his human rights because of this. However, he too confides in Lennie, probably for the same reason as Candy. He also wants to share in the dream of George and Lennie.
At first, he is opposed to Lennie entering his room, but eventually he allows him in. Lennie starts talking to Crooks about the puppies and then accidently mentions the farm. Crooks becomes interested and then asks to have a share in it. All he wants is to belong and not be discriminated because of his skin. For him, Lennie’s death might have signified the death of his own dream as well.
Curley’s wife is also a good example of a lonely character in the book. The other men call her a flirt, and even occasionally a ‘tart’, but in reality she is just lonely. Just because she likes to get dressed up nicely and wear makeup, that doesn’t make her a flirt. She just wants someone to talk to and keep her company, so she goes around ‘looking for Curley’ but I think she is actually just saying that to the other men to get them to start talking to her, and to try and get them to relieve some of the boredom she finds takes up the most part of her life on the ranch. She finds an audience in Lennie, and admits to him how lonely she is and tries to talk to him and befriend him, which leads to her own death, and indirectly, to Lennie’s.