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Exploring themes in Of Mice and Men
Transcript of Exploring themes in Of Mice and Men
Explain how this is depicted in the novel.
Find a quote relating to the depiction of this theme and explain the quote. What other themes
do you see? Dreams, hopes, and plans are the foundation of what makes life worth living.
In O.M.A.M dreams, hopes, and plans are not about realistic ambitions, but about finding a way to survive the Depression, even if it’s just filling your mind with visions that may not come true. Isolation OMAM thrives on the idea that everyone is isolated, and everyone seems to get along quite well together by talking about how isolated they are.
Isolation is much more an abstract concept than a reality – the men are constantly together and chatting. It’s the unpleasantness of having to move, to hit the open road again, make new friends, new enemies, and keep finding yourself all over again that seems to plague the men.
These transitions (and having to go at them alone, by nature of the nomad migrant worker lifestyle) are enough to make a guy feel isolated, even when he’s surrounded by people. Friendship Friendship is not discussed heavily in OMAM.
George and Lennie don’t talk about how they feel about each other or why they should stay loyal – they just stand by each other, and that’s that. It’s a very gruff, rough and tumble atmosphere, and though feelings are not talked about, you get the sense that the men take nothing more seriously than their friendship.
For George and Lennie, as they make their way through the Depression, all they have is each other Women and Femininity OMAM is set in a male environment where there are three types of women:
- the "imagined" good girl for settling down
- the prostitutes for a drink and a trick and
- Curley’s wife
Women are a kind of absent symbol, only there to highlight the men’s failings: the men of the ranch can’t settle down, so they go to brothels. As the "girl next door" type is only a fantasy, the men basically reduce the women around them to sex. As George states, at least with prostitutes, "you pay for what you get." While Curley’s wife is a sexual object, she can’t actually comply (because she’s taken) – all she can really offer is trouble. Why does everyone seem to feel so
isolated all the time? Is this a
function of the ranch, the era, the
world, human nature, or something
else? 1. Is the friendship between George and Lennie fully
reciprocal? Do both members contribute and receive equally
from each other?
* * *
2. George says quite a bit about how much better his life
would be if he did not have to take care of Lennie. If this is
true, why does he stay with Lennie? Quote #3
"They had walked in single file down the path, and even in the open one stayed behind the other. Both were dressed in denim trousers and in denim coats with brass buttons. Both wore black, shapeless hats and both carried tight blanket rolls slung over their shoulders."
From the first sight of Lennie and George, a dynamic in their relationship is established. Though the men are outwardly of the same class (wearing identical clothes and carrying identical gear), one still walks behind the other. George is, of course, the leader, but it seems he doesn’t value himself as necessarily superior to Lennie; they’re both in it together. Quote #2
"Lennie, who had been watching, imitated George exactly. He pushed himself back, drew up his knees, embraced them, looked over to George to see whether he had it just right. He pulled his hat down a little more over his eyes, the way George’s hat was."
Lennie may need George to be the brains of the operation, but it seems like Lennie’s mimicry isn’t just an attempt to "pass" in the civilized world. The innocence of Lennie’s action, which is done with no one around but George and himself, indicates that Lennie simply admires his friend. He looks up to George (and what George does) the way a little kid dotes on an older brother Quote #1
LENNIE "I was only foolin’, George. I don’t want no ketchup. I wouldn’t eat no ketchup if it was right here beside me."
GEORGE "If it was here, you could have some."
LENNIE "But I wouldn’t eat none, George. I’d leave it all for you. You could cover your beans with it and I wouldn’t touch none of it."
After George’s mean outburst about how much better off he’d be without Lennie (sparked by Lennie wanting some ketchup), Lennie is the one who makes the first move to apologize for being a jerk. Even after this awful fight, the men’s friendship has a simple and remarkable earnestness. George grudgingly knows he’s wrong and in fact really loves his friend, and even though Lennie can’t express it in a terribly complex way, he loves George back. Let’s just say they’re each the other’s speed dial #1. * * * *
* Curley’s wife is a caricature of the problems suffered
by women in small agricultural communities during
the Depression. Though she’s an awful woman, she
does suffer from real affliction and prejudice.
Do you agree? Quote #1
OLD MAN [CANDY] "Well, that glove’s fulla Vaseline."
GEORGE "Vaseline? What the hell for?"
OLD MAN [CANDY] "Well, I will tell ya what—Curley says he’s keepin’ that hand soft for his wife."
It’s pretty clear here that Curley’s marriage, in his mind, is a performance to impress the other guys at the ranch. Curley isn’t trying to impress his wife; he’s trying to use her (and his supposed relations with her) as a tool to prove how very manly he is. Nobody who respected his wife and felt secure in his relationship would need to spread talk like that around to the guys Quote #2
George said, "She’s gonna make a mess. They’s gonna be a bad mess about her. She’s a jail bait all set on the trigger. That Curley got his work cut out for him. Ranch with a bunch of guys on it ain’t no place for a girl, specially like her."
Is it true that ranches are no place for women? As George earlier compared stability to having "a girl" and presumably raising a family, it seems that if women can’t be part of ranch life, ranch life can’t really ever be stable and happy. Thinking on this leads us to wonder whether there’s no notion of a loving, down-to-earth, farm-wife type of gal that could make these men happy. Quote #1
OLD MAN [CANDY] "A guy on a ranch don’t never listen nor he don’t ast no questions."
Each guy keeps his nose clean, everybody stays out of trouble with each other, and all involved then lead a lonely, miserable life into a lonely, isolated death. Quote #2
GEORGE: "I seen the guys that go around on the ranches alone. That ain’t no good. They don’t have no fun. After a long time they get mean. They get wantin’ to fight all the time."
Isolation seems to make men return to their basest instincts – fighting to survive. It seems companionship is the only thing that can keep men civilized, and ranches full of lonely guys tend not to be that civilized Quote #3
GEORGE "O.K. Someday—we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and—"
"An’ live off the fatta the lan’," Lennie shouted. "An’ have rabbits. Go on, George! Tell about what we’re gonna have in the garden and about the rabbits in the cages and about the rain in the winter and the stove, and how thick the cream is on the milk like you can hardly cut it. Tell about that George."
"Why’n’t you do it yourself? You know all of it."
"No…you tell it. It ain’t the same if I tell it. Go on…George. How I get to tend the rabbits."
"Well," said George, "we’ll have a big vegetable patch and a rabbit hutch and chickens. And when it rains in the winter, we’ll just say the hell with goin’ to work, and we’ll build up a fire in the stove and set around it an’ listen to the rain comin’ down on the roof—Nuts!" This is one of the foundational and most important pieces of the novel. There are numerous bits to analyze in this passage, ranging from its reflection of the American Dream during the Depression to the fact that the dream is so repeated among the two men that even dull Lennie has memorized some of it. For our purposes, it’s very important that this talk of the farm oscillates wildly throughout the book– it seems like the farm is a dream to George, a hope for Lennie, and (eventually) even a plan for Candy. It’s especially interesting that sometimes it seems the farm is the dream that keeps them going, and sometimes it is just a reminder of the futility of dreaming.
The highlight of the dream for George is not the absence of work, or the easy living, or even having a lot of money. It is simply grounded in having some place to belong (and implicitly, people with whom to belong).