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Major Themes in "Of Mice and Men"
Transcript of Major Themes in "Of Mice and Men"
What is the purpose of a theme?
A literary theme is a subject, issue, idea, moral or message that the author is trying to convey to the reader.
Of Mice and Men
Hope and Dreams
Of Mice and Men is a novella of unfulfilled hopes and the harsh reality of the American Dream. All of Steinbeck’s more developed characters have dreams and aspirations that they reveal at some point during the novel. Lennie and George’s dream is of owning a farm, enabling them to be self-reliant and offering them some security during the Great Depression.
in Steinbeck’s novel. The novel is heavily based on loneliness and isolation, and Steinbeck portrays
it through the setting and characterisation.
Themes have numerous purposes such as teaching the reader about specific elements of life or human behaviour, or challenging the reader's existing views.
Hopes and Dreams
Loyalty and Sacrifice
Weakness and Powerlessness
“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.
(Steinbeck, 2000, p 16)
The American Dream
The American Dream is the set of ideals that every individual, regardless of their position in society, has the opportunity to achieve prosperity and success through hard work. Steinbeck explores the elusiveness of the American Dream during the Great Depression.
“Hunderds of them. They come, an' they quit an' go on; an' every damn one of 'em's got a little piece of land in his head. An' never
Although Lennie and George
work hard, financial success has
always eluded them and they have
been incapable of fulfilling their dream of owning their own land.
a God damn one of 'em ever gets it.”
(Steinbeck, 2000, p 73)
Other examples of
disappointed dreams and seemingly unobtainable hopes include; Curley’s wife’s dream of being a Hollywood actress, Candy’s hope of owning land and having security before he dies, and Crooks’ dream of being seen as equal to everyone else.
The presence of loneliness is established at the very beginning of the novel. The story is set on an isolated farm near a town called “Soledad”, which literally translates into “loneliness” in Spanish.
Loneliness is also a prevalent theme
“A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green.”
(Steinbeck, 2000, p 3)
The novel is also set during the Great Depression, which was a
severe worldwide economic depression which caused unemployment in America to reach 25%.
This lack of employment increased the number of itinerant workers, who found
it nearly impossible to establish a constant home. Consequently, they were also unable to form permanent relationships.
“Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place”.
(Steinbeck, 2000, p 15)
Steinbeck also expresses
loneliness through the characterisation and incorporates the roles that sexism and racism have in causing isolation. Loneliness surrounds the two main characters; the loneliness of itinerant workers, the loneliness of an outcast black man, the loneliness of an oppressed woman, and the loneliness of an old handicapped man. When George is forced to shoot Lennie, he too is burdened by the loneliness that pervades the novel.
Crooks, the stable hand, lives in enforced solitude and isolation caused by racial discrimination. He is so accustomed to his imposed segregation and isolation that he becomes suspicious of anyone who tries to befriend him.
Crooks describes his isolation when he 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.” He cried, “I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an’ he get sick.”
(Steinbeck, 2000, p 72)
Curley's wife is one of the loneliest characters in the
novel. Her loneliness is mainly the result of sexism from her husband. She is treated as a sexual object and is isolated further by being the only woman residing at the ranch. However, her loneliness also stems from being unable to befriend the ranch workers who fear that they will lose their jobs if they associate with her.
“Why can’t I talk to you? I never get to talk to nobody. I get awful lonely.”
(Steinbeck, 2000, p 85)
Another key theme is friendship, which is demonstrated through Lennie and George’s relationship.
Friendship is established as a rarity at the beginning of the novel Of Mice and Men. Steinbeck makes it clear that Lennie and George’s companionship is unique by contrasting it against the loneliness that surrounds them.
“With us it ain't like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us.”
(Steinbeck, 2000, p 15)
Lennie relies on their
friendship for guidance and protection while George relies on it for companionship. However, as the novel progresses, the friendship between Lennie and George develops and Steinbeck reveals that George genuinely loves Lennie who in return trusts and is completely devoted to George.
Steinbeck portrays the themes of loyalty and sacrifice through the
experiences of Lennie and George.
Loyalty is embodied in the character of George. George is an intelligent man who could easily obtain a steady job which would allow him to save enough money to buy a farm. However, he sacrifices his chance at a better life to look after Lennie.
The Great Depression
“When I think of the swell time I could have without you, I go nuts. I never get no peace.”
(Steinbeck, 2000, p 14)
This quote shows that George realises that life would be easier without Lennie, and often longs for independence. However, his loyalty to Lennie is unfailing throughout the novel.
At the end of novel, George
makes the ultimate sacrifice by killing Lennie. George sacrifices his companionship to save Lennie from a painful death at the hands of Curley. Without Lennie’s friendship, George enters the
life of a lonely itinerant
Weakness and Powerlessness
illustrates intellectual weakness as well as financial and societal powerlessness in his novel.
Lennie is a character
who is physically strong but
is mentally handicapped. His major
weakness throughout the novel is his lack
of mental acuity to help him perceive danger.
His intellectual weakness
not only means that he is
unable to control his
physical power, he also possesses an extremely
basic sense of right
and wrong. Hence
he is powerless to look after himself and must rely on George to make
decisions for him.
Another type of
powerlessness is financial.
The abundance of itinerant ranch workers during the Great Depression meant that ranch owners could make arbitrary decisions about who they would employ. Furthermore, ranch workers were easily replaced and were paid so little that they were unable to save enough to advance economically.
“Well you keep your place then, Nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny”. (Steinbeck, 1937, p 80)
This threat from Curley’s wife demonstrates the defenceless of African-Americans in 1930's society.
Crooks represents societal powerlessness. He is the only black man on the ranch and is seen as inferior to white people. This hinders him from possessing any type of power in the racially discriminatory society in which he lives.