The great depression in John Steinbeck's Of Mice & Men
To What Extent is Of Mice & Men a Novel of Social Protest?
First published in 1937, John Steinbeck's Of Mice & Men is a story set during the Great Depression of the 1930's in the aftermath of the Wall St Crash. Following the tale of two men looking for a piece of land to call their own, Of Mice & Men contains several themes as a criticism against the American government at that time.
The characters in Of Mice & Men are used to explore the themes set out in the story. George Milton, a man who is described as having 'restless eyes', showing he is constantly thinking. He is accompanied by Lennie Small, a large, strong man with a child's intellect, who would today be decribed as being insane. Lennie shares Georges dream of buying a piece of land to call their own, where they would be 'living off the fatta the lan', where Lennie would tend the rabbits.
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Curley is a short, 'handy' man. A former semi-professional boxer, he is jealous over anyone who would look at his wife and is overly protective of her. He instantly hates Lennie upon their first meeting.
Curly's Wife has been described by John Steinbeck as a 'foil'. The fact that she has no name shows that she no other function in the story, other than to be a danger to Lennie. Mistrusted around other men by her husband, Curley's Wife had dreams of going to Hollywood and being an actor.
Candy is a ranch worker, who is described in the book as a swamper. Having lost a hand in an accident, he has been at the ranch longer than most, and is reaching the end of his usefulness. Having learnt of George and Lennies' plan to but a stake, he convinces George to let him join them, feeling loneliness after letting Carlson shoot his old dog.
Candy's dog is described as being 'old' and 'crippled'. Blind and arthritic, Carlson convinces Candy to let him shoot his dog as an act of kindness. The death of Candy's dog is a parallel of Lennie's at the end of the story.
Slim is a 'jerkline skinner'. He is respected by most of the main characters. They turn to slim for advice and usually treat his words a law. He is the only character in the story that Curley shows any respect for..
Crooks is the only black character in the story. After being kicked in the back by a horse, his spine is crooked of curves to one side, giving him his nickname. He has his own room in the barn, rather than in the bunkhouse, and is kept segregated from the rest. He is discriminates against everyone in the story, but he softens a little when talking with Lennie.
Carlson is described as a 'thick bodied' man. He is tired of the smell candy's dog constantly leaves trailing around the bunkhouse, and eventually convinces Candy to let him shoot it.
Aunt Clara was Lennie's aunt. George promised Aunt Clara that he would always take care of Lennie. She is only mention in the past tense in the book, and is only seen when Lennie sees her in his own mind.
Themes are scattered all through Of Mice & Men. Jobs, or a lack of feature as a major theme throughout the book. With work being scarce, the only available jobs were agricultural, working on farms helping to bring in the harvest. Many migrant workers, who could barely make enough money to support themselves, worled to make enough money to bring their families to America.
Loneliness is the biggest single theme in the book. This is a large part of many of the main character's lives, from Candy's loneliness after losing his dog, to Curly's Wife's loneliness because her husband is a man she does not like. Even the name of the nearby town, Solidad, means 'solitude' in Spanish.
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