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In his novel 'Of Mice and Men' Steinbeck creates for us a world of false hopes thwarted desires and broken dreams. All the characters suffer; he explores the harsh realities of the 1930s. Explain what you have learnt from this novel and why it still endures today. For me, Carlson, Slim and Crooks are the most important characters in 'Of Mice & Men' as they are inspirational by giving the characters George and Lennie advice. They show us that you don't need to be forceful to gain respect most especially Slim. Crooks is informative in the context of racism in that time period. Steinbeck gave Crooks his own chapter to inform us of the racism. Carlson shows us that in harsh times you can't be nice all the time. The harsh times I mentioned is the Great Depression which had gone down in history as the worst economical disaster the world has ever seen. What made it even worse was that a weather system known as the "Dust Bowl". This meant crop could not be grown so the farmers could not make money.
The story was set in a remote Californian town called Soledad which is Spanish for loneliness. The name of the town symbolises the "backbone" of the story as each character is lonely. California was known at the time as the "Salad Bowl of America". This was because nearly every fruit or vegetable was grown there. Men working on ranches at this time were paid very little for the amount of work they did ($50 per calendar month) and work was limited as there was only a certain amount of crop to pick or harvest.
The setting symbolises the Garden of Eden because of the amount of agriculture in the area. The darkness at the beginning of the novel tells us that something sinister may happen (Symbolising the snake in the Garden of Eden). Steinbeck saw the Holy Grail which links in with The American Dream, as symbolic of a life goal. He was fascinated by California and saw it as the Garden of Eden which in Genesis in the Bible, is described as a lost paradise. The American Dream is a life target that everyone had but they could not achieve. Steinbeck's stories were very realistic considering he used to work on ranches in California and he grew up there. This meant he had a real insight into the lives of ordinary people as he was one. The characters in Of Mice and Men' were ordinary individuals. All his stories were drawn from personal experience; he was upset with what he was seeing in the California around him. Of Mice and Men is set in 1936 and in 1962, he received a Nobel Prize for literature.
During the Great Depression, families were split up as there was no money and the men needed to travel for work. This is emphasised greatly in Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath. This novel is about a large family who travel from Oklahoma to California in the hope of finding work. Back in reality, friends that people met on their travels became like family. The idea of America standing together as one big family was not a reality. Steinbeck was born into a middle class family who were working hard for a better life. This was their version of the American Dream.
Before the Great Depression, it was the Jazz Age; this was the time of fun. Women began to wear short skirts but it was only in 1920 women get the right to vote. This would not have happened if the Suffragettes had not put pressure on the U.S. Government beforehand. As of this year, out of the total 100 senators in the U.S. Senate only 17 of them were Women. Prior to 2001, numerically speaking, the most common way for a woman to ascend to the U.S. Senate was to have been appointed there following the death or resignation of a husband or father who previously held the seat. This is also apparent in the U.K's House of Commons and the House of Lords. The possible future Prime Minister David Cameron is hoping to change this. President Roosevelt of the U.S.A. was the first president to assign women to government jobs. Pay inequality was obvious in industry at that time as women got half of whatever men got paid.
In the 1920's before the Great Depression, it was the time of optimism as people were borrowing lots of money. The banks just lent money without deciding whether the individual in question could pay back the money or not. This was a major cause of the Great Depression. Also, when the Great Depression struck, the banks attempted to recall all the loans because the banks needed the money but people could not pay back the money so the problem worsened. 1-3 million people were affected by the Wall Street Crash. Businessmen and chief executives and Wall Street traders were committing suicide. People had nowhere to live and began forming "Hoovervilles" on the edge of cities so named after President Hoover. President Roosevelt set up "New Deal" policies to help the unemployed.
Since the end of civil war in America, the Klu Klux Klan burned beat and lynched blacks just because they were not of the same race as the Klu Klux Klan. The first clan was formed by veterans of the Confederate Army. Other groups soon sprang up across the southern states. They also persecuted homosexuals, Jews and any other religious belief apart from their own (Christian). This far right extremist organisation is alarmingly still very active today. The main concentration of membership of the Klu Klux Klan is in the southern states for example Alabama, Mississippi, although there is some membership in the Midwestern states. The southern states would have represented the confederacy during the civil war. Up until the mid sixties members may have been officials such as judges or policemen. I use the term policemen because typically members are males. This could mean blacks could be easily accused of crimes they didn't commit and be prosecuted of them. It is unknown to this day whether there are still officials that are members of this organisation. They campaigned to stop black people from voting. Blacks and whites were separated in public places for example they had separated toilets, separate eating areas and separated areas on buses. Rosa Parks famously campaigned against segregation of blacks on buses. This is known as the bus boycott. The bus companies were losing out on lots of money as blacks were their main customers so they had no choice to change the rules. So no longer a black person had to give up their seat for a white person. Roosevelt made efforts to equalise pay. Black men were paid less than white women and black women were paid even less than black men, which meant they got paid a quarter of whatever white men got paid. Roosevelt tried to forbid discrimination. The federal government became the largest employer of blacks in the country. In the novel Crooks knows what his rights are as he owns a copy of the "California Civil Code 1905". However, he is denied them because of his race.
Crooks is the black stable buck. He is the only permanent employee at the ranch, since he injured his back in an accident; his back gives him constant pain. We are told this as Steinbeck tells us in chapter four that he is rubbing liniment into his back "Crooks sat on his bunk. His shirt was out of his jeans in the back. In one hand he held a bottle of liniment, and with the other he rubbed his spine. Now and then he poured a few drops of the liniment into his pink-palmed hand and reached up under his shirt to rub again. He flexed his muscles against his back". Steinbeck reinforces how painful his injury is by using strong descriptive language. He is only called "Nigger" by the other characters as racism is taken for granted. It shows that they are taught racism by watching what was happening around them rather than being born with it. He is lonely; Steinbeck also tells us this in chapter four. "S'pose you didn't have nobody. S'pose you couldn't go into the bunk house and play rummy 'cause you were black...A guy needs somebody-to be near him....I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an' he gets sick." He tells Lennie this because Crooks knows from personal experience what it is like to be lonely like that because he is Black. The only time he is allowed to mix with the other guys is when they play horseshoes and he always wins. The only other time we are told of Crooks mixing with the other guys is at the beginning of the story when Candy introduces himself. "They let the nigger come in that night. Done pretty good, too. The guys wouldn't let him use his feet, Smitty says he woulda killed the nigger. The guys said on account of the nigger's got a crooked back, Smitty can't use his feet." This shows blacks are treated with little respect and no-one (white people) will stick up for him. He has his own room near the stables and has a few possessions. He has books, which shows he is intelligent and an old copy of the California Civil Code, which suggests he is concerned about his rights. He says he has seen men come and go all looking for the American dream but is now cynical about it as none of them have achieved it. Steinbeck shows us this again, in chapter 4 "You're nuts." Crooks was scornful. "I seen hunderds of men come by on the road an' in the ranches with their bindles on their back an' that same damn thing in their heads. An' never a God damn one of 'em ever gets it. Just like heaven. Ever'body wants a little piece of lan". They're all the time talkin' about it, but it's jus' in their head". This is important because it tells us everyone has a dream. Steinbeck uses this dialect of American English to further enhance the realism of the story as who he is basing his characters on spoke like that at that time. Crook's dream is for blacks to not be segregated, this is very important to him, he did not realise the segregations when he was a boy on his father's ranch but now he does. His dream is broken because he is only known on the ranch as "Nigger" rather than Crooks which his nick name because of his crooked back (We are not told his actual name). It will never be likely to come true unless all Black people across America are treated as equals.
Slim is the jerkline skinner (lead mule-team driver) at the ranch. He is excellent at his job and the natural leader at the ranch. Everyone respects his views and looks up to him. He has that kind of presence that speaks authority without being forceful. "There was a gravity in his manner and a quiet so profound that all talked stopped when he spoke. His authority was so great that his word was taken on any subject, be it politics or love." He understands the relationship between George and Lennie. He helps George at the end and reassures him that he had done the right thing. We know little else about him, which gives him a slightly mysterious quality. As we know little about him it is difficult to fathom whether he has a dream or not. It may be that he has tried to achieve the dream but has failed at it or he may have already fulfilled his dream. I think Steinbeck has included a character in 'Of Mice and Men' because he wants this character to be a role model for the reader. It is also portrayed that he has a heart because he tells Carlson to "take a shovel" with him when he goes to shoot Candy's dog.
If you was to take him out and shoot him right in the back of the head" he leaned over and pointed, "Right there, why he'd never know what hit him." This again, shows that you can't be nice all the time in harsh times. He is quite annoyed with the smell of the dog so he decides to take action. This shows the elderly were treated with minimal respect at that time as Candy is almost forced into making the decision to have his dog shot by Carlson's persistence. Later, George uses Carlson's gun to shoot Lennie. This is important because it is the same gun that was used to shoot Candy's dog which meant a lot to Candy and Lennie means a lot to George. Again, very little is known about Carlson. I think Steinbeck has included Carlson because he wanted to "balance out" the characters and to make the story appear realistic.
We learn by reading about these characters that you can't be nice always in harsh times, you don't have to be forceful to gain respect and just because you have a different skin colour doesn't make you different. I think that Steinbeck doesn't allow the characters to achieve their dreams because he wanted to make the story as realistic as possible.
I think the novel is so popular today because, especially within the last year, we have all been in an economic disaster though not on the scale of the Great Depression. It also relates to the reader because we all have dreams and so do the characters. Also, even today people are discriminated against with disabilities even though various employment laws aim to put a stop to this. Again, racist discrimination against blacks in the southern states of America is still a pressing issue. It is quite sad that certain things such as the above don't change.