Analysing the relationship between George and Lennie in Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”
In the opening section of the novella, Steinbeck wishes to portray the relationship between George and Lennie as ‘leader’ and ‘follower’. Steinbeck highlights that ‘they walked in single file’ down the narrow path and when they came into the open, ‘one stayed behind the other’; which immediately indicates that George is dominant in this relationship, therefore Lennie is somewhat irresponsible, dependent and incapable of looking after himself. This image illustrates that George acts as a parental figure and Lennie is similar to a shy child hiding behind a father. Furthermore, in Chapter 2 this idea is developed when George also carries Lennie’s work card, knowing that Lennie would lose it if he was responsible for it “Think I’d let you carry your own work card?”. This quote shows how George acts as a parental figure for Lennie; George must look after Lennie’s important possessions, as George knows that he will just lose them because of his simple-mindedness. The rhetorical question also shows George’s frustration with Lennie’s small mental capacity as he is always creating problems.
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Also, when we are first introduced to Lennie and George, the main physical differences between them are highlighted. Lennie is “huge”, ” shapeless of face” and often dehumanized to be that of a bear. However, George on the other hand, is small, quick and thin with, “restless eyes” and “slender arms”. This description is a form of juxtaposition, as the two characters contrast in appearance. It would form an image in the reader’s minds of two characters that differ greatly, and could supposedly be the opposite of one another. I think the authors intentions of using of this language technique, would be to make a point of their differences and suggest that their personalities also greatly contradict each other. So this makes us read on to find out why we find these two opposing characters together in the story.
Throughout the passage, Lennie is referred to as a bear, and a “huge companion” with “dragging feet”. This creates an image in the readers mind of a man who is giant-like in size and is supposedly clumsy and uncoordinated. The author’s use of the animal ‘Bear’ to compare Lennie to, symbolizes that he can be the ‘dangerous, strong bear’, or the ‘cuddly teddy bear’. It indicates that whilst Lennie is a big and strong man, he is also just a playful, childish boy who needs guidance.
Steinbeck also metaphorically compares Lennie ‘snorting into water like a horse’; Lennie’s actions are similar to an animal, unlike humans who cup their hands to drink water. This emphasizes that he will act upon an animal instinct and his animal characteristics convey Lennie’s great strength that he is unaware of; this holds immense importance in the novel as it foreshadows the downfall of Lennie due to his powerful strength and animal instincts.
Verbs and adverbs are chosen specifically to reflect Lennie’s and George’s attitudes and characteristics. Generally actions and descriptive words attached to Lennie show a lack of confidence and maturity, for example words such as ‘dabbled’ and ‘timidly’ displays Lennie’s hesitancy and unassertiveness, whilst George on the other hand has words adverbs such as ‘sharply’ and ‘gently’ which suggests that he is thinks a lot before all his actions. Overall the reader can deduce without any explanation required, that Lennie most likely needs supervision from George, and looks up to him as a role model because he admires his intelligence and general behaviour/demeanour.
In the book’s dialogue, Steinbeck uses slang,colloquialism, and non-standard terms (“ain’t,” “would of,” “brang,” and so on) to convey an authentic sense of the characters. This casual dialect(“she’s a loo loo,” “Curley’s got ants in his pants”) helps recreate a particular time, place, and social background that make the book sound real as well as the characters more relatable. What’s more, is that the lack of standard English is constant throughout all speech, characters don’t speak with more refinement to other specific characters. Even Lennie, though he’s slow, isn’t less able to communicate with words than others.This aspect equalizes the characters and gives them a lack of identity or purpose. Overall it addresses the theme of power and each character’s lack of control over their own destiny. Readers may interpret these aspects negatively, because it is symbolic of the lack of importance or significance people had back in the context’s day. However, on the other hand you could interpret it as a good thing that all of society was equal, everyone had equal chances and people felt a good sense of community and belonging.
Towards the end of chapter 6, as Lennie’s captors advance towards him, Steinbeck gives a brief description, using pathetic fallacy, of the landscape in which the story is unfolding; “Already the sun had left the valley to go climbing up the slopes of the Gablian Mountains, and the hill tops were rosy in the sun.” I believe Steinbeck’s desired intentions of using this specific technique, is to reflect that all hope of the American dream has been lost, due to the death of Curley’s wife. The ‘sun’ is the light, which represents hope and happiness, and the fact it has ‘left the valley’ represents the reality of the situation; that Lennie has ruined any chance they once had of fulfilling the dream. The use of the word ‘already’ in particular, depicts the idea that all hope vanished as soon as Lennie killed her; there was no way he could have made amends. This would make the reader feel sympathy/pity for Lennie, as they have grown attached to his character throughout the book, and they know the death was unintentional.
Also, embedded frequently throughout the book, is the use of structural motifs. In particular, the recurring element of the ‘American Dream’, and it’s dismal achievability, is used to signify the relationship between Lennie and George. It exemplifies one of the reasons why we find the two characters together; their differences are made apparent yet they both share and hold onto this strong sense of longing for this scenario, no matter how out of reach it is.
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Additionally, each time George repeats this dream to Lennie, his intonation and demeanor in which he says it, reflects it’s current state of achievability. For example, in chapter one, where Lennie and George have no job and no comfortable sanctuary, George is reluctant to finish describing the dream, ‘I ain’t got time for no more’, this hesitancy shows that he has obvious doubt in fulfilling it due to the current circumstances he and Lennie is in.
However, in chapter 3, when Candy offers his savings into the purchasing of the house, George becomes excited as he believes the dream is now within reach. Steinbeck shows this through the use of short sentences and informal dialect, ‘Jesus Christ! I bet we could swing her,’ because we relate excitement with uncontrollable language, colloquialism and the inability to produce sophisticated sentences, therefore it creates authenticity and pace for the reader, thus making it more believable.
Lastly, in chapter 6, the dream is again repeated, back where the story first began. Yet now, the dream is fragmented, separated with the use of ellipses, ‘You…an’ me.’ This punctuational technique symbolizes the loss and feebleness of the dream, as well as George’s despair of having to kill Lennie to save him from the oncoming lynch mob. Now, it’s no longer a chore for George; he wants to take it slow and let Lennie enjoy it fully before he dies, it truly reflects that George needs Lennie just as much as he needs him. Overall the reader would sympathize for both of them, because we can understand that George only did this for Lennie’s benefit, and despite their disputes; they cared about each other very much.
The plot in ‘Of Mice And Men’ is also an example of a circular narrative; it concludes in the same location, and George and Lennie are once again fleeing from trouble. This structure is used to offer a valuable moral about difficult the American Dream is to fulfill, as well as to reveal the sad absurdity of dreams in general. Overall this highlights Steinbeck’s pessimistic views towards the dream as he adapts his story to portray the dream to be impossible for all, Curley’s wife included. However, on the other hand, Lennie’s death was inevitable because of the escalating destruction he was evoking, so others could interpret it as a blessing that Lennie died at the hands of a man he trusts, painlessly and still believing in his dream. So readers may believe Steinbeck wrote this to emphasize the beauty of friendships and highlight how important it is for mankind to uphold them.
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