In this esaay I am going to explore how the ideas of the American dream is explored in ‘Of Mice and Men’ The title, Of Mice and Men, came from the saying “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray and leave us nothing but pain for what might have been”. This is such a well-chosen name for the novel because it explains the factors leading to the characters’ dreams. The novel was written during the Great Depression of 1930 in the USA. It tells the tragic story of George and Lennie, two displaced Anglo itinerant farm workers in California during the Great Depression (1929-1939). The story is set on a ranch, a few miles from Soledad in the Salinas Valley. In the following essay I will also explain their dreams and show how they plan to fulfil these dreams. Near the end I will clarify what finally happens to their dreams.
It is human nature to have dreams, or the hopes one has for the future. Even dreams that are never accomplished are good, because they keep people going on when they normally would have given up. Dreams are something to look forward to, something to fantasize about. A dream is something one indulges in, to escape momentarily from life. In the book, Of Mice and Men, dreams are what every character seems to be craving. In George and Lennie’s case, that something is land. It is natural for men in their situation, itinerant workers in the Great Depression, to imagine working on their own land and being their own bosses. Their dream is simple in some ways yet very complex in others.
The dream apparently began as just a story that George told Lennie, perhaps as a way of calming Lennie down, or to keep him focused on working, but after some time, it seemed that George started to believe in the dream himself. George’s dream, although it was basically the same as Lennie’s, is probably more detailed and complicated and Candy, Crooks and Curley’s wife, who although possess dreams, either have no one to share them with or have no hopes of ever reaching them. Everyone can dream but clearly, the ability to dream is inextricably tied to having someone to share that dream with.
Lennie and George have a dream, which they have thought out very thoroughly. ‘We gotta get a big stake together’, this conveys that their dream is to make a stake, around ‘six hundred dollars’. With this stake they plan to buy a piece of land, ‘a couple of acres’. On this piece of land they could ‘have a little house…an’ a cow and some pigs’. They also say ‘We’ll have a big vegetable patch and a rabbit-hutch and chickens’. They could do anything they wanted on this land because they would be their own bosses. However, I believe that in chapter 6 George is describing Heaven to Lennie, rather than the little farm.
Lennie thinks as far as feeding and petting the rabbits ‘Le’s do it now’, but George thinks about the details of the plan, such as how they would earn enough money, what things they would grow, and the possibility of actually living off the land. Yet this is what they thought, the dream gradually vanished throughout the novel. The author, John Steinbeck, illustrates this vanished dram through a series of incidents involving Lennie and his interactions with other characters in the novel. It all started with the incident in Weed where Lennie had to ‘feel a girl’s dress’ and she cried out that he was ‘raping’ her. George and Lennie had to hide in a cesspool while men went looking for them. This made George very cautious of Lennie’s actions and was disappointed to have to run away.
Lennie later, a few miles south of Soledad by the Salinas River, killed a mouse. ‘Jus’ a dead mouse, George. I didn’t kill it. Honest! I found it. I found it dead’, this conveys that Lennie is ashamed at having disappointed George. However George isn’t pleased ‘Give it here!’ this conveys George as quite an overpowering person and very demanding because ‘Lennie’s closed hand slowly obeyed’. The reader, at this stage, would take this as foreshadowing for events later in the book.
Lennie’s next unfortunate incident was with Curley when ‘Curley stepped over to Lennie like a terrier’. It wasn’t Lennie’s fault because George yelled ‘Get ‘im, Lennie!’ Lennie reached for Curley’s fist as it was swinging and crushed it. ‘Curley was flopping like a fish on a line’. This had an effect on their dream and could have put a stop to it because Curley is the boss’s son and he could get them sacked and make it very difficult for George to keep Lennie out of prison. But luckily Slim keeps the chances of the dream alive, for the meantime, by stepping in. ‘I think you got you han’ caught in a machine’ this suggests that Slim has a lot of authority between the other itinerant workers.
The reader gets the impression that something unforgivable might happen soon because Lennie has killed an animal and now seriously injured a human. In addition he next kills a pup that Slim gave him. ‘Why do you got to get killed? You ain’t so little as mice. I didn’t bounce you hard.’ This conveys Lennie to be a caring person but it’s his obsession to pet things that ruins it for him.
Lennie’s dream is to ‘tend the rabbits’, when George gets ‘the little house’. But his incompetence with petting things disintegrates his dream when Curley’s Wife asks Lennie to feel her hair. ‘Feel right aroun’ there an’ see how soft it is.’ The reader was given many warnings throughout the novel. ‘Lennie was in a panic’, this suggests he wasn’t entirely focused on what he was doing and didn’t mean to kill Curley’s Wife, like when he held on to the girl’s dress. ‘Lennie’s other hand closed over her mouth and nose’. But with this action comes a consequence ‘Lennie had broken her neck’. Lennie ruined it for something that wasn’t his entire fault. This was a kind killing for which to put Lennie out of his misery. Even after numerous people tell them that their dream won’t come true they don’t listen. Lennie accidentally kills Curley’s Wife and because of this most of the people on the ranch want Lennie dead.
All Lennie ever wanted was to look after things but in the end George has to kill Lennie, using a painless but more dignified way than the alternatives. He asks Lennie ‘Look acrost the river, Lennie, an’ I’ll tell you so you can almost see it’, when Lennie asks about the dream. As Lennie’s head is facing down the river, where it all began, George pulls out ‘Carlson’s Luger’. George describes the dream all over again to Lennie, knowing that it will not happen. He struggles when Lennie says ‘Me an’ you.’ George answers with ‘You….an’ me. Ever’body gonna be nice to you. Ain’t gonna be no trouble. Nobody gonna hurt nobody nor steal from ‘em.’ This conveys George to be very sentimental about his dream and that he still wants it even though Lennie will no longer be part of it. ‘Lennie jarred’. This doesn’t put an end to George, Candy and Crooks’ dreams and the hope of achieving the American Dream, it just delays them till they make enough money.
The fact that Curley’s wife is not given a name foreshadows her own isolation. In fact, probably the reason why she is not given a name is because she is totally hidden from the world and nobody knows her as anyone else. She is always referred to as Curley’s wife, a ghost to the world. This emphasizes her complete isolation form the rest of the characters in the novel. She is a character without a single drop of sympathy shown towards her and she can be vicious, which adds to more characters trying to avoid her. She is a victim of an empty life, and a meaningless one.
She has wonderful dreams of being a Hollywood star, but all her dreams are crushed by the insensitivity towards her shown by the other characters. Her dream to be a Hollywood star is a bit naïve because not many people become movie stars, especially in the 1930s. It sounds very much like she was getting manipulated at the club where she met ‘the star’ and because of this she is forever isolated on a ranch to live out her days as a slave to loneliness. But to top the big burden of loneliness on her, she discovers that her husband “ain’t a nice fella,” and that there is no one to care for her.
She also dreams of being accepted ‘Ain’t I got a right to talk to nobody? Whatta they think I am anyways?’ this makes the reader feel the sorrow of this woman whose dreams have been smashed to smithereens. The American Dream, at this point, probably doesn’t sound like it is going to happen. ‘Hard work can lead to a better life’, Curley’s Wife is working hard to make friends and to be accepted for the only woman on the ranch. Instead of something to call her own, she wants fame ‘a show come through, an’ I met one of the actors. He says I could go with the show’. Her dream of fame is more modern like a 20th century dream of fame rather than a 1930s dream of fame. She also wants fortune and admiration ‘Nother time I met a guy….He says he was gonna put me in the movies. Says I was a natural. But with all this sudden faith comes her downfall ‘Soon’s he got back to Hollywood he was gonna write to me about it…I never got that letter.’ This shows that Curley’s Wife had high hopes of achieving things just like the other characters.
It is important to keep dreams alive, even if they are unrealistic. Her dreams come to an abrupt holt when she makes the biggest mistake of her life by letting Lennie touch her hair. ‘Let go…You let go’. This ends with her getting killed. Curley’s wife shares her secret dream of being a performer with Lennie, only to have that dream shattered, quite similar to her neck. She is not a storybook wife, and that is what Curley wants. Curley’s Wife’s dream is in a matter of fact, hopeless because it is a very naïve dream. Not many people get success like that and for the people who do, great sadness comes.
Steinbeck uses characterization, ‘a tall, stoop-shouldered old man’ and ‘He pointed with his right arm, and out of the sleeve came a round stick-like wrist, but no hand.’ to build up the description of Candy so well that the reader feels the isolation and loneliness of which Candy experiences everyday. Candy is an old, physically disabled swamper who has worked on the ranch for a good majority of his life. While working on the ranch a few years ago, Candy got into an accident which resulted in the loss of one of his hands. This unfortunate accident left him a little bit of money and whole lot of loneliness.
Candy, in many ways symbolizes his dog, which was shot by Carlson. His notion backfired because not only did he lose his best friend, he gained nothing but heartache from it. ‘Candy looked for help from face to face’ but he let Carlson kill his dog in hopes that the other workers would then give him the friendship and loyalty that his dog had provided him for years ‘Candy looked a long time at Slim to try to find some reversal…At last Candy said softly and hopelessly: “awright – take ‘im”’. His sadness is showed when ‘he did not even look down at the dog at all. He lay back on his bunk and crossed his arms behind his head and stared at the ceiling.’ He is often afraid of losing his job, as well as his whole life. While Lennie had George and the ranchers had each other, Candy did not have anybody and this put him in a condition of sorrow and depression. If you were to take him out and shoot him right in the back of the head. “I ought to of shot that dog myself, George.
George, Lennie’s best friend shot him in the back of the head. Candy decided enough was enough and wanted to join George and Lennie in their quest to achieve their dream. ‘S’pose I went in with you guys…How’d that be?’ this suggests that he may only be on his last few years but would happily spend it somewhere else, except the ranch. This is Candy’s attempt to find an important place in life again. He wishes to join Lennie and George’s pursuit of the American dream. Candy keeps pushing George to let him be part of the dream ‘How much they want for a place like that?’ Even though George looks at him ‘suspiciously’ he carries on trying to worm his way into it. ‘Tha’s three hundred an’ fifty bucks I’d put in’. What person can refuse an offer like that? George obviously wants to fulfil his dream, with out anyone slowing it down ‘I gotta think about that.’ But Candy makes the dream feel so close for George, that George can’t resist ‘I’d make a will an’ leave my share to you guys in case I kick off’. This all started off the belief that it ‘was coming true’. But like George, Lennie and Curley’s Wife his dream doesn’t last ling either. Lennie ruins it for George, which ruins it for Candy.
Candy’s disappointment is expressed in the bitter words he utters to the body of Curley’s wife, whom he blames for spoiling his dream. ‘You an’ me can get that little place, can’t we, George?’ this conveys Candy’s disappointment that just because of one man his hopes of happiness go with him. ‘Candy dropped his head’ and ‘He snivelled and his voice shook. These convey Candy to be a very sensitive, old man, showing is disappointment and frustration that he may end up dying lonely on the ranch or the streets. ‘I could of hoed in the garden and washed dishes for them guys.’ This suggests to the reader that Candy may never find the American Dream in his lifetime and will forever be ‘a lonely, old swamper’. Candy is obviously not happy with his life on the ranch, but he doesn’t think that there is anything that he can do. His old partner on the pea fields, Bill Tenner, achieved his dream of getting his letter printed in a magazine; something Whit seems envious about ‘What you want me to read that for?’ Candy’s dream does have some hope in it because he is still alive and has quite a bit of money. He also has George to help him out. In addition he may only have one hand put all you need is one hand to live happily. However in many ways his dream is hopeless because it has now been delayed by the killing of Lennie and the loss of an income of money. Candy is also very old and could be coming near to an end.
Perhaps one of the least dominant dreams in the story, yet one of the most sad is Crooks’ dream of no longer being alone, a dream of having friends in a land divided by racism. Crooks is a black stable worker. He is disfigured due to an accident when he was a young man. He has a place of his own and stays there by himself. He doesn’t want company. He also briefly wants to be part of George and Lennie’s dream. He said that he would work for free ‘…If you…guys would want a hand to work for nothing – just his keep, why I’d come an’ lend a hand’. His sudden pauses in what he says show that he is nervous because of what he is and who he is. He isn’t quite sure if the world is ready to accept him yet. He gives up on the farm dream when he realizes it isn’t going to work out. He is the only one who understands Lennie, besides George, and befriends him. All Crooks ever wanted was equality but he doesn’t even get this because he is just too different to the other ranchers, according to the 1930s. Crooks keeps a ‘mauled copy of the California civil code for 1905’ next to his bunk because even though he is not treated fairly, he knows his rights.
For Crooks, the American Dream would be a nice change to his loneliness, making him feel accepted. Crooks is a black man that experiences isolation because the society in which he resides is racist. As a result, ‘A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got anybody. Don’t matter no difference who the guy is, longs he with you. I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an he gets sick’ was his means of finding a personal connection to Lennie. Like Lennie, Crooks has a ‘relationship’ with loneliness. He knows that when people get lonely, they tend to get sick. In some ways Crooks’ dream is hopeless and isn’t hopeless because in 1930 even though people hated black people, Crooks’ found a friend in George and Lennie. It wasn’t until 1960 that black people finally got understood by help from the Civil Right Movement, led by Martin Luther King.
Curley also has a dream that lots of ‘short people’ have, to be bigger. Curley seems very bitter about being short, and he tries to make himself out to be the tough guy on the ranch. ‘Well, nex’ time you answer when you’re spoke to.’ This suggests that Curley thinks he has a lot of authority, being the boss’ son, but being short has its disadvantages because all the people he picks fights with on the ranch are always bigger than him, ‘Curley’s like a lot of little guys. He hates big guys. He’s alla time picking scraps with big guys’. His wife is the only negative aspect to his dream. The American Dream doesn’t really correspond to Curley because he isn’t one of the representative characters, like George and Lennie the itinerant workers and Curley’s Wife the only women and Crooks the black stable buck and Candy the old swamper.
Dreams can build one up with hope and excitement, but they can also tear one down with disappointment at the dream failing to come true. Curley picks a fight with Lennie, and the main reason for this is Lennie’s size. Curley’s dream is in many ways hopeless because no one can determine how high someone will turn out. Curley will just have to deal with being small. In addition, in many ways it is more of an advantage being small.
In conclusion, the American Dream is really a creation of everyone’s imagination, except for those lucky few who strike it rich or win the lottery. “I never got that letter,” she said. That was their American Dream, one which didn’t come true. To put it shorter, even though the American Dream doesn’t always mean true happiness, it’s nice to have hope sometimes.