The Great Depression was a worldwide economic breakdown. It was the largest and most important economic depression in modern history; it began in the United States on Black Tuesday with the Wall Street crash of October 1929 and rapidly spread worldwide. It lasted about a decade, ending in the early 1940s. Poverty stricken, life became a struggle to survive. Banks, stores, and factories were closed and left millions of people redundant and hopeless.
With limited options, many men left their families and travelled a lonely road in search of work.The novel “Of Mice and Men” is a reflection of the suffering itinerant workers faced due to the physiological strain of loneliness and how this affected mood and behaviour. Firstly, the title of any novel can hold great significance. Initially, the title “Of Mice and Men” seems ambiguous until you analyze the story and understand the reasoning behind Steinbeck choice of title. Mice are small, fragile creatures that require protection; a description that could also define characters such as Lennie, Curley’s wife or Crooks – the “mice”.The novel deals with a lot of death, however, ironically a mouse is the first creature to be crushed by Lennie’s hands. This again suggests the “mice” in the novel would not be smart or strong enough to survive the Depression. In contrast, the tough, smart characters such as George and Slim are the “men.
” The Great Depression could be seen as the survival of the fittest; the weak against the strong – the “mice” vs. the “men. ” Steinbeck’s choice of setting further emphasises the theme of loneliness, our main characters, George and Lennie travel to a ranch “near Soledad. The lexis “Soledad” means solitude and the card game “Solitaire” – which means by ones self. This gives the readers an early indication that loneliness will be a key idea in the novel.
Also, this gives the reader the image of George and Lennie travelling together through a lonely path and prepares the audience for their tragic separation at the end. George and Lennie are two typical agricultural labourers, searching for the American dream. George is a small man with strong, sharp defined features and a mind to match. While, Lennie a large strongly built man however, his metal immaturity and child-like mind make him venerable.Having left their previous job due to Lennie being accused of rape, they travelled to another ranch. George shows his frustration of having to move constantly to find work. He accuses Lennie of keeping him “shovin’ all over the country all the time.
” George is in an irritable mood and the pressure of looking after not only himself, but Lennie as well. Maybe George’s life would be “so easy and so nice” if “I didn’t have you on my tail. ” Even though this may be true, George still travels with Lennie, Steinbeck is showing the extent of the pair’s unlikely friendship.On first appearances it seems that Lennie because of his mental disability is completely dependant on George for survival. However, more importantly could be how much George is actually reliant on Lennie.
Surviving the Depression was hard and even harder alone, George needed Lennie for companionship and in general someone he could talk to. Possibly, this strong bond made them tougher and meant they coped relatively well considering the hostile environment. However, and alternative interpretation could suggest their friendship was the beginning of their downfall and was threatening to the other ranch workers.Steinbeck shows us how life during the depression was difficult.
The workers had no little extravagance they could enjoy, and Lennie was denied a simple item such a ketchup even though he “likes ‘em with ketchup. ’ Ketchup is being shown as a symbol of luxury that they don’t have. The significance of this object shows the difference between a dream and reality. “Whatever we ain’t got, that’s what you want” the reality was that you had to learn to live without.
All their material possessions could fit in a “bindle” and had to sleep outside without the protection of a warm sheltered home.The reader also learns that the men who work on the ranches are ‘the loneliest guys in the world. ’ They have no family – the men had to leave them behind in search of work. They have no home – they are left to sleep like animals. They go to ranches, work, get paid then ‘blow all their stake’ on alcohol and visit cathouses.
Although this may be fun, the effect of alcohol and meaningless experiences could made the men feel even more empty and alone. George and Lennie are different because they have each other.Their friendship is important because they have some one who is there for them, who cares about them unlike the other guys who could “get lynched” and no one would care. They also have a dream – the dream is important because it means that they have something to look forward to and take their mind of their current situation.
Steinbeck’s description of the bunkhouse shows the harsh living conditions of itinerant workers through the strong prison imagery. The bunkhouse was very plain with ‘whitewashed walls and the floor unpainted’ it was also very cramped with eight bunks in one room much like a prison, where several men share a room. Small, square windows” and a “solid door with a wooden latch”, the lexis “latch” suggests they were caged like prisoners. They had no proper furniture, a makeshift ‘apple box’ for a shelf to keep personal belongings, which were mostly just “articles, soap and talcum powder, razors. ” The “black cast-iron stove” suggests danger and fire, another aspect in which prison life and the itinerant workers lifestyle is connected. However, the workers were prisoners of their financial state.
Steinbeck shows us that the social environment in which the story takes place is one of violence and hostility.These is a lot of mistrust “A guy on a ranch don’t never listen nor he don’t ask no questions. ” Minding your own business and staying out of trouble was vital, anyone who knew too much would place themselves in danger. George and Lennie’s arrival at the ranch causes confusion; most of the other characters find it strange “ain’t many guys travel together.
” Even the boos thinks something I wrong, he suspects George is using Lennie for his strength and is taking his pay. This suggests that people didn’t trust each other and thought it was weird for them to have a true friendship.Possibly, the other characters could be jealous as “It’s a lot nicer to go around with a guy. ” The men have forgotten how to be nice and therefore are lonely. Steinbeck included a lot of violence to show how life under difficult circumstances made people callous. The writer uses death symbolically, starting with a mouse and gradually to bigger animals and Curley’s wife. This may be used to show the harsh extent of cruelty and could also prepare the reader for the death of the largest, Lennie. Carlson simply shoots Candy’s dog because it ‘stinks’, even Curley’s wife threatens to get Crook “strung up on a tree.
I may not be just the men, everyone seems to be affected by Depression. When people are alone for too long and have no family or friends who love and care for them they ‘get mean. ’ Maybe even this could be away of protecting themselves, so they don’t get hurt as easy. Most of the characters were alone so they became callous, to overcome that. Crooks, being the only black man, is used to show the harsh extend of racism, loneliness and the difficulties faced in everyday life on the ranch. Being unfairly discriminated against and separated from the other men all add to the effect of loneliness – which is one of the key themes in the novel.The dark struggle to survive makes an impact – not only physically but also mentally. He is referred to as “the negro stable buck” this first description immediately sets the racist tone.
The face that he is described as “black” and a “stable buck” shows inferiority not only in race but in his social position on the ranch. Crooks’ living conditions further reinforce this point; he is separated and “ain’t wanted” in the bunk house with the other men. Instead, he lived in a “little shed” that “leaned off the wall of the barn. ” His bunk was “filled with straw” and a plank door which lead “into the barn.
Steinbeck’s use of language creates the illusion of crooks living like an animal. His bunk was next to the horses and is separated away from people. This implies he did not have the same rights as the white men and explains why he had become so mean.
Curley’s wife was also very lonely; she was the only woman on the ranch and discriminated against. Labelled as “a tart” by the other men, she found herself isolated. She had “full, rouged lips”, her “fingernails were red” and she wore “red mules. ” The lexis “red” is repeated and connotations suggest passion, fire or even danger.
This is why men stayed away as she meant trouble.On the other hand, she was lonely so dressed nice and went around trying to grab male attention. She was ‘stuck in that house alla time’ and was bored; maybe flirting diverted her attention and kept her from going mad. The first paragraph of the first and last chapters are connected through Steinbeck’s description of nature, this loop style of story telling creates an effect of nature changing to reflect the mood in the novel. In the introducing paragraph, Steinbeck opens the novel with this idyllic woody scene at the base of “golden foothill slopes” with “yellow sands” and “willows fresh and green.
The “sands” creates a calm, holiday atmosphere; life seemed relaxed and easy. The repetition of “rabbits” throughout this paragraph emphasises this idea, rabbits are innocent and represent Lennie’s dreams coming true. However, the Steinbeck paints a contrasting picture in the final paragraph. Now, the “beak swallowed the little snake” and the “wind sounded” like “waves. ” The change in nature is symbolic of George and Lennie’s relationship; at the start everything was good.
Now, George is faced with an impossible decision, kill his friend out of pity, or watch him get brutally lynched by Curley. George gives up on the dream after Lennie’s death even though he could have still achieved it. Lennie, despite all his flaws, was the only real friend that kept him going. Ultimately, all the characters were psychologically broken down; this is why no one achieved the ‘American dream. ’ The tragic ending was fitting because Steinbeck is trying to show the reality of the Great Depression: dreams simply did not come true.