Notes & thoughts on Of Mice and Men Written by John Steinbeck. Born in Salinas, Calif. in 1902. Worked as a laborer and journalist. Focused on the laboring class, dispossessed, underdogs, misfits, castaways, and marginal characters of society what to do with them? Concerned with how society treats them. Title is from Robert Burns’ poem “To a Mouse” which has to do with planning and the powers beyond over which man has no control “The best laid schemes o’mice an’ men *gang aft a-gley” (*go awry) and it indicates, or suggests, that plans of Lennie and George will also go astray due to forces beyond their control.
Some economists of the early nineteen hundreds theorized that the industrialized age builds a permanent underclass and regardless of hopes and dreams there is no escape because of powers beyond their control. The people doomed to manual day and piece work labor will never be able to escape from their dreary day-to-day existence. Steinbeck focuses on the underdog, the dispossessed, society’s misfits and outcasts. What to do with them? Dreams are a major theme in the novel, dreams that can never materialize. Steinbeck suggests that society itself encourages dreams, such as Curley’s wife and her dream of becoming a Hollywood star, which can never come to fruition.
Characters in Of Mice and Men Lennie Small Imaged as pet/animal, child, white race, victim of nature and society, just pure dumb luck he ended up mentally ill, not his fault, he does not know and cannot learn. Lennie will be discussed through this outline. George Milton Looks after Lennie. Acts as parent, friend, protector, and master. George does not really believe the dream he continually relates to Lennie about their one day getting their own place until Lennie brings Candy and his money contributions into the plan.
At that time George says, “Jesus Christ! I bet we could swing her.” George can’t see that the dream will never materialize. He is doomed to day labor and piece work jobs with no significant gain. George does value Lennie, even loves Lennie, as a friend and partner. They are different because they have each other. This shows that George does not have normal relationships with other men.
He relies on a mentally ill man for a friend. Loneliness is also a major theme. George is lonely and likes Lennie’s company. He sees Lennie as a pet, a friend, a responsibility, and a helpless person. George is victim of a failed economic system that does not provide for its castoffs. Aunt Clara Lennie’s aunt who cared for him but has died.
George now looks after Lennie. But, why? That’s the big question. Pose this to the class. Have them look for supporting details for their answers. Candy The “swamper” (one who cleans, mops and sweeps up the bunk house) who had his right hand mauled in a piece of farm equipment (ironically a cultivator which is used to produce nourishment but it robs him of the very part of his body that he must have in order to nourish himself) and he is now of almost of no use to the system.
His days are numbered and he’ll soon be “on the county.” The right hand is a symbol of the workingman which Candy no longer is. Thus, he is fast becoming worthless and will soon be dispossessed like his dog. Candy has no chance, or hope, of a future except if he throws his small amount of money in with the others. Irony is that they have no hope without him. Lennie acts as the glue to hold this dream together. Candy’s dog A foreshadowing of what will become of Lennie, Candy, Crooks, and all the characters sooner or later.
The dog used to be one of the best sheep herder dogs but now is used up, spent, no longer of any economic value. No one but Candy cares what the dog used to be able to do. Now he just “stinks” and can barely get around. This is an excellent opportunity to introduce to the learners the term “foreshadowing.” Slim An American cowboy who now works on a barley farm driving mules due to the closing, or civilizing, if you will, of the American west. Slim’s a victim of a vanished way of life with few if any skills suitable to obtain himself meaningful employment.
He’s now a “jerk-line skinner” which is a driver of a mule team, and thus only a shadow of the man he once was. Industrialization closed the west, and he’s no longer needed. Slim is a rugged “hatchet-faced” man, a man the others, including Curley, look up to and respect. Slim can be trusted. Slim was genuine cowboy, not a dreamer.
He had no need to act out a role like Curley. Slim stands his ground against Curley and the others look to him for support because he is not a dreamer. Slim is frozen in time, and would rather be back in the old west. Curley A failed boxer, probably a victim of cheap novels that glamorize macho-men, tough guys, brutality, the big he-men of cheap stories. He’s “the boss’s son” who has no business being in charge of anything. Yet he is, and only by virtue of birth and family money.
He is symbolic of an economic system that does not work like it should. Those in charge should not be in charge. The bad get rewarded while the good have to suffer. His position of power and authority is not due to his talents and abilities. This is a symbolic use of a character by Steinbeck to make a social statement on the American economic system: in real life it always comes down to who you know, and/or who you’re related to. Although Curley will certainly not be dispossessed, because he’s the son of the boss, he, like Candy, is also a victim which is symbolized by his wearing a glove of Vaseline to keep his left hand “soft for his wife.” This suggests that Curley also subscribes to cheap romantic notions and ideas derived from movies, cheap novels and magazines.
It also re-enforces that he does not do manual work. Curley spends the majority of his time looking for his wife. Because he is a short man he is jealous of bigger men and uses his position to fight them in a desperate attempt of raising his self-esteem and being thought of as a “big man” by the other men (who are indebted to him for their jobs which they need to survive). However, if someone should get the best of Curley he makes sure that they are quickly fired. It goes without saying that a person of such character would have no reluctance whatsoever of firing someone who refused to “kiss his ass.” Curley’s left hand is emasculated by his cheap romantic notions and later his right hand will be emasculated by the sheer power of Lennie’s dumb and crushing strength.
This raises an interesting question for discussion. Who is the more powerful here, Curley or Lennie? Why? Economics plays a big part in power. Right? Andy Cushman In San Quentin “on account of a tart.” Went to grammar school, old lady (mother?) made hot cakes for the kids. George and Lennie knew him from old days. Where is he now? Why is it no one is getting anywhere in this novel? Ask the students to think this one over. Crooks (my own favorite character) Black stable buck with a broken back which symbolizes his life of hard labor and no rewards to show for it.
System unfair. He is still of some use and mends leather goods in barn. Crooks is treated much like an animal which is symbolized by his having to live “in the harness room; a little shed that leaned off the wall of the barn.” Actually, he is treated worse than the horses as they at least get to live inside the barn. He had a thirst for knowledge which can be seen from his books, a tattered dictionary – suggesting he reads and is curious, a “mauled copy of the California civil code for 1905” – suggesting his concern for rights, fairness, and equality. Crooks owns “a pair of large gold-rimmed spectacles” suggesting vision, he is able to see where as the others are not.
The spectacles being a symbol for desire to learn. Crooks is very aware of how the world in which he lives operates. The other men do not respect Crooks because he is a “Nigger” who “stinks.” That he “stinks” is not supported in the novel so we must assume that he does not in fact “stink” only that he is “thought” to stink by the uneducated white workers only because of his color. Steinbeck by emphasizing through the novel the “nigger” who “stinks” is draw …