Loneliness in Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’
Loneliness is an inevitable part of life, which many individuals struggle with. It is an emotional response to a lack of companionship and communication with others, which has a huge impact in one’s overall behavior. Some impacted individuals may try to end their loneliness; others become hopeless and bitter. The theme of loneliness is presented in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. The novel Of Mice and Men portrays loneliness as a complex emotion that often drives individuals to behavioral extremes. Steinbeck uses characters, some of the most important ones including Curley’s wife, Candy and Crooks, to reflect on the discriminative time period that ultimately lead to the characters’ loneliness and particular behaviors.
Curley’s wife is a major female character in Of Mice and Men and is married to Curley, a very aggressive ranch worker that proves his masculinity by fighting other workers and marrying a physically attractive woman; moreover, he was the boss’ son. Curley had a huge control over his wife which was very common during the Great Depression, and the other workers. He had forbidden all of the workers from talking to his wife. Desperate for friends, attention and respect, Curley’s wife uses her beauty and status with Curley to her advantage. In chapter 4, she intimidated the workers in Crooks’ room as of means for getting attention and threatened Crooks when he told her to leave his room, saying that he could get “sprung up on a tree so easy, it ain’t even funny” (Steinbeck 81). Her new behavior resulted in further discrimination and harassment. She was labelled as a “tramp” (Steinbeck 32), and other derogatory names. She felt powerless and lonely. The only person that Curley’s wife could talk to was Lennie, because he was not conscious of her current situation. In her last moments with Lennie in the barn scene, she finally felt like she was being acknowledged and listened to. For the first time, she confessed that “I don’ like Curley. He ain’t a nice fella” (Steinbeck 89). She became vulnerable to her humanity and this ironically lead to her death. Curley’s wife is a brilliant example of the oppression against women in the 1930’s, sexism, and some of the behavioral changes that came along with being stripped of one’s identity in society.
There are other reasons why people were discriminated and isolated, some of which includes ageism and ableism. Candy was the oldest ranch worker in the book, that lost his right arm in an accident. He was discriminated because of his age and disability, and was an outcast. He had no family, except for the dog he raised. His dog used to be of great usefulness, but as the dog became older, he became less useful and helpless. This resulted in him being shot by Carlson which intensified Candy’s loneliness. Candy’s dog is a prime example of the social issue of ageism and ableism in society at that time. Workers were expected to be productive on the ranch, and if one no longer met that demand, due to age or ability to perform certain tasks, they would be dismissed and left to suffer (Steinbeck 1937).Â Candy recognizes that the same thing will happen to him, and he tells George that “Jus’ as soon as I can’t swamp out no bunkhouses they’ll put me on the county” (Steinbeck 60). To escape his loneliness and eventual fate of getting kicked, Candy becames quickly invested in George and Lennie’s dream, offering a total of $350 towards the dream farm. “S’pose I went in with you guys. Tha’s three hundred an’ fifty bucks I’d put in. I ain’t much good, but I could cook and tend the chickens and hoe the garden some. How’d that be?” (Steinbeck 59). He was very attached and hooked onto the dream of the farm, and persisted to have the farm in spite of what happened with Lennie later in the novel. The farm would have eliminated his fear of being alone, and develop another relationship worth cherishing. His current position in society forced him to develop a specific mindset to escape his destination.
One of the biggest issues that was prevalent in the Great Depression was racism, which Crooks was a victim of. He was physically separated from the other men, and had limited contact with others. As a replacement for friendship, he kept himself occupied with books. Still, he admitted that “Books ain’t no good,” and that “A guy needs somebody – to be near him. A guy goes nuts when if he ain’t got nobody” (Steinbeck 72). In the Great Depression, black people faced racial discrimination and segregation from the dominant, white culture (Pinckney, 2002). However, this was greatly exaggerated in the story as Crooks was the only black man on the ranch. Unlike Curley’s wife and Candy, Crooks accepted his role in society because he knew that he was powerless against the oppressive forces of racism. He was aware that he was treated as if he was less important than the other men and did not have a voice in society. “This is just a nigger talkin’, an’ a busted-back nigger. So it don’t mean nothing, see?” (Steinbeck 71). The sad reality of the Great Depression deprived Crooks from his right to be treated like an equal human being with self-worth and connection with others. His acceptance of the situation became the strongest antidote to his experience; however, it intensified his loneliness.
The Great Depression was a time of prejudice present in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Curley’s Wife, Candy, and Crooks were some of the characters who represented the loneliness and isolation brought on by their time period. These characters faced social issues like racism, sexism, and ageism, resembling the oppression of minority groups by the discriminatory nature of their society. Each character recognized their loneliness, and depending on what their current situation and role in society was, they took specific actions to fight against, or cope with it. Steinbeck has made it clear that the loneliness brought on by discrimination does significantly impact one’s behavior, actions and mindsets. Today’s generation better understands the societal implications of loneliness and discrimination. It should be society’s goal to diminish all forms of discrimination and be supportive of what others go through in their lifetimes in order to lead a better, healthier, and more connected life for all.
Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. New York, Penguin, 1993.
Pinckney, Shelley. “Chapter 6: Race and Civil Rights: The 30’s and 40’s.” Communism in Washington State, depts.washington.edu/labhist/cpproject/pinckney.shtml.