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John Steinbeck’s short tale Of Mice and Men centers on loneliness caused by an isolated lifestyle and discrimination. Loneliness refers to the feeling of depression as a result of being alone. Due to being isolated, characters in Of Mice and Men experience emotions of sadness and alienation. Steinbeck shows instances in which they feel lost and abandoned. The tolerance of racism against African-Americans was a significant problem that might have made the characters feel even more alone and depressed. Many of Steinbeck’s novella’s main protagonists felt intense loneliness and yearned for the company. Characters such as Candy and Crooks were lonely and wished to go about their daily lives, but the depression was imminent. Consequently, Steinbeck highlights the monotony faced by working-class persons during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression as a desolate and lonely phase (Dueker et al., 2015). A disorganized lifestyle, discrimination, and isolation are the root causes of loneliness and desperation for company, as stipulated in the book, Of Mice and Men.
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Lifestyle and Isolation
In the opening, Steinbeck establishes the central theme of isolation and solitude by focusing on ranch people who are prone to isolation due to their constant need to move in search of a job. One of the characters, Candy, was elderly, physically impaired and felt lonely. Due to his arm loss on the farm, he was utterly worthless to the other residents and only allowed to be a swamper. While in the bunkhouse, Candy heard George and Lennie discussing their ambition to get American citizenship. At some point, Candy’s curiosity improved as he hoped to leave with them (Steinbeck, 1937/1993). However, he felt of not much use around the house as he only knew how to tend to gardens. Candy’s newest aim was to travel with George and Lennie. He was prepared to risk everything to gain company. After listening to their strategy, Candy immediately adjusted, seeking to be friends with them. However, life became even more challenging after the passing of his close friend, the dog. People considered him a liability to himself and society as a whole. For the loss of his best buddy, Candy blamed himself and felt immense guilt as he dreamed of leaving for America to end his loneliness.
Curley’s wife was also lonely as she was the only female ranch member. Regardless of her being married to Curley, she often finds herself lacking company. She had married Curley without a good reason. However, the husband made life unbearable as he forbade her from talking to other men. Her flirty demeanor earned her a nickname before she met Lennie. When Lennie thought about Curley’s wife, he recalled George’s warning, but the lady was determined to have some company since most people on the ranch did not speak to her (Romagnani, 2013). Steinbeck shows how Curley’s lonely wife gives in to loneliness and chooses to stay indoors since she is afraid of her man. However, to distract herself from loneliness, she would walk about the ranch to have conversations with the ranch’s male employees.
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Discrimination and Racism
Discrimination against African-Americans was common during the Great Depression. Crooks spent much time indoors since his mates were racists. Due to his problematic back, Candy has limited social interactions. In one instance, Lennie joined Crooks in the barn and began talking about the ranch. Crooks suggested they leave after an argument with Curley’s wife. The black guy had no legal protections and was scared of the white men. After observing how he was treated, his only option was to withdraw into solitude. The hatred he faced because of his color lowered his self-esteem and shook his confidence in the right to freedom and equality. His American dream got shattered, but he pretended not to care. He had to master living independently to survive in the hostile environment, hoping the situation would improve.
On the other hand, Steinbeck depicts George and Lennie as the only characters in Of Mice and Men who are not lonely. They have been good friends since they moved to the ranch. Because of their closeness, people like Curly are wary of them. To emphasize how different they are from the other characters, Steinbeck shows how the other cowboys have the worst lifestyle (Murray, 2013). Steinbeck uses these characters to emphasize the contrast between their friendship and the ranchmen. He also aims to show this kind of connection as a rarity at that time. Although George and Lennie have a special relationship throughout the text, George’s situation after Lennie’s death is similar to that of Candy’s when his dog is killed. In the end, nobody has perfect company, and everyone yearns for a better life.
Candy, Curley’s wife, and Crooks are the significant characters mostly hit by loneliness. Candy is only permitted to stay at the ranch since he lost an arm and his dog, his only companion, has just died. Curley’s wife finds it challenging to be the only female ranch hand. Her attempts to relieve her loneliness by striking up talks with random males backfire spectacularly. Crooks’ isolation is a significant percentage caused by racism as he is an African-American. He is separated from other people because of his different skin color. Steinbeck makes the characters’ quest for combating isolation bear no fruits. Everyone needs a companion in their life, at least one person they can trust completely and who will always see the best in them. In Of Mice and Men, most individuals at that age, despite their best efforts, experienced loneliness, but they are not to blame.
- Dueker, J. M., Harrington, R. D., Goldberger, Z. D., Halvorson, S. A. C., & Nyendak, M. R. (2015). Of mice and men. Journal of Hospital Medicine, 10(11), 756–759. https://doi.org/10.1002/jhm.2427
- Murray, A. J. (2013). Of mice and men (and muscle mitochondria). Experimental Physiology, 98(4), 879–880. https://doi.org/10.1113/expphysiol.2012.071092
- Romagnani, P. (2013). Of mice and men: the riddle of tubular regeneration. The Journal of Pathology, 229(5), 641–644. https://doi.org/10.1002/path.4162
- Steinbeck, J. (1993). Of Mice and Men. Penguin Books.