Achieving Dreams In Of Mice And Men By John Steinbeck
Hope is the unyielding faith that things will turn out okay; it is the essential aspect of the human soul that helps one through difficulty. Of Mice and Men is a novella written by John Steinbeck that takes place in Salinas, California focusing on the lives of migrant ranch workers where the recent effects of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl are evident and low-morale is abundant. Ranch hands are all isolated from one another, but they all cling to a similar dream, often unattainable, as a coping mechanism in the seemingly hopeless world they are in.
The most prominent dream in Steinbeck’s novella is the one shared between characters George and Lennie of having their own land with a myriad of plants and animals. They will often reference the phrase to “live offa the fatta the lan’” to mean the independent and luxurious lifestyle they will lead if they can attain the dream. George first speaks of the dream per Lennie’s request at the beginning of the book. “‘O.K. Someday–we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and–…’… ‘we’ll have a big vegetable patch and a rabbit hutch and chickens. And when it rains in the winter, we’ll just say the hell with goin’ work…’” However, it is almost immediately apparent to the reader that it is not realistic, especially when George talks about getting millions of red, blue, and green rabbits. In fact, George realizes near the end of the novella after Curley’s wife’s death that it was a dream for a reason, to serve the purpose of an escape from the harshness of reality. Near the end of the book, George explains this to crestfallen Candy after seeing Curley’s dead wife. “‘You an’ can get that little place, can’t we, George? You an’ me can go there an’ live nice, can’t we, George? Can’t we?’…George said softly, ‘–I think I knowed from the very first. I think I knowed we’d never do her. He usta like to hear about it so much I got to thinking maybe we would’”. And yet while that is true, George clung to the dream because it became a reality to him after mentioning it in number with Lennie. Deep down he knew the dream would never manifest, but it gave him and Lennie hope that they were different than the others with no family and broken dreams.
Another character with a dream of breaking free of the inexorable grasp of the effects of the Great Depression and achieving her version of the American Dream is Curley’s wife. Curley’s wife has dreams of making it to Hollywood and being famous. She recollects times to Lennie where she was called on by actors and photographers but was impeded by her mother which explains her reasoning to marry Curley (to leave her mom), despite not loving/liking him. “‘…Well, a show come through, an’ I met one of the actors. He says I could go with that show. But my ol’ lady wouldn’t let me…’… ‘’Nother time I met a guy, an’ he was in pitchers. Went out to the Riverside Dance Palace with him. He says he was gonna put me in the movies. Says I was a natural. Soon’s he got back to Hollywood he was gonna write to me about it.’… ‘I never got that letter,’… ‘I always thought my ol’ lady stole it’”(88). Curley’s wife has dreams of her own, and while these may be slightly more feasible, they are still very slim and unrealistic, similar to George and Lennie’s dreams. In addition, the statement that her mother prevented her from being famous is likely a rationale to explain why her dreams haven’t yet come to fruition. In turn, her dream has isolated her from her mother and has landed her in a bad marriage which causes her to interlope into the lives of other ranch hands. In a conversation with Crooks, Candy, and Lennie she expounds on how she is tired of living with Curley and how that affects her current behavior. “‘Spends all his [Curley’s] time sayin’ what he’s gonna do to guys he don’t like, and he don’t like nobody. Think I’m gonna stay in that two-by-four house and listen how Curley gonna lead with his left twict, and then bring in the ol’ right cross…’”. Curley’s wife attempts to start conversation with the ranch men but ends up coming off as a “jail bait” and a “tart”, further alienating her on the ranch. Therefore, her dream of becoming famous, which she held until her death, indirectly alienated and isolated her from those around her, and caused her to be even more reliant on the possibility or even the thought of her dream.
One last major character with a dream is the oft-discriminated Crooks. Crooks is the African-American stable worker with a crooked spine that prevents him from working. He has become bitter and hardened over time and lives in a permanent dwelling on the ranch. Crooks ranks at the bottom of the tacit social hierarchy at the ranch but still holds dreams which he has pushed into the deepest cavities of his body. However, after hearing how close George, Lennie, and Candy were to attaining the widely sought after dream, he offers to work on the ranch, showing his dreams of fitting in somewhere and maintaining dignity. But these dreams are suppressed after an encounter with Curley’s wife when she threatens him. “‘Well, you keep your place then, N*****. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny.’ Crooks had reduced himself to nothing. There was no personality, no ego– nothing to arouse either like or dislike. He said ‘Yes, ma’am,’ and his voice was toneless.” Crooks too, had a dream of some sorts, and that started with standing up for himself. But, Crooks eventually rebuilt the barriers that he had just took down and he reneges his offer to work on the farm because he had reverted to his former state of alienation and isolation and so therefore lost hope for the dream. “Crooks called, ‘Candy!’ ‘Huh?’ ‘Member what I said about hoein’ and doin’ odd jobs?’ ‘Yeah,’ said Candy. ‘I remember’ ‘Well, jus’ forget it,’ said Crooks. ‘I didn’t mean it. Jus’ foolin’. I wouldn’ want to go no place like that’”(83). Similar to how George realized his dream with Lennie was an illusion, Crooks too gives up on his dream, which happens to involve the same farm; the farm ,however, served a different purpose in Crooks’ dream as opposed to George or Lennie’s. And where these dreams seem to differ in context, they are all related by their nature in the sense that everyone wants their version of the American Dream.
In recapitulation, despite isolation experienced between ranch hands, they share a common dream – the American Dream – which is used as a coping mechanism in order to overcome the struggles of the respective setting. Characters in Of Mice and Men isolate themselves in their own endeavors to achieve their dreams because the reason for alienation is competition, and Steinbeck’s views of the unattainability of the American Dream are present in this theme. Was this Steinbeck’s purpose of writing Of Mice and Men, it may very well be. But one thing is for certain, in all of the characters’ ordeals in their individual desire for the acquisition of power and the achievement of their dream, that ubiquitous struggle will only be a dividing factor.
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