Use of Characters to Portray Loneliness in John Steinback's

“Of Mice and Men” is a novella written in 1937 by John Steinback and is set during the 1930’s outside Soledad in Southern California. The novella takes place against the backdrop of “The Great Depression”, which was a result of the Wall Street crash in the world’s stock markets- a disaster that shook many people and caused them to lose their jobs. The Great Depression John Steinback being a naturalist writer, focuses on the lower class itinerant workers and the dif? culties of having to travel great distances to ? nd jobs at different ranches.

He also focuses on the real-time problems that the people then faced. One major problem or issue that many of them faced was loneliness. Loneliness is a recurring theme throughout the entire book that is highly re? ective of the point of time in which the novella was written. Despite the fact that all of the characters are very different from one another in terms of personalities and other aspects, they all share a common trait: Loneliness. This was a major problem because at that time, the migrant workers never stayed in one place long enough to form permanent relationships with the other people.

Even if such relationships existed, it would be a high probability that they would be destroyed by the demands of the itinerant life. Many of the characters have admitted to suffering from profound loneliness that it affects the behaviours and thoughts of the characters and Steinback seems to show that it is natural and an inevitable result of the kind of life they are forced to lead. “A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t make no difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you. I tell ya… I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an’ he gets sick. One of the characters that Steinback clearly uses to develop his theme of loneliness would be Crooks. Crooks is the only African American migrant worker on the ranch, so Steinback uses him to represent how the African Americans were treated as a whole during that time. He works as a stable-hand and because of the racial and colour discrimination, he has his own room in the stable, segregated from the rest of the ranch workers. Because Crooks is isolated, he surrounds himself with his personal possessions to help him deal with his loneliness like books.

The fact that Crooks has accumulated a lot of books, shows that he is used to being alone. This is evident from a line in chapter 5 which Crooks straightforwardly states, “I read plenty of books around here. ” Reading is also one way to avoid the feeling of loneliness. In chapter 4 when Lennie visits Crooks’ shed, Crooks tells Lennie about how he’s lucky to have George by saying “Maybe you can see now. You got George. You know he’s goin’ to come back. S’pose you didn’t have nobody. S’pose you couldn’t go into the bunk house and play rummy ‘cause you were black…..

A guy needs somebody – to be near him. ” By telling Lennie this, Crooks is actually describing himself and how he feels very lonely. This also shows how he envies the close relationship between George and Lennie. In chapter 4, when Lennie visited Crooks in his room, Crooks was at ? rst quite defensive of him, but Lennie’s friendliness soon manages to almost break through his bitterness and Crooks slowly starts to feel more comfortable with Lennie around. However, he ultimately returns to his pessimism and chases Lennie away.

His cynicism gives him a sense of protection from the pain of loneliness that he has to face everyday. “[Curley’s wife] was standing there looking in. She had full, rough lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up. Her ? ngernails were red. Her hair hung in little rolled clusters, like sausages. She wore a cotton housedress and red mules, on the steps of which were little bouquets of red ostrich feathers” Another character that Steinback uses to develop his theme of loneliness would be Curley’s wife.

Curley’s wife’s name was not mentioned throughout the entire book because she was not given one and this shows that she is completely under the possession of her husband. She married Curley as a sign of rebellion against her mother who she blames for taking away her opportunity to become an actress. Because of her impulsive act, she actually has no love for Curley and their relationship is thus rather unhealthy. This can even be seen in the part in chapter 5 where she con? des in Lennie saying, “I don’t like Curley. He ain’t a nice fella. She is a beautiful young woman that is described as a “tart” by the ranch workers and talks and acts ? irtatiously in front of the workers. Due to Curley’s possessiveness, his wife is forbidden to talk to anyone but him. However, she constantly wanders around the ranch to ? nd opportunities to talk to the ranch workers by using the excuse of looking for Curley, but to no avail, is often shunned and ignored by them and this results in the workers regarding her a “slut”. The reason why she is excessively ? irtatious is because she is insecure.

This is evident from the way she dresses and her heavy usage of make-up. Her appearance gives her more con? dence and she is able to hide her insecurity. Curley’s wife is the only woman on the ranch and this is one obvious reason why she experiences loneliness. Because of this, she has no one to talk to and this is one reason why she tries to start conversations with the ranch workers. The mutual aversion between Curley and her resulted in the lack of communication between them and this also drives Curley’s wife to talk to the ranch workers.

Despite being shunned by all the ranch workers, she is able to open up to Lennie perhaps because she thinks he does not have the mental capacity to do any harm to her. She also recognizes that Lennie is someone whom she can relate to but Lennie does not think the same way and this is another reason why Curley’s wife is lonely. All she yearns and longs for, is someone whom she can let her guard down with, and be open with. Lastly, the third character that Steinback uses to develop his theme of loneliness would be Candy. Candy is an old ranch worker but is con? ed to cleaning the bunkhouse because he has lost one hand due to an accident. As he is handicapped, he is not as capable as the other ranch workers. Therefore, he is weaker than the rest and as we all know, only the strong survive in this harsh and cruel bunk society. Steinback uses Candy as an opportunity to discuss about the social discrimination against the elderly and the disabled. Candy is a stereotyped symbol of old men, a representation of total loneliness caused by age. Candy has an old dog that is parallel to his circumstance, in a way that his dog was once a great sheepherder but because of age, it becomes useless.

Just like his dog, Candy was once a very handy ranch worker but due to his accident, he too has lost his ability to work and hence feeling as though he is unimportant in the ranch, and cannot contribute much anymore. His dog has been with him through thick and thin, his one and only companion. He dreads losing his long-time companion, so he keeps trying to delay the killing of his dog. However, under Carlson’s pressure, he relented, as he knew no matter what he says, the decision is not up to him to be made.

This can be seen in chapter 3, when Candy simply remains silent and he looks helplessly at Slim, but instead, Slim offers one of his pups to replace Candy’s old dog. After the death of his dog, he becomes truly lonely and has no one to share his pain and suffering with. Candy was interested in George and Lennie’s dream, as dreams are an escape from reality. With a goal, at least he knows he has a purpose in life. Just when he felt that the dream was ? nally attainable, things did not go as planned when Lennie killed Curley’s wife with his vast strength, which he is incapable of controlling.

When this happens, Candy gets mad and blames Curley’s wife for causing the destruction of this dream, something that has become so important to him. With the loss of his dream and the loss of his one and only companion, Candy is back on this cycle of loneliness. This shows that no matter how he tries to make things better for himself, it is inevitable to feel lonely. John Steinback once commented that “We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to less lonesome. ” Loneliness has tremendously affected each and everyone of the characters in different sorts of ways be it through behaviour, thoughts, or other aspects.

Steinback clearly illustrates this problem of loneliness through the different characters but he offers no real solution to this. The story ends with Lennie getting shot, and George losing hope. Ultimately, this novella was set during the Great Depression and this was a test of independence for everyone as they had to learn to fend for themselves. Even if the men on the ranch were to help each other and form friendships just like George and Lennie, these new found friendships would eventually fall apart with loneliness being the inevitable result.


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