The American Dream in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men

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Compare the American Dream with the real lives of the migrant workers in the novel Of Mice and Men.

For the Examiner:

The page numbers in this essay are from the Longman edition of the
novel “Of Mice and Men”. The ISBN number of this edition is
ISBN0582461464. Please take account of this number when marking my
paper.

In the 1930’s American novelists were writing novels about the current
life in America and past experiences. One of these novelists was John
Ernst Steinbeck. Steinbeck was born on 27 February 1902, in Salinas,
California, USA. His parents owned a large amount of land but were not
very rich. Steinbeck’s mother was a schoolteacher and encouraged him
to study and read widely. At primary school, Steinbeck did well. His
aunt gave him a copy of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, his
first book that he owned. Steinbeck was academically more advanced
than his classmates because of his mother’s beforehand influence; he
skipped a year at 5th grade and was younger when he attended Salinas
High School.

At the age of 14 he chose the career as a writer and never abandoned
his dream. Graduating from there in 1919, then attending Stanford
University. At Stanford he studied Marine Biology, however he was more
interested in the surrounding nature of the world and literature.
Steinbeck would take long periods of time off to pay for his passion
of writing. During a summer vacation he took a year and half off from
his studies, where he worked as a labourer. This is where he got his
first experience as a migrant worker. He went back to Stanford
University and in 1925 he dropped out without a degree and went to New
York. His parents wanted him to have a respectable job as a lawyer;
but with no degree it was inevitable that he would fail. He grasped a
job as a construction worker, but was laid off. He was able to get
another job as a reporter for a short period, but was eventually
dismissed. After that incident, to keep him going he had to leave New
York in search of a better job. He went to California were ho worked
at a lodge and resort in High Sierra. Steinbeck published “Cup of
Gold” in 1929, and then he worked on a book called “To an Unknown
God”. In 1930 Steinbeck married Carol Henning and the couple settled
down. In the upcoming years he was able to write his first successful
novel, Tortilla Flat.

Steinbeck himself was a migrant worker at this time and from this he
had an inspiration to write about the migrant workers of America and

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their dreams, better known as The American Dream. Steinbeck wrote “The
Grapes of Wrath” which described how migrant workers were “born”. It
was a story of East Coast farm workers who sold everything they owned,
in search of better jobs in California that didn’t exist. He also
wrote the novel, “Of Mice and Men”, a story about the American Dream
of migrant workers on a ranch. By writing these novels, Steinbeck was
able to achieve his American Dream. However this does not exactly
match with his novel, “Of Mice and Men”, where the American Dream is
not fulfilled for everyone.

America was founded in 1776 making it a young age of 150 years when
Steinbeck wrote the novel. With this young age there was always the
initial concept of new beginnings and ideas. The Frontier Society were
people from the U.K. and Ireland, which moved to America to start
again with new land, a new atmosphere and a fresh start to life. This
society was hopeful and inspirational, which were the signs of the
origin of the American Dream. The famous phrase “Anybody can be
somebody” demonstrates hope of the American Dream. It also represents
choice, freedom and independence.

The two main characters in the novel “Of Mice and Men” represent
several million migrant workers in America at that time. These
characters are George Milton and Lennie Small. George is described as
“…small and quick…” (Page 19), because of his intelligence and
quick-wittedness. Lennie, the slower of the two is described as animal
due to the actions he does with “…his big paw…” (Page 20). However he
is also described as a “half-witted” and a “simpleton”.

George and Lennie became migrant workers due to the acts of the Wall
Street Crash. Before they would have worked on a ranch somewhere in
the East or in the “Dustbowl” of America. However when Wall Street
Market crashed, all of the stock markets went bust, therefore
resulting in stockowners becoming ruined. This caused the Great
Depression to take place. During this period there were failed
businesses, harsh poverty, long-term unemployment and losing
stockowners. One of these stockowners would have been the owner of the
ranch where George and Lennie worked. Therefore George and Lennie had
to find new jobs, leaving the “Dustbowl” and arriving in California.
To help people during along the Depression, President Roosevelt
constructed job agencies like Murray and Ready. This was the agency
mentioned in “ Of Mice and Men”. This demonstrates to us that there is
no freedom in America at this time, and that everyone needs to have an
identity to basically do anything i.e. get a job.

George and Lennie’s American Dream was to get “…a little house and a
couple of acres and a cow and some pigs…” (Page 32), so they would be
able to live on their own, have their own ranch and “…live off the
fatta the lan’…” (Page 32). From this they wouldn’t have to work for
anyone else. Steinbeck illustrates this as the American Dream. The
American Dream was ultimately the same for everyone, everyone wanted
to become rich, be successful in life and own their own possessions.
This was the American Dream, however this is not how it is portrayed
in the novel. The American Dream isn’t shown successfully in “Of Mice
and Men” because not everyone was able to obtain what he or she
wanted; the dream is represented as if it is futile.

The futility of the American Dream is shown by the description of the
bunkhouse on the ranch where George and Lennie go to work. “The
bunkhouse was a long, rectangle building. Inside the walls were
whitewashed and the floor unpainted. In three walls there were small,
square windows, and in the fourth, a solid door with a wooden latch.
Against the walls were eight bunks, five of them made up with blankets
and other three showing their burlap ticking. Over each bunk there was
nailed an apple box with the personal belongings of the occupant of
the bunk… In the middle of the room stood a big square table littered
with playing cards…” (Page 38). It can be described like a lonely hut,
where the workers spend their free time. There is virtually no privacy
and no freedom. A contradiction of the American Dream. This shows the
contrast between the open nature and the enclosed ranch.

The migrant workers seem to be dehumanised because they have
absolutely no personal space or privacy. There seems to be no escape
from being a migrant worker because there is no one else in the world
for them and have no other means of feeding or sheltering themselves.
Being migrant workers seems to be hard for George and Lennie. He
understands that Lennie is not being accepted into the unforgiving
society because he is slow minded and even still “…jes’ like a kid…”
(Page 67). George realises that there the people in their society
can’t tolerate Lennie and his actions. To, so to speak, put things
right George has the gruelling job to put Lennie “out of his misery”.
George has to shoot Lennie. While this is happening Lennie is still
thinking of his American Dream. This in turn shows that the American
Dream is similar to heaven, where there is everything you could ever
desire. However the shooting of Lennie represents that not everyone is
able to achieve his or her American Dream.

On the other hand others can interpret it in their own way. Lennie’s
death could be seen as George’s dream, to keep Lennie happy whenever
and wherever he went. Even if it was up to his last breath or even if
it was into heaven. As Lennie’s last minute went he spoke of “…the
rabbits…” (Page 146) that he loved. This showed how both George’s and
Lennie’s dream came true. To some, wealth is equal to happiness;
however in Lennie and George’s case, they had little to no money and
were still filled with glee. This can exemplify that people can be
penniless and still happy; in the case of people who have wealth and
are miserable.

Steinbeck presents Crooks, the stable buck, as bitter towards the
American Dream because he hasn’t been able to get any of it, therefore
he doesn’t believe in it. Crooks thinks ”…Nobody never gets to heaven,
and nobody never gets no land…” (Page 106) because nobody who worked
on the ranch has ever got that. This again links the dream to heaven.
Crooks has been rejected by the society because “… his body was bent
over to the left by his crooked spine…” (Page 99) and he is the only
black person in town. Crooks has been seen as an outcast. Crooks is
continually suffering not only by his back, which is a physical symbol
of his internal pain, but with the society where he lives. American
culture was still in the past in the 1930’s; consequently this is why
Crooks was seen as an outcast. Only a few generations ago, the slave
trade in America was still occurring. When it was abolished the white
people of America had to adjust their lifestyle because of the black
people of Africa. American culture started evolving for the better.
However during the 1930’s the white people were still adjusting to the
new society, therefore Crooks was still seen as an outcast.

The language used focuses on Crooks continually suffering, due to the
amount of abuse he gets from the white people. He is either called
“stable buck” or “Crooks” which isn’t he real name. But the language
always has the touch of loneliness in it. He is constantly lonely
because there was nowhere for him to go and no one for him to meet.
Being the only black person in a large area has to be harsh for him.
This type of loneliness could corrupt and destroy a person, which it
already has done to Crooks. He is bitter towards the American Dream
and believes that the dream is “… jus’ in their head…” (Page 106), and
a figment of the workers imagination. Crooks’ job is permanent, not
like the others. This suggests that there will be no change or
improvement in the way that he is treated or where he lives. Crooks
cannot achieve the American Dream, therefore this philosophy that
anybody can succeed, is wrong.

Slim receives the longest introductory description of any character in
the novel (Pages 55-56), which illustrates the importance of him in
the plot. Words such as “majesty“ and “authority” are used to describe
him as a great teacher or philosopher. He is also described as the “
Prince of the ranch”. Slim is like a god but not as powerful, that is
why he was not able to stop the shooting of Candy’s dog. He is not
cruel, but will kill if he needs to. This is presented when with the
puppies he “…drowned four of ‘em right off…” (Page 58).

Slim is different from the characters due to his magnitude of
leadership. Also he is in charge of the team, which harvests the
crops. Everyone in the ranch even the boss’s son, Curley, respects
him. He is friendly towards all of the workers and shows empathy to
the bond between George and Lennie. “… Slim’s a real skinner. He looks
out for his team…” (Page 106) are the thoughts from Crooks showing
that Slim is a good guy. Slim is the only character that understands
why George had to kill Lennie, when he says, “…You hadda, George. I
swear you hadda…” (Page 148). Slim seems to be jealous of George and
Lennie’s friendship, and this is why he “praises” George for shooting
Lennie. Slim’s “… hatchet face was ageless…” (Page 56) which shows he
is the only character that refuses to be dehumanised and wishes too
keep his dignity. Steinbeck has done this for a key reason, to prove
that Slim brings hope onto the ranch. Slim is the leader of the team
and said to be the ideal person to be. Slim is happy being a migrant
worker, he might be still looking for the American Dream, but is still
happy the way he is. The American Dream clouds peoples minds, causing
the to try everything to get it. However, Slim being a role model
illustrates that without the American Dream, you can still live a
worthy life.

Slim was created by Steinbeck in order to give more information about
the previous story/background details. An example of this is when
George tells Slim about what happened with Lennie in Weed. It is Slim
who provides comfort and support for George in this crisis, as well as
ensuring that Curley keeps quite about when Lennie crushed his hand.
It lets the characters emotions go, it wants them to feel relaxed and
without urgency. Slim has a clear distinction between reality and the
American Dream.

The whole story circles around the Salinas River, from the start,
where it begins, to the end where it returns; showing things that have
already happened could happen again. The shooting of Candy’s dog by
Carlson was a fate and destiny trying to reveal future happenings,
such as George shooting Lennie. What’s more is that both shooting have
more in common than first seen. Candy’s dog is shot using Carlson’s
Luger, George also uses Carlson’s Luger to shoot Lennie. Additionally,
Candy’s dog was shot right in the back of the head where it could feel
no pain while dying. This also happened to Lennie when George shot
him. Moreover, at the beginning of chapter six, it described a water
snake being eaten by a heron. The water snake is representing Lennie’s
fate to be like its own. Death. Lennie’s fate is compared to the
violence in nature. This gives an effect of de’ javu as well.

De‘ javu occurs in the story several times. When Lennie killed the
mice on the way to the ranch, he also killed a puppy and Curley’s wife
at the ranch. This gives you an idea about what might happen in the
later plot of the novel. Other things happen such as the shooting of
Candy’s dog and the shooting of Lennie are directly linked.

When Lennie was shot, both good and bad reasons came up for both.
Shooting Lennie was a good idea because it put Lennie out of his
misery. He kept making vast mistakes, which would have leaded him into
trouble. Also it would have finally stopped Lennie from harming
anybody, or anything. He wouldn’t be able to kill anything else with
his unimaginable strength and power. Furthermore Lennie wouldn’t have
to be sent to “…the booby hatch…” (Page 104), [lunatic asylum] or to
prison to rot away until his death. On the other hand, shooting Lennie
was a bad concept because it didn’t let Lennie accomplish his dream to
have “…a little house and a couple of acres and a cow and some pigs…”
(Page 32). It left him halfway between desire and possession. In
addition they cold have left Lennie to live and treated his
slow-mindedness. From this they could “mould” him into a better
person, which could control his strength and anger.

There were several themes in the story; one of them was contrast.
Contrast is shown in the novel as an effect. At the beginning of every
chapter there is the location described in full detail to cause the
reader to be further interested. Such other contrasts are between
Lennie and George. Not only due to the size difference but also the
difference in intelligence. There is always man-made and nature
contrasts between such things as the description of the Salinas River
in chapter one and the description of the bunkhouse in capter two. It
shows the beautifulness and calm in the nature, but rough and
sharpness in the man-made facilities. There is light and dark contrast
showing good from bad, or right from wrong. Life and death contrasts
play a major part in the story. This is so because of the many living
things are killed such as, the mice, Slim’s puppy and Curley’s wife.
And other things that can be kept alive like Curley. After the brawl
with Lennie, Curley would have been killed if the others in the
bunkhouse didn’t step in. “…ever’ bone in his hand is bust…” (Page 92)
was the expression on everyone’s reaction to Curley’s crushed hand.

Another theme in the story is friendship. “… I got you to look after
me, and you got me to look after you…” (Page 32) are the words that
prove George and Lennie are best of friends. With this friendship they
were able to work together and be friends till the very end. While
George and Lennie friends, hope was increasing towards the discovery
of the American Dream. Crooks and Lennie were also able to find each
other, as they were both outcasts from society. Crooks was a cripple
and Lennie was “slow-minded”. This shows optimism in the story.

Loneliness plays a big part in the story because Crooks, Candy and
Curley’s wife have all experienced it. These characters are an
illustration by Steinbeck, which show the way in which loneliness can
corrupt and destroy a person. Crooks has a double burden in that he is
not only a cripple, but also a negro in a society that will not
recognise negroes as an equal. Therefore he is discriminated against
race. Candy is the “swamper” of the ranch, and the oldest person on
the ranch, this is why he is discriminated against age. He lost his
right hand in a farmer accident and doesn’t mix in well with the other
workers because of his age. Candy’s American Dream is to be respected
by the others but this doesn’t happen. This crushes his spirit. His
only companion was his elderly dog, but when Carlson tragically shot
him, Candy was left lonesome. Curley’s wife is the only woman on the
ranch; this is why she is discriminated against sex. Curley’s wife is
a “tart” (Page 29) and may well be “jail bait” (33); this is why she
is so flirtatious. Her American Dream is to become and actress however
she has not been given the opportunity. All of these characters are
one of a kind; so they have to urge to feel at least a slight bit
lonely.

“…Guys like us, that work on ranches are the loneliest guys in the
world, they got no family. They don’t belong no place…” (Pages
31-32). This quotation said by George explains how the migrant workers
have no real future ahead of them, just more time to be lonely.

In my opinion Steinbeck has presented and interpreted the American
culture very well. He has included all the parts that were presently
happening. Such parts like Crooks being rejected because he was black.
This occurred a lot at that time because the white people were still
in the slave trade kind of mind. That’s were black people received so
much abuse and why Crooks did too. The Great Depression had all of
the population of the USA feeling low and Steinbeck portrayed it
superbly. He did this by showing all the migrant workers had come on
their own to make some money; this also illustrates the loneliness
felt by all the people on the ranch.

He included different types of discrimination shown in the real world
as well as the novel. Crooks was discriminated against race because he
was the only black person in town. Blacks were different and were
being abused. Curley’s wife was discriminated against sex because she
was the only woman on the ranch. Women at this time were seen as
possessions and not people. Candy was discriminated against age
because he was the oldest on the ranch. The elderly were not useful so
they were paid small amounts for jobs and then put aside. He had also
lost his left hand making him a reject. He is also slight
discrimination against Lennie’s intelligence. In my opinion, with all
of these points Steinbeck has been able to illustrate the culture in
1930’s America, he has shown how ever little thing can help describe
the process of living to a higher extent.

With these attitudes in the novel Steinbeck was able to portray the
American Dream as bleak and useless. It was not able to accomplish
anyone’s dreams, it just seemed as a distant hope or a vision. This
could have been Steinbeck’s thought towards the American Dream, even
though he was able to fulfil his American Dream by becoming a
novelist.

Citations

Steinbeck, John Ernst Stephen, Martin Stephen, Martin
Of Mice and Men York Notes for GCSE York Notes On
London, Longman 2000 Of Mice and Men Of Mice and Men
London, Longman 2002 Essex, Longman 1992


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