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Published by Covici, Friede, Inc., 1937
About the book: The book takes place during the time it was written, The Great Depression, where the American economy took an unexpected nosedive and unemployment sprang from 14% 19%. The title is taken from Robert Burns’s famous poem, To a Mouse, wherein states: "The best-laid plans of mice and men/ go oft awry." Nearly half of the origional manuscript was destroyed by Steinbeck’s Irish Setter puppy, it took two months to recreate. About the author: The settings of most of his books are in areas near Salinas and Monterey, in California, where Steinbeck was born and lived most of his life. He came from a working-class background, and most of his characters have to struggle to make a living. His descriptions of characters and language of farmhands is applauded for being so accurate because he lived that life. His writings drifted from 1930’s laboring class to war. He was a filmmaker and Marine Biologist. Most of his novels depict aspects from marine biology, the bible, and personal experiences which give them an odd edge; they can be seen from a psychological, biological, or biblical point of view. Characters (and their archetypes):
1. *George Milton – A quick-witted and quick-tempered man who struggles to look
after Lennie. He tells stories of a different life, illustrating a longing to escape the farm hand’s community of segregation and unreliability.
2. *Lennie Small – A mentally disabled man who travels with George. Large
physically and having the mental compacity of child gives way to small dreams of “living off the fatta the land” and tending rabbits. Lennie holds an obsession with things soft of touch. Being characterized by the mental capacity of a child and the strength of a "bull" he is unable to control or even judge his own physical prowess- leading to a series of accidental killings when “soft” things try to escape him.
3. Candy – A ranch worker who lost a hand in an accident and is nearing the end of
his usefulness on the ranch. He received an extraordinary sum for the loss of his hand and otherwise knows he doesn’t have much to live for. When he overhears George and Lennie discussing their future plans of a small farm he insists he will contribute his money, as well, in exchange for living compensations. He is practically powerless on the ranch and can’t even influence the fate of his own dog- killed by Carlson. He believes one of the best things in life would be a quiet place to live it out.
4. Candy's dog – Candy's dog has a parallel with his owner: They are both old and
regarded as useless on a busy ranch where younger and newer models are always ready, and willing, to replace them. The dog is arthritis stricken, blind, and offends the ranch hands with it’s odor. Slim is willing to give Candy a pup in order to put the old one out of it’s misery. It is finally shot by Carlson, and Candy
regrets not killing it himself. The fate of the dog foreshadows the ending of Lennie and maybe even Candy himself.
5. Curley – The boss's son – a young, quarrelsome character, who was once a semiprofessional boxer. He is an incredibly jealous person and is protective of his wife (even though she doesn’t even like him). He seems to be compensating for something because he is always hateful and immediately takes a disliking to Lennie. He is insecure of his small stature but knows he can handle anyone of equal or smaller size, while anyone larger would be told to “pick on someone their own size” if provoked into action.
6. Curley's wife – A young, physically attractive woman, referred to as "tart" by the
ranch hands and mistrusted by her husband. One of the only characters in the book not given a name, she seems lonely and is mean-spirited because of it. Her dreams of becoming an actress were crushed by her mother, so she married the next man she met and took off, unluckily said man happened to be Curley. Her inappropriate dress and flirtatious manner lead to her, as well as Lennie’s, demise as she lets Lennie feel her soft hair.
7. *Slim – A "jerk line skinner" (the main driver of a mule team ) is referred to as
"prince of the ranch". Slim’s word is law and he decides on the mercy-killing of Candy's dog while he later tells George he had no choice in the mercy-killing of Lennie. Before this, it is Slim who helps Lennie avoid getting fired after Lennie's fight with Curley.
8. Crooks – The only African American hand on the ranch, referred to as "nigger"
by almost all. He is crippled, his nickname refers to a crooked back resulting from being kicked by a horse. He sleeps segregated from the other workers and is fiercely defensive of his "rights". While he is lonely, he does not want others to know of his true feelings. When Lennie visits his room, he immediately takes the opportunity to scare him into submission – a rare chance for him to exercise power- but he is won over by Lennie’s innocent nature and lets him stay. Crooks obviously has no other friends on the ranch due to the time setting of the novel and his segregation. He also wants to join in on George’s dream but gives up once Lennie is killed.
9. *Carlson – Egotistical and unable to empathize with anyone, he wants to shoot
Candy's old and infirm dog because he doesn't like its smell. He finally does so (with the same pistol which was later used by George to shoot Lennie), with Slim’s consent. He has the final, and supremely ironic, line of the book wondering (as Slim and George walk away from Lennie’s dead body): "What the hell ya' suppose is eatin' them two guys?"
10.Whit- A young, inexperienced man who is enthusiastic about life on the ranch.
Not mentioned but twice and has no major role other than in one scene he brings up a magazine and a former farmhand.
11.The Boss – Curley's father; owner and director of the ranch. He wears highheeled boots and spurs to prove he is not a mere laborer. He also states his suspicions of George and Lennie traveling together. Yet he is not a bad guy, he gave the men a gallon of whiskey to drink on Christmas day. *Protagonists: George Milton and Lennie Small Average workmen that constantly move from town to town and job to job, they symbolize much more. George Milton’s name was taken from Steinbeck’s favorite book Paradise Lost by John Miltion- telling of Lucifer’s fall from Heaven and the creation of Hell. Milton describes Adam and Eve along with the Garden of Eden. Steinbeck implies, by George’s name, that he is a “fallen man”, doomed to loneliness. Lennie Small is a big man often described by animal references (with paws for hands, he snorts like a horse, and has the strength of a bull). He has always been taken care of by someone else, requiring no thought or speech on his part. Having a short attention span and being very innocent he is often referred to as a “child”. George and Lennie are small men, with modest ambitions and honest intentions. Their greatest dream in life is to own and operate a small ranch with few chickens, pigs, and rabbits for Lennie. George and Lennie are opposites in practically every way possible- making the best complimenting couple. George is described as small and quick with sharp features, while Lennie is big, slow witted, and shapeless of face. George fits into the role of ranch hand perfectly while Lennie plays with dead mice and puppies, attempting to keep to himself. George could be referred to as the ego (a person’s thinking side or lead figure), because he is obviously the leader; while Lennie is the id (the body and senses), often forgetful and impulsive he “thinks” with his hands. Lennie always gets into trouble without George (i.e. breaking Curley’s hand, and snapping the necks of his own puppy and Curley’s Wife). Steinbeck seems to be implying that a body without a mind in control can be carried away- a person must be in balance of ego and id, as George and Lennie are together. Another way to categorize George and Lennie is biologically, through the factor of symbiosis (a mutual relationship, where each organism benefits from the other). Lennie needs George to think for him and keep him out of trouble while George’s reasoning isn’t as obvious. George tells Slim his reasoning behind it, though, “[Lennie] made me seem God damn smart alongside of him....” He adds, "I ain't got no people. I seen the guys that go around on ranches alone. That ain't no good. They don't have no fun. After a long time they get mean." Although George tells Lennie that he could have much fun without him (going into town and maybe spending his money in a whorehouse) he knows he wouldn’t because if he did these things he would be just like all the other nobodies on the ranch. A biblical approach to their relationship would be an allusion to the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis. Wherein Cain draws Abel into a field and kills him. When God asks where Abel is, Cain replies, "Am I my brother's keeper?" This is almost exactly what happens with George and Lennie except George seems sincerely upset from what he did to his friend and companion. *Important Side Characters:
1. Slim – Also known as the “prince of the ranch”, he is a tall, thin, and quiet man.
But he is not an inconspicuous character, quite the opposite. He is known by everyone on the ranch from the moment they step foot onto the boarders of the property. He needs no introduction or formalities. He is a relaxed and calm figure; he always knows how to handle situations and is questioned by none. He is a trustworthy person, inviting confidence without demanding it. He is respected and his attributes sought after by others. Understanding and compassionate, when he explains to Candy that he must kill the dog out of mercy Candy has to give inSlim’s word is law. Slim is that self-possessed man George hopes to become by owning his own place. He is another ego figure, but, unlike George, he represents an angel before it fell, whereas George would be the angel after it had already fallen.
2. Carlson – Coarse and insensitive, he always manages to throw a word or two of
negative, self-centered thoughts into conversations. His lack of empathy and compassion, along with Slim’s quiet condolences, pushes Candy into submission as Carlson takes the rickety shepard out to the pond to do away with it. While Slim reminds Candy it is for the dog’s sake, Carlson’s only concern is that the dog offends him. He repetatively shows his lack of concern for others’ feelings; he is the epitome of antisocial personality disorder (disorder where one disregards others feelings and rights). Later in the Novel he offers to track Lennie, and once Lennie has been shot and George is upset Carlson says his most memorable line, "Now what the hell ya suppose is eatin' them two guys?" Carlson is the type of man George wants to avoid becoming. Carlson is represented by physical terms and seems to be motivated by bodily senses, as well. He is another id figure. Carlson and Slim balance each other in the same way as George and Lennie. Setting: The farm is located near a ranch in the Salinas Valley of California, south of San Francisco. The characters are always situated either along the banks of the Salinas River near the ranch, in the ranch bunkhouse, or in the barn. The book follows a sandwich-type model, wherein the characters appear in the same settings at opposite times in the novel (River, Bunkhouse, Barn, River). Although everything is peaceful along the river in the first scene, death is in the air in the last. Plot: “The book is Steinbeck's statement of the pain of human loneliness and the struggle of man to find a home within the "fat of the land."” 2 We are introduced to George and Lennie at the banks of the Salinas River. They’re on their way to jobs as ranch hands in California. Since it is late they decide to spend the evening there and continue on to the ranch the coming day.
Lennie is caught toying with a dead mouse in his pocket and reluctantly hands it over to George. It becomes obvious in the scene that George is the leader of the two while Lennie is a faithful follower (he is even described as a terrier when he gives up the rodent). We become aware of Lennie’s obsession with soft things in this scene, we also learn of a separate incident that occurred in the last town they were stationed and that they fled. George, being the sensible leader, informs Lennie about their new positions and lays down ground rules, saying he isn’t allowed to talk; avoid trouble; and should trouble arise he needs to come back to this, exact spot and wait for George. Lennie has some trouble repeating George but gets the basics, he then asks George to reiterate the story of where they will someday live. After they awake the next morning and continue down to the farm we are introduced to the first side character of the book, Candy. Candy fills them in on the ranch parts and its dispositions. Next the boss arrives and dually notes that Lennie isn’t doing any talking so directs questions at him. George explains he’s not too bright but he can work. The boss questions his intentions but his anger at them being late has faded and he lets them be. Curley is the bully of the ranch. Compensation for his size; he is referred to, by Candy, as “scrappy”. Always trying to pick fights with those bigger than he is to prove himself. George is concerned about a combination of Curley’s quick temper and Lennie’s slow wit. He warns Lennie to avoid Curley, and repeats his instructions about the riverbank. Curley’s wife enters after Curley, supposedly searching for her husband but lingers to greet the new farm hands and make her presence known. George and Candy insult her, branding her a “tramp” and “tart”, but Lennie defends her saying she’s “purty”. George worries over her as well as Curley and tells him again to avoid them. Lennie doesn’t enjoy how many people he has to avoid and panics stating he wants to leave. George affirms that they will, in due time. Slim is heard through the door, telling Curley’s wife she’s not looking very hard- Curley just walked into their house. Curley’s wife has an apprehensive tone as she exits. Slim enters and is graciously named the prince of the ranch. Moving with majesty only achieved by royalty he greets the new men and takes interest in the fact they travel together. In the middle of their conversation in walks Carlson. Carlson remarks he hasn’t seen Slim’s dog, to which Slim responds she had a litter last night. Slim and Carlson discuss killing Candy’s old one and giving him a pup. George agrees to ask Slim if Lennie can have one of the puppies. After supper George and Slim are alone in the bunkhouse and discuss Lennie. George remarks that Lennie isn’t bright, but he’s a good guy; he’s a good companion and he makes George feel smart. He tells Slim why they got kicked out of Weed: George felt a girl’s dress because he liked it, she screamed and they had to flee. Lennie enters and George remarks handling the pup too often could kill it, after resistance he leaves to return the pup. Slim remarks he’s just like a kid. As all the men gather in the bunkhouse, Carlson begins pressuring Candy to let him put his dog out of its misery. He explains that he will shoot the dog in the back of the head so it will feel no pain. When Slim joins in the pressuring, Candy caves. Slim remarks to Carlson take a shovel, Candy stared blankly at the ceiling. As the killing shot was fired heads jerk to Candy. He lay rigid then rolled over, obviously upset. Curley rushes in complaining about his wife missing, he then notices Slim isn’t there and dashes out under suspicions.
Later, Candy overhears George telling Lennie once again about the farm and the rabbits. He asks to be part of the venture and offers to advance half of the money they need to buy the farm. Suddenly the impossible dream seems within reach. Candy confides to George that he should have shot his dog himself, not let a stranger do the task. Slim enters with Curley close on his heels apologizing for his assumptions. Slim tells him to lay off; he has no interests in Curley’s wife. Carlson remarks he should keep her home, setting Curley at a foul temper. Looking for a fight, his eyes land on Lennie, smiling at the thought of tending his rabbits, Curley thinks he’s mocking him and begins taunting the larger man. Lennie refuses to fight back, scared and helpless he doesn’t know what to do. George commands him to fight back and Lennie crushes the smaller man’s hand in his own, simply trying to hold his hand so he can’t swing. Curley was beaten badly, Slim tells him “he got his hand caught in a machine” to which Curley agrees. Lennie doesn’t think he’ll get to feed the rabbits from it but George reassures him he did nothing wrong. George and the rest of the farm hands go to town to find a whorehouse, leaving Lennie alone. We get a good insight into the life of Crooks, the black stable worker, in this scene. He lives off the barn, alone, in a separate cube. Crooks objects to Lennie’s invasion of privacy but Lennie’s innocence wins him over. Crooks describes the difficulties of being a black man on the ranch, and Lennie talks about the future farm. When Candy comes in and tells that he has offered to put up some of the money, Crooks asks to be included, too. Curley's wife, looking for company, also invades Crooks' sanctum. Crooks and Candy argue with her, but she puts Crooks in his place saying he’s a “nigger” and she could have him sacked. George and the gang are back so she leaves quietly. George is annoyed to learn that Lennie and Candy have shared the dream with someone else. Trouble occurs the next day. Lennie handled the puppy too much and broke its neck. He hurls it from him as Curley’s wife enters. She seems to be attempting at seducing Lennie but he’s too concerned about his fear of not being able to tend the rabbits. When she learns of his love for soft things she lets him pet her hair, which he does, but he grips on too tightly. Curley’s wife panics and begins to struggle, Lennie doesn’t know what to do and ends up breaking her neck, as well, trying to calm her. Candy finds the woman’s body and informs George. He asks for reassurance that the two of them can still make their vision of the farm come true, even without Lennie. George has forsaken it. He asks Candy for a few minutes headstart then bolts down to the riverbank to find Lennie, stealing Carlson’s Luger (the same gun used to kill Candy’s dog). Curley insists on finding Lennie and killing him. When the hunting party reaches the riverbank they find Lennie, depressed and upset. He knows he’s done badly and asks George to chew him out, which he does, half-heartedly. George tells the story of the farm and rabbits one last time, then places the gun to the back of Lennie’s head while daydreaming and pulls the trigger. By killing Lennie he is killing half of himself. Motifs/ Themes: 1. The American Dream- The most prominent theme in the book would have to be the American Dream. George wants his own place, to be his own boss; Lennie wants a place to be happy; Candy wants a place to live his life out; Curley’s wife wants “to make something of herself”; Crooks wants to be respected for what he’s done with himself.
2. Loneliness – Almost all characters are loners, George and Lennie being the only exception- and they get suspicions for it. Discrimination of old age, race, or sex isolates characters. Most seem discontent wherever they are. Candy is crestfallen after his dog is killed; Curley’s wife is discriminated against because of her sex so she spends most of her time alone, or with other outcasts; Crooks lives isolated; and even George seems antisocial without Lennie. 3. Companionship – George states the only thing that sets him and Lennie apart from the rest is that they have each other. None of the other characters in the book have any separate form of companion, except Candy, whose old dog dies. All are searching for companions, yet in the end none have one. 4. Corruption of Women – A woman accuses Lennie of rape for touching her dress; another is branded a tramp, whore, and tart; the only useful place for women is in a vile, unholy whorehouse. Women are unwanted and disrespected in this book. They are anything but welcome in the men’s world of brotherly love on this ranch. Women lead men astray not only in the quest for the Holy Grail but also in the simple men’s quest for happiness. 5. The Common Man – None of the characters in this book are “important” in anyway- they’re not powerful; they have no influence on America’s future in any way. They’re simple men with simple dreams. Steinbeck doesn’t seem opted to turn them into anything special, either. 6. The story of Cain and Abel – The story makes an allusion to Cain and Abel in Genesis wherein Cain draws Abel into a field and kills him. When God asks where Abel is, Cain replies, "Am I my brother's keeper?" This is almost exactly what happens with George and Lennie except George seems sincerely upset from what he did to his friend and companion. 7. The search for the Holy Grail – George’s, as well as some of the other ranch hand’s, search for happiness can be compared to the search for the Holy Grail. In the Holy Grail tale women distract some men and only one eventually finds it. In our tale, none does. 8. Animal Cruelty – There seems to be some underlying note of animal cruelty strapped into this book. Slim drowns five pups out of a litter of nine; Lennie repeatedly kills mice and a pup; as well as Candy’s dog is shot in the back of the head. 9. Strong vs. Weak – There are many times where the strong have been shown, in this novel, to outdo the weak. Lennie always harms things smaller than him, purposefully or not, because he is stronger. Although, in the end scene, because Lennie has a weaker mental capacity he is killed. Symbolism: 1. The Farm – George’s dream of a small plot of land of his own represents the possibility of freedom, reliance, and protection from the world’s cruelties. 2. The Puppy – Lennie’s puppy symbolizes many things: The strong over the weak, the new over the old, and even Lennie’s fate himself. The innocent, weak pup dying symbolizes Lennie’s innocent frame being killed. 3. Candy’s Dog – The mangy, deteriorated dog symbolizes anyone who has outlived his or her purpose. Whether you were the best of the best if you have outlived
your prime you have outlasted your welcome. It also supports the theme of strong vs. weak. Mood/ Tone: At the beginning of the novel the mood and tone are sincere, lighthearted, and innocent. They are casual workmen, simply drifting from town to town- nobodies in a world of self-inflated somebodies. Times get tense when unwanted personnel arrive, but the moods quickly pass and flow from happy, carefree scenes with puppies and horseshoe games; to tense, dreadful atmospheres with death in the air. Conflicts: 1. Man vs. Man – Curley causes many disputes between the men, compensating for his own lack of self-image. 2. Man vs. Himself – George and Candy both went through the same internal conflict: whether or not to put the one they care about out of misery. They both chose yes, although Candy did not choose to do it himself. 3. Man vs. Society – Lennie is obviously having a one-sided battle against society. He is not accepted in any farmhand norms and is belittled by many. George is considered untrustworthy for taking care of Lennie even though he cannot do so himself. Because of Lennie’s compulsive touching behavior he can never be fully accepted into any societal norms and has to be done away with.
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