How does Steinbeck present the themes of loneliness and isolation in the novel?
In the novel “Of Mice and Men”, John Steinbeck highlight the effects of loneliness and isolation which arose from extreme discrimination that was prominent in the Great Depression. George says,
“I seen the guys that go around on the ranches alone. That ain't no good. They don't have no fun. After a long time they get mean.”
(Pg. 41) We need companions to give our life meaning. This essay will discuss the characters of Lennie, Curley’s Wife and Crooks. The first character affected by loneliness and isolation is Lennie because of his mental disability. George states from early on that ranch hands are the loneliest
“Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world”
(Pg. 15). When Crooks teases Lennie about George leaving him, it reveals that Lennie is dependent on George being his companion,
“George wun’t go away and leave me. I know George wun’t do that”
(Pg. 73). In spite of this, George disassociates himself sometimes when Lennie looks to him for support,
“I don't want no fights," said Lennie. He got up from his bunk and sat down at the table, across from George. Almost automatically George shuffled the cards and laid out his solitaire hand. He used a deliberate, thoughtful, slowness.”
(Pg. 55). Lennie’s desire to pet soft objects like mice comes from his need of a friend when George isn’t there for him.
“I could pet it with my thumb as we walked along”
(Pg. 7). People treat him like a child and he is not included in any conversations or activities. This makes Lennie feel lonely and isolated despite having the friendship of George. However, he is less lonely than others because he is unable to comprehend that people are treating him badly. The second character affected by loneliness and isolation is Curley’s wife because of her gender.
“I never get to talk to nobody but Curley”
“I don’t like Curley. He ain’t a nice fella”
(Pg. 87). Most men on the ranch refuse to talk with her because Curley had forbidden them to. Yet her husband, Curley, hardly talks to her and treats her atrociously. It also shows us that she is lonely as she confides her private affairs with strangers, even Lennie who is unable to comprehend what she tells
How is loneliness and isolation explored in the novel?
Loneliness is the feeling of isolation and no hope or dreams in your life-which is what Steinbeck achieves by portraying this theme effectively through key fictional characters in Of Mice and Men. By living in the town of ‘Soledad’ (Spanish for loneliness), the audience gets an overwhelming sense of the depressing environment that the migrant farmers are living through by their repetitive lifestyle and the consequences they face through the Great Depression and the Dustbowl. Yet another aspect of loneliness which is exposed vulnerably through several characters is the idea of the American Dream, for Steinbeck teaches us that even through hard work and prosperity, it is unattainable which is represented by Curley’s wife, Crooks, Candy and George + Lennie. These personas are left in isolation for as George says that ‘Guys like us that work on ranches are the loneliest guys in the world. They don’t belong no place…’ which is to say that these characters have lost all hope in their lives, which Steinbeck conveys effectively, and the fact that despite this, they still believe there is hope to come for them, which leaves me to sympathise for them more.
Candy is a prime representation of isolation and loneliness in ‘Of Mice and Men’. Firstly, it seems his disability has brought him down by the ranchmen because he has ‘no (right) hand’ which says to me that he isn’t practical in the ranch, yet it also suggests that Steinbeck may have used religious imagery to interpret the isolation Candy feels because the right hand is a symbol of hope and love in Christianity, and by not having one Candy has lost meaning in life, in my opinion. Nevertheless, it’s surprising this because it’s ironic that he’s the oldest on the ranch by being a ‘tall, stoop-shouldered old man’ but having the most experience on the ranch. Yet it seems that the depression has hit on the shoulders for his look on life has been brought down. As well as this, his American Dream of living on George and Lennie’s dream ranch is affected mainly by Curley’s wife’s death as he ‘lay down in the hay and covered his eyes with his arm’ after the men left, knowing it seems that age and disability has made him vulnerable against the harsh reality of isolation in 1930’s America. Yet nevertheless, I still believe that there is hope for him because just several years after Of Mice and Men was published, President Roosevelt signed an agreement for peace and equality in America. He had polio. He was disabled. So despite Candy being in a position of loneliness against the world, there is still hope for him in the world I believe, not like some other characters.
Crooks was also considered disabled by being a ‘negro buck’ as black people were treated terribly as slaves and not in society. This is shown by Steinbeck’s language of setting as Crooks lives in a ‘little shed that leaned off the wall of the barn’ as if to say that he is not strong or bold enough to survive in the world. He also has ‘a mauled copy of the California civil code for 1905’ which conveys to me that despite Crooks being motivated and strong to achieving a prosperous life, his life will never be the same. The past has gone behind him and nothing can protect him from his isolation and loneliness. Although Steinbeck shows that loneliness has made Crooks bitter by putting Candy and Lennie in the same position as he is making Lennie think if ’s’pose you don’t have nobody’ As well as this, his race makes him more vulnerable and exposed to others easily, especially by Curley’s wife threatening him to be ‘strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny’ which conveys to me that Crooks is used for other people’s pleasure and has no freedom or boundaries. However, he was born black. So he was born lonely which leads me to empathise for him more, despite Steinbeck still communicating the realistic idea of isolation on the ranch.
Furthermore, despite Curley’s wife being dominant towards Crooks, she was also born lonely- for women were considered as disability in 1930’s America, which is harsh but Steinbeck shows this very effectively. Curley’s wife appearance may make her as an extremely attractive person, having ‘full rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes’ which to me reminds me of an image of Marilyn Monroe if we look at this from a modern generation, a controversial celebrity- which is Curley’s wife’s American dream-which makes her all the more vulnerable to her loneliness. What makes her more exposed is the constant red imagery used in her appearance as well which not only represents a desire for romance in her life (which is failed by Curley for her loneliness has made her disappointingly upset) but also a sign of warning and danger in her life- an echo of the girl ’in a red dress’ by Lennie who as a woman was treated as a disability and also uses red imagery. Because of this, Curley’s wife exposes herself too much and may face the consequences of this from Lennie because of her vulnerability. Not only this, but Curley’s wife is vulnerable because she has no name which in a sense, to me, suggests that she has no strong identity on the ranch and is treated as a social accessory, like Candy’s dog-also with her name. So similarly to Crooks, her loneliness has made her bitter and more masculine which is shown towards the end of Section Four and is now treated as ‘ma’am’ by Crooks, which raises her hierarchy. Yet nevertheless, I feel that she is still lonely because she was never meant to be masculine so she is still in isolation with herself.
Contrasting with all these characters, George + Lennie are a strong companionship coming into the ranch with high expectations. However, their initial descriptions convey their hierarchy already as Steinbeck says that ‘the first man was small and quick’ with ‘sharp, strong features’- which means to me that he is the dominant and masculine character in this relationship and can stand up against the world. Juxtaposing with this, Lennie is described as ‘a huge man, shapeless of face’ which may describe his feature- unbalanced and quite unsure of himself and the rest of the world compared to George. Because of this, as they enter the ranch they are split into two clashing environments as George ‘went into town’ with the ranchmen and Lennie headed into ‘a little shed’ which shows that George has company and will never be afraid of the world, whilst Lennie is alone and exposed in his vulnerability. Because of his disability, unfortunately he may never escape it. Relating to Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ Lennie is sentenced to death by his loneliness and contrasting characteristics with George which is very similar to Candy’s dog as a mercy killing which seems controversial, but because of the loneliness and depression the companions have been through, Steinbeck shows that it may seem unfair for Lennie to stay alive and go through the same cycle again with a new ranch-similar to Weed in my opinion, leaving George to go through the cycle of loneliness as he threw the gun ‘near the pile of old ashes’ with the rest of the old and bad memories as he must leave them behind in order to survive alone.
Overall, George + Lennie, Curley’s Wife, Crooks and Candy are affected by the harsh reality of loneliness which Steinbeck presents emotionally through setting and their own ‘disabilities’ in 1930’s America- whether it’s racism, sexism or not able to perform practical skills. Even with their American Dream, Steinbeck shows this only makes them the more vulnerable against the wide world ahead of them within a lonely town known as ‘Soledad’. Despite myself being emotionally connected with these characters and wanting them to succeed I realise that there may be no hope for them and unfortunately they must live within the difficulty of isolation forever.