Of Mice and Men is a classic novel written by John Steinbeck that explores the lives of George and Lennie, two migrant workers in California during the Great Depression. The novel touches on several themes, including the unrelenting pursuit of the American Dream, the heart-wrenching feeling of loneliness, and the profound need for companionship.
This article will focus on exploring the major themes in the novel, with a particular emphasis on answering the question “what is the theme of Of Mice and Men?
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In Of Mice and Men, the theme of broken dreams is prevalent throughout the novel. The story follows two migrant workers, George and Lennie, who cling to their dream of one day owning a small farm together.
However, as the story progresses, it becomes clear that their dream will never become a reality. One of the main reasons their dream is crushed is due to Lennie’s mental disability, which causes him to unintentionally harm others, making it impossible for them to settle down and start a new life.
Another example of a broken dream is the character of Curley’s wife, who dreamt of becoming an actress before marrying Curley, which ultimately led to her being trapped on the ranch with no hope of escape. Candy, an old swamper who lost his hand, has a dream of owning land but after his old dog is killed, his dream slowly fades away.
The theme of broken dreams in Of Mice and Men highlights the harsh reality of the American Dream during the Great Depression, where no matter how hard people worked or how strong their hopes and aspirations were, the odds were not in their favor.
The American Dream
The theme of the American Dream runs throughout the whole Of Mice and Men novella. The American Dream is the idea that any person can achieve success and prosperity through hard work and determination as long as they are free in the land of opportunity.
In the story, the American Dream is symbolized by George and Lennie’s shared dream of buying a piece of land and settling down to a life of their own.
Their shared dream of owning a small farm with rabbits, cows, and pigs is a symbol of hope for a better life. George tells Lennie the details of their plan repeatedly throughout the book, and this signifies the importance of sharing the dream.
Although the dream represents the characters’ hopes and happiness, it seems impossible to achieve, and it eludes them in the end. Lennie is too simple-minded to realize the magnitude of their plan’s impracticality.
George, even though he knows the dream is unreachable, still nurtures it as a way to stay connected to a better future. This dream is essentially shattered when Lennie’s mental problems cause him to accidentally kill Curley’s wife, whom Lennie sees as a personification of the rabbits and the dream.
The saddest part is that even when the other characters try to create dreams, they ultimately fail. Crooks wishes to be treated fairly, but discrimination blocks his path.
Curley wants to be a respected man amongst his peers, but he ultimately ends up being powerless. Candy or the old swamper expresses a desire to join George and Lennie’s dream, but ultimately he is unable to, as he is difficult for George to trust.
The story highlights that even the most fundamental dreams cannot come true for outsiders, depicting the harsh realities of the Great Depression.
In Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck explores the theme of male friendship through the relationship between George and Lennie. Despite their differences, George and Lennie share a close bond and rely on each other for support and companionship.
Throughout the novella, it is clear that their friendship is crucial for their individual well-being.
Other characters in the novella also showcase the importance of male friendship. Candy, for example, is devastated by the loss of his beloved dog, but finds comfort in the friendship of George and Lennie.
Similarly, Crooks, the lonely stable hand, is drawn to George and Lennie’s friendship and desires to be a part of it.
Through the portrayal of these characters, Steinbeck emphasizes the need for human connection and the strength of male friendships. The novella shows how these friendships can provide a sense of belonging and help individuals cope with the harsh realities of their lives.
The Weak and the Strong
The theme of strength in Of Mice and Men is portrayed through various characters in the novella. George, the protagonist, displays strength through his responsibility towards Lennie, his friend who has a mental disability.
George ensures that Lennie is safe and taken care of, even if the situation is difficult. He also shows a strong desire for a better life, as seen through his and Lennie’s shared dream of owning a piece of land.
On the other hand, Lennie showcases physical strength beyond his control, leading to tragic consequences. The other characters in the story, such as Curley, use their strength to exert power and dominance over others, making them appear strong in a negative way.
The theme of weakness is also present in the novella, as seen through the loneliness and desperation of the characters. Candy, an elderly swamper, is portrayed as weak because of his age and physical limitations.
Curley’s wife is also seen as weak due to her lack of control over her own life and her constant search for attention.
Overall, Steinbeck’s portrayal of strength and weakness in Of Mice and Men showcases the importance of responsible and positive strength, while also highlighting the dangers of using strength for negative purposes. Through this, the novella emphasizes the importance of companionship and mutual trust in achieving true strength and success.
Minorities, Marginalization, and Scapegoating
In Of Mice and Men, minorities are portrayed as isolated and marginalized characters who often become scapegoats for the problems of others. The only black character in the novel, Crooks, is forced to live on his own in a small room in the stable and is denied any interaction with the other workers due to his skin color.
He is treated as inferior and excluded by the rest of the characters, which ultimately leads him to crave companionship and human interaction.
Similarly, Curley’s wife is also marginalized due to her gender. She is the only woman on the ranch and is not allowed to interact with the men without causing suspicion or hostility.
As a result, she is left alone and isolated, seeking attention and engagement from the men around her.
The theme of marginalization in Of Mice and Men highlights the discrimination and prejudice that minorities face in society, where they are often the subject of stereotyping, exclusion, and mistreatment. Moreover, the novel explores how such behavior can lead to scapegoating, where minorities are blamed for problems beyond their control.
The novel’s portrayal of minorities, marginalization, and scapegoating is significant as it highlights the real-world struggles of oppressed groups. It encourages readers to reflect on their own biases and prejudices and to recognize the importance of creating a more inclusive and just society for all.
In “Of Mice and Men,” Steinbeck explores three main themes: dreams, loneliness, and companionship. The story depicts the broken plans of George and Lennie’s shared dream of owning their own land and how the American Dream is unattainable for these characters.
The novella also emphasizes the importance of friendship, companionship, and mutual trust in a world where these qualities are undervalued. Physical strength is also highlighted as a valuable commodity in the story.
Overall, “Of Mice and Men” portrays the struggles of human dreams and aspirations, and how they are often thwarted by external forces.