What Was the Theme of Of Mice and Men?

When analyzing a literary work, it is important to understand its theme. A theme analysis involves synthesizing elements within the work to present an overall message.

To determine a book’s theme, one needs to become aware of the relations among the story’s parts and the parts’ relation to the whole. This analysis includes considering the characters involved in the story and the overarching message that they convey through their thoughts and actions.

John Steinbeck and Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men is a novella written by the American author John Steinbeck, published in 1937. Steinbeck was an American writer and social critic who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962.

Steinbeck’s experience as a manual laborer and his interest in the lives of the working class heavily informed his writing.

Of Mice and Men takes place during the Great Depression in the United States, and follows the story of two migrant workers, George and Lennie, as they search for work and a place to call home. The novella deals with themes of loneliness, isolation, and the American Dream, as well as the relationship between George and Lennie, who are the main characters.

The novella was well-received by critics and has since become one of Steinbeck’s most famous works. Its simple and direct language, coupled with its poignant themes, has made it a staple in American literature.

Dreams

The theme of dreams in Of Mice and Men is an important one. Throughout the novella, different characters have various aspirations and goals that they wish to achieve.

For instance, Lennie and George’s dream is to own their own piece of land which they can farm and tend to. On the other hand, Candy’s dream is to live a comfortable life without having to worry about his old age.

However, one of the main ideas conveyed in Of Mice and Men is the fact that dreams are often unattainable. Nevertheless, the characters in the novella continue to pursue their dreams even though deep down, they know that they might not come true.

The theme of dreams in Of Mice and Men is closely linked to the idea of the American Dream. This is the notion that anyone, regardless of their background, can achieve success and prosper through hard work, perseverance, and determination.

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Throughout the novella, the characters, particularly George and Lennie, believe in this concept of the American Dream. However, as the story progresses, it becomes clear that the American Dream is nothing but a mere illusion.

This is seen when George and Lennie’s dream of owning a piece of land crumbles, and they are forced to continue working as migrant workers.

American Dream Alt Text

Loneliness and Companionship

The theme of loneliness and companionship is clearly depicted in Steinbeck’s novella, Of Mice and Men. The characters in the book suffer from isolation and loneliness, with Candy, Crooks, and Curley’s wife being the loneliest.

Candy is the oldest worker on the ranch and has lost his hand, making him seem worthless. Crooks is the only black man on the ranch and is discriminated against, leading him to develop a defensive and aloof personality.

Curley’s wife is the only woman on the ranch and is isolated due to her gender.

Companionship and friendship are also important themes in the novella. George and Lennie share a close bond, with George being Lennie’s caregiver and protector.

Their relationship is a representation of companionship and their dream of owning a farm together gives them hope and something to look forward to.

Steinbeck uses animal imagery to reinforce the theme of loneliness and companionship. The title of the book is derived from the poem To a Mouse by Robert Burns, which states “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley.”

The use of animal imagery represents the harshness of life during the Great Depression and how the characters are at the mercy of fate.

In conclusion, loneliness and companionship are important themes in Of Mice and Men. Steinbeck uses characterization, animal imagery, and the relationship between George and Lennie to reinforce these themes.

Loneliness Alt Text

The Weak and the Strong

“Of Mice and Men” is a novella that explores the theme of the weak and the strong. The struggle for power and dominance is one of the central conflicts in the story.

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John Steinbeck subverts the traditional notions of strength and weakness as he argues that a society that values only strength is destined to fail.

The novella portrays several characters who embody the theme of the weak and the strong. George, Lennie, Candy, Crooks, and Curley’s wife are all different in their ways, but they all share a sense of vulnerability and helplessness.

Candy is a physically disabled old man who is considered useless by his fellow ranch workers. He is marginalized and ostracized by the other workers, and he fears that he will be abandoned when he is no longer useful.

Crooks is a black stable hand who is isolated from the rest of the ranch workers. He is discriminated against because of his race, and he is not allowed to socialize with the white workers.

He is also physically weak because of an old injury, and he feels inferior to the other workers.

Curley’s wife is a lonely woman who is trapped in a loveless and abusive marriage. She is ignored by her husband and ostracized by the other workers.

She yearns for attention and companionship, but she is unable to find these things on the ranch.

The novella also portrays the characters who are considered strong. Curley, the boss’s son, is physically strong and aggressive, but he is also insecure and struggles to assert his dominance.

Carlson, another ranch worker, is also physically strong and ruthless, but he has no empathy for others.

Steinbeck argues that strength and weakness are not absolute terms. The characters who are considered weak actually have strengths of their own, such as their resilience and their ability to form meaningful relationships.

The characters who are considered strong are often cruel and heartless, and they lack the empathy and compassion that are essential for a healthy society.

The theme of the weak and the strong is a reflection of the social and economic conditions of the Great Depression. Steinbeck shows how the economic system of that time favored the strong and exploited the weak, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and inequality.

Through his characters, Steinbeck calls for a more compassionate and equitable society that values the dignity and worth of all individuals.

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Weak and Strong Alt Text

Minorities, Marginalization, and Scapegoating

The theme of minorities, marginalization, and scapegoating in Of Mice and Men reveals how certain characters are treated differently from others due to their race, gender, and physical ability. Crooks, the only black man on the ranch, is marginalized and treated poorly by the other ranch workers.

He is not allowed to live in the same quarters as other men and is constantly excluded from social activities. Similarly, Curley’s wife, who is the only woman on the ranch, is marginalized and seen as a sexual object by the other men.

She is never given a proper name and is only referred to as “Curley’s wife.”

These characters are often used as scapegoats for the problems of other characters. For example, when Lennie inadvertently kills Curley’s wife, George and Candy blame her for putting herself in a dangerous situation.

Similarly, when the ranch workers are dissatisfied with their job situation, they blame Crooks for being “different” and exclude him from their group.

This theme highlights the injustices and inequalities that exist in society and how those who are different are often marginalized and scapegoated. Steinbeck’s use of these characters shows the damaging effects of discrimination and prejudice, and the need for empathy and understanding in a diverse society.

Conclusion

The theme of Of Mice and Men is that the American Dream is unattainable for marginalized groups due to societal limitations such as racism, ageism, and sexism. The author, John Steinbeck, highlights the struggles faced by Characters like Candy, Crooks, and Curley’s wife, who represent the most vulnerable groups in society, and their shattered dreams, fear and loneliness, fugitive, and friendship.

The novella also portrays the constant struggle between the weak and strong, revealing the doom of a society that values only strength. Steinbeck subverts traditional notions of strength and weakness to emphasize the need for empathy and understanding for those at the margins of society.

References

  • SparkNotes – A comprehensive guide to the major themes in Of Mice and Men.
  • CliffsNotes – A critical analysis of the themes in the novella.
  • Purdue OWL – A Marxist analysis of Of Mice and Men.

Jonathan B. Delfs

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