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In OF MICE AND MEN John Steinbeck portrays a people who are just as blighted as the land on which they trod. Lennie Small and George Milton are two migrants who are forced to wander the midwest in search of the American Dream, which, to them, meant a place of their own. Each recognizes that this dream will, in all likelihood, remain just that, an evanescent will-o-the-wisp that leaves them with little else but to talk about it. Many times in the novel, the huge but retarded Lennie asks George, a smallish but bright thinker, to rhapsodize about their future. To George, their American Dream is a place where no one can throw them out. To Lennie, it is a place where he can raise rabbits. And it is not only Lennie and George who reach out for the unobtainable. It is arguable that nearly everyone else has their own competing dreams, with the same chance of success as Lennie and George have--none at all.


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The ranch hands where Lennie and George find roustabout jobs are the hopeless in search of the unobtainable. Candy is a one-armed elderly worker who seeks security for his old age. Crooks is a proud black worker who searches for racial equality in an age that did not know the term. Curley is a nastily pugnacious man who spends most of the scenes in which he appears in a hopeless and helpless Holy Grail search for his wife who spends an equal amount of time staying out of his way. And then there is Curley's wife, who is so bereft of identity that Steinbeck chooses not even to give her a name. She wanders the book like a meandering Eve, seeking only to disrupt the ordered lives of the men around her. In her search for meaning to her life, she collides with a corresponding search by Lennie for meaning in his. When she places Lennie's unthinking paws on her hair and dress, Lennie panics and unthinkingly stifles her, setting off a chain of events that forces George to play with Lennie's dream of a rabbit warren as a tearfully tragic prelude to ending that dream. In OF MICE AND MEN, Steinbeck catches not only the gritty edginess of political and emotional instability that then was ripping apart the social fabric of a pre-World War II America, he was also telling a timeless tale that suggests that for dreams to transform to reality, those dreamers had better leave the world of dreams long enough to weigh the balance of cost versus benefit. For Lennie, for Curley's wife, the price was way too high.