Lonliness in Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
This book is packed with beauty, compassion, insight and tragedy. It is a story of two farm-hands traveling together in California in the 1930s. These two farm-hands have a special bond: George is small and clever whereas Lenny's huge and mentally disabled. They share a vivid dream of owning their own land one day but tragedy occurs before they can bring their dream to fruition.
The story begins in a clearing where Lenny is cradling a dead mouse. Lenny loves petting soft things but he is unaware of his own brute strength. George takes care of Lenny and cautions him to stay out of trouble. George's devotion to Lenny is touching. The pair present a picture of goodness and beauty in a harsh world. Indeed, George tells Lenny: " Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don't belong no place. . . . With us it ain't like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us." Lenny loves this recitation and frequently asks George to repeat it. "Tell me about us, about how we different from other guys."
The first time I read this book I was in high school; a girl growing up in a suburban home. The story of two male farmhands struggling in the 1930's and yearning for land did not resonate with me. I couldn't relate to it. However, I recently reread "Of Mice and Men" and realized how much more there is to this little volume. This books raises many important themes but one seemed to be of particular importance -- the theme of loneliness.
"Of Mice and Men" shows the many brands of loneliness. The farm-hands are lonely because they constantly travel and have no roots. Lenny is lonely because he is mentally disabled and unaccepted by society. Candy is lonely because he is physically disabled and he is afraid he will soon be canned. Crooks is lonely because he is black and forced to live alone in a room, apart form the other farm-hands. Finally, Curley's wife is lonely because she is female and stuck on a farm in a bad marriage. Throughout the book, each of the lonely people reflect on how crippling the loneliness can be. Lenny and George have each other and that takes the edge off their loneliness but the others have no escape. And in the end, George too is alone.
The loneliness depicted in this book is poignant. Most of the lonely characters are lonely because society marked them as different, as inferior. Lenny and Candy are lonely because they are disabled; society has rejected them. Similarly, Crooks, the black stable boy, lives alone in a room because society determined he could not sleep in the barracks with the white men. Society rejected him to because of his color. If more people took George's approach and accepted those who were different and weaker, there would be less loneliness for both the strong and the weak.