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Throughout John Steinbeck’s novel, Of Mice and Men, the author depicts many characters such as Lennie, Candy, Crooks, etc. as having physical or mental impairments. These “disadvantaged” characters quickly become to represent isolation and discrimination, as well as giving the reader an insight into why characters such as Crooks have the persona associated with them due to their impairments. Therefore, Steinbeck’s utilization of many of the character’s impairments thus help in developing the theme of loneliness and isolation that is prevalent throughout the novel.
One of the most significant impairments in the novel would be Lennie’s intellectual disability due to how it emphasizes both his and George’s isolation from society. From the start of the novel, Lennie’s disability quickly becomes the most noticeable due to his childish language and clumsiness. Along with that, Lennie’s disability prevents him from comprehending even the most basic of instructions, which therefore makes him unable to communicate and express himself effectively with others. Because of his disability, he is thus completely dependent on others such as George who especially feels conflicted about his relationship with Lennie. Throughout the novel, George makes his frustrations over having to take care of Lennie clear due to his constant need to monitored and his tendency to get in trouble. As George puts it, “I could live so easy and maybe have a girl.”(Steinbeck 7) which shows how he believes Lennie is a factor as to why he feels lonely because of his responsibility to Lennie, and how accidents such as the one at Weed force them to move out. As for Lennie, he himself does not feel lonely however, he fears being abandoned by George. Due to his disability, Lennie is unable to see that Crooks was simply being hypothetical when he told Lennie, “…S’pose George don’t come back no more.” (Steinbeck 78) which of course shocked Lennie who could not even imagine such a thing and thus confronts Crooks to demand who hurt George. Lennie’s sudden shock to the thought of George abandoning him is very significant to the development of the theme of loneliness within the novel due to the fact that it highlights a key point in Lennie’s character. The reader sees how Lennie’s confusion conveys fear and thus shows how important his relationship is with George due to his disability. By interpreting Lennie’s fear over George abandoning him, the reader can thus see that because of Lennie’s disability, his dependence on George emphasizes Lennie’s alienation from society and how truly lonely Lennie is in society.
Another significant impairment in the novel is Candy’s elderly age and his physical disability which alienates him from the ranch due to his inability to do the work of the other ranch-hands. Because of Candy’s inability to do the taxing work on the ranch, he thus has no power or say on the ranch and is considered “useless” due to the hierarchy on the ranch being mainly determined by physical ability. However, Carlson’s demands to have his old sheep-dog put down is what truly emphasizes his loneliness on the ranch. Carlson ignores Candy’s pleas and tells him that the dog “…ain’t no good to you, Candy.”(Steinbeck 49) which unintentionally reminds him of the debilitating effects of age on his body as well. Candy’s subsequent decision to remain silent after allowing his dog to be shot shows how alone he is on the ranch and the lack of support from the other ranch-hands even further support that fact. After the decision is made to have the dog shot, ranch-hands such as Slim, “… gazed at him for a moment and then looked down at his hands;”(Steinbeck 54) and George who “ …brought the cards together tightly and studied the backs of them,”(Steinbeck 54) obviously show that nobody in the ranch wants to address the “elephant in the room”. The main reason as to why Candy chooses to isolate himself from the ranch was not just because of the loss of his dog, but also because of Carlson’s demands to have the dog “put down” which represents the ranch sacking Carlson over the same reasons that the dog is shot for: old age and disability.
Finally, another character whose impairments are especially significant is Crooks who willingly and yet unwillingly chooses to isolate himself from the ranch. Described as having, “…a crooked back where a horse kicked him,”(Steinbeck 22) and “…a nigger”(Steinbeck 22) which shows how both his physical disability and race are perceived as impairments by the ranch due to their hierarchy and racism. Because of his status, he is completely isolated by the other ranch-men and is only given a small room in the stables so that he is separated from the others in the bunkhouse. Due to his treatment and acceptance that he is not wanted on the ranch, Crooks claims that he values his privacy and maintains a hostile personality towards others. However, in reality Crooks actually longs for social interaction and he tells Lennie that, “A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody,” (Steinbeck 80) which brings the reader some insight as to why Crooks acts the way he does. In fact, Lennie’s encounter with him shows that he has a “soft side” and a desire to be treated as a human being, despite society abandoning people like him and Lennie who are thus bonded by their disabilities. Therefore, the reader can see the tragedy in the novel being represented by Crook’s disabilities. He understands that his “impairments” prevent him from being accepted by the ranch and society, yet he still yearns for a person to talk to. Thus, it is clear that Crook’s hopelessness and isolation in a prejudiced society emphasizes the theme of loneliness and how characters such as he and Lennie are discriminated against simply because of their disabilities and impairments.
Throughout the novel, characters such as Lennie, Candy, Crooks, etc. all displayed how their impairments were one of the major factors in their loneliness. Whether it be mental retardation, elderly age, or even race it is clear that society’s prejudice shows how detrimental it is to the characters. John Steinbeck manages to successfully enhance the theme of loneliness in the novel due to his emphasis on each character’s isolation from society because of their impairments. Therefore, Steinbeck shows the reader the consequences of a society that alienates those with any type of disability be it a physical or mental one. Overall, each character’s impairment emphasizes their low position and isolation in Steinbeck’s societal hierarchy and how those unable to speak for themselves will never be able to if society continues with that mindset.
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