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Of Mice and Men is a story that exhibits the reality of the American Dream. The American Dream is a desired lifestyle that has been fixed into American society since the beginning of this country. It is perceived as an idea of equal opportunity for any individual in America to achieve their most craved aspirations and goals. George and Lennie’s ideal American dream is to own their own ranch with lots of rabbits and other animals to care for. In Lennies words, he states,’O.K. Someday- we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and-‘ ‘An’ live off the fatta the lan’,’ Lennie shouted. ‘An’ have rabbits” (Steinbeck 14). Although this seems realistic, Lennie’s mental disability and oblivious mentality prevents this dream from being reachable for George and Lennie. This book portrays the theme that the desired American Dream is only realistic for healthy, white males. Of Mice and Men is set during the times of racial and sexist prejudice during the great depression, therefore, the minorities in the book couldn’t obtain the life they desired. For example, Curley’s wife wanted to be an actress, but she couldn’t have that life, since Curley was controlling and taking advantage of her. Curley’s wife comments, “Whatta ya think I am, a kid? I tell ya I could of went with shows. Not jus’ one, neither. An’ a guy tol’ me he could put me in pitchers” (Steinbeck 38). Altogether, Lennie and George were not able to have their desired life because of Lennie’s mental disability. Only the healthy, white males had a chance to the American Dream lifestyle.
To develop this theme, Steinbeck uses Imagery. Imagery, in this story, is used to describe Lennie’s physical appearance. Steinbeck writes, “ Behind him walked his opposite, a huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes, and wide, sloping shoulders; and he walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws. His arms did not swing at his sides, but hung loosely” (Steinbeck 2). The significance of this quote shows that Lennie is a huge man who is capable of harm. In the story, we see multiple occasions where Lennie kills tiny animals because he does not fully understand the capacity of harm; especially to things smaller than him. Realistically, most people understand the breaking point of objects and animals, but because of Lennie’s mental disability, he cannot comprehend this. This gets Lennie into lots of trouble later in the book. In fact, because of his inability to understand this, he kills Curley’s wife by shaking her to hard. Lennie did not purposely kill her. He was so overwhelmed by the soft feeling of Curley’s wife’s hair that he grabbed her it too hard which resulted in her screaming. To stop her from screaming, Lennie covered her mouth and shook her which broke her neck and killed her. This was the main reason that resulted in Lennie’s and George’s American dream to be unreachable.
Figurative Language also helped develop the theme. Steinbeck uses metaphors to describe Lennie’s appearance. In Steinbeck’s words, “… snorting into the water like a horse” (Steinbeck 4), and, “Lennie dabbled his big paw in the water and wiggled his fingers so the water arose in little splashes” (Steinbeck 4). Throughout the story, Lennie is often compared and referred to animals and/or animal like traits. This form of figurative language associates Lennie to nature and animals around him. Consequently, this seems to distance him from the other workers and link his character towards the nature around him more than the ranch workers. Metaphorically, Steinbeck uses these phrases to show the distance, caused by Lennies developmental challenges, between him and the other ranch workers.. This contributes to the theme by exhibiting the advantages normal people have over mentally challenged people.
The main conflict in the story is Lennie and George’s relationship with Curley. Curley loves to pick fights with men bigger than him. Coincidentally, Lennie is a huge man. This resulted in a conflict and physical fight between the two. Being the boss’s son, Curley has full authority over the other men and has no consequence for his actions. Since he is able to do anything he wants, this results in him being very disliked by the other men and women on the ranch. To add on, Curley’s wife comments, “I’m glad you bust up Curley a little bit. He got it comin’ to him. Sometimes I’d like to bust him myself’ (Steinbeck 81). This conflict between the characters helped develop the theme by showing the unfair advantage healthy, white men have over the minorities on the ranch. Over the course of the story, Curley has given unfair treatment to those different from him. For example, Crooks states, ”Cause I’m black. They play cards in there, but I can’t play because I’m black. They say I stink. Well, I tell you, you all of you stink to me’ (Steinbeck 68). Like Crooks, the women and mentally challenged have experienced some type of prejudice on the ranch. This contributes to the theme by showing the special treatment and given advantage to the white men only. Since Lennie and George have to suffer from these disadvantages, this prevents them from living their American Dream.
The American Dream lifestyle that is desired by most people is an inaccurate concept of how the people in America live and are treated. This concept only applies to the wealthy, white men. George and Lennie were working up to their American Dream, but faced hardships, inequality, and conflict on the way. Lennie’s mental disability was the main setback for their wanted achievement. Lennie’s underdevelopment eventually got him and his dream killed. He means no harm, but Lennie does not understand the outcomes of his actions at all. All in all, the author wanted to portray the discrimination minorities faced in America through the unfair treatment and disadvantages black people, women, and mentally challenged people face every day.
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