In Of Mice and Men (1937), John Steinbeck conveys the theme of the ‘American Dream’ and fleshes out its hypocrisies through a variety of characters. He uses realist and optimist characters providing us a diverse perspective on the dream. Throughout the book, we begin to understand how important the dream was back then. Steinbeck also displays the sexist and racist views upon woman and black men during that time. The title of the book derives from a poem in the 18th Century by Robert Burns: ‘The best laid schemes of mice and men, Often go wrong, And leave us nothing but grief and pain, Instead of promised joy!’.
It is about a mouse who carefully builds a winter nest in a wheat field, only for it to be destroyed by a ploughman. All the mouse ever wanted was warmth and security but has to face the reality of an inevitable fate. This poem runs perfectly parallel to the story of George and Lennie’s fantasy eventually crushed by society. Already from the title can we predict a tragical end. The book is based around two bindle-stiffs, Lennie Small and George Milton. Lennie’s name contradicts his physical features as he is strong and big. He’s actually likened to an animal, ‘the way a bear drags his paws’.
On the other hand, ‘Small’ could be recognised as a metaphor for his limited intellect and the ‘small’ men who are crushed by society. This book is set during the age of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. As a response to the lack of money and the richness of the land the dream consists of living ‘off the ‘fatta the land’ and having ‘nice clothes’. George and Lennie were typical victims of these crises. Farmers were forced to work harder to receive the same amount of pay. This essay will illustrate how idealistic and ephemeral the American Dream was but also how important it was.
Steinbeck introduces us to the book by enveloping us in an Edenic environment and by using metaphors outlines what the dream consists of. There is a ‘deep’ river, which underlines how people want a fuller and meaningful life where they can rely on themselves and not spend the set of their lives working on a ranch. The water is ‘warm’ which represents hope, where people want a life of ease and relax so they can choose, instead of the ranch owner, when they want to work. The ‘twinkling’ sands and ‘golden’ slopes resemble the wealth of which the people who believe in the dream yearn for so they wouldn’t have to worry about shortage.
It also presents the popularity of the Gold Rush in California. Warmth, twinkling and golden all are a semantic field relating to a description of a star. A star being tens of light years away could be a metaphor for the ‘American Dream’ George and Lennie are following. This could mean the dream is impossible to reach but is a guide or motivation, like the three wise men following the star. Furthermore, the symbol of a star is used universally especially in religious ways; therefore, it may suggest there are hundreds of men following the dream.
The warmness also could represent the warmth of the friendship between them and the romanticised dream that they share. John Steinbeck describes the ranch as a depressive place. He begins the novella in the ‘South of Soledad’. Soledad is Spanish for solitude and loneliness and ‘South’ represents it is below or lower than this lonely place. Furthermore, the bunk house on the ranch is described as an animal cage where the rich keep the poor. ‘In three walls there were small square windows and in the fourth, a solid door with a wooden latch’. The workers were treated like animals and were used to cultivate the land.
The only entertainment they had were some ‘western magazines’ but anyhow they loved them. The stories in the magazines were about cowboys, and they were allowed to roam the lands freely. So the stories contrast to the workers. It also could be portraying the dream as the magazines creates a way of escaping the ranch, mentally, towards freedom. The small windows and locked doors suggest the workers will have to think to achieve this freedom, to escape the ranch. As it is these people (who are rejects of society) which envision a land like Eden, show that the weakest only believe in the ‘dream’ for motivation.
Also, the weak usually find it difficult to achieve things; therefore, we believe the ‘dream’ is not possible to achieve. In the introductory paragraph, the perfection and value of nature are described but is disturbed by the intrusion of humans in the second paragraph. The ground is ‘beaten hard by boys’, ‘beaten hard by tramps’, and there is a ‘ash pile’. The word ‘beaten hard’ is repeated to emphasise how that humans didn’t just intrude nature but took advantage and abused it which may hint that the humans led themselves into the Dust Bowl.