Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’, set in the 1930sduring the ‘Great Depression’, showcases what life was like for itinerant ranchworkers back then when economic depression, poverty and social inequalitiesconquered America. It was during this time that alongside the ‘American Dream’,the existence of friendship had started to become questionable. Steinbeck, inhis novella, uses various characters to emphasise the dire need of a companionin every aspect of an ordinary person’s life.
Friendship is a necessity of lifeaccording to Steinbeck and as important as shelter is especially as it wasduring the 1930s. Steinbeck also explicates how his diverse characters areaffected when they live with or without Friendship; the presence or absence, ofthis abstract necessity, is the motivation for the character’s actions andbehaviour towards their relations with other workers on the ranch. Steinbeckcommunicates, with the reader, that loneliness can have various reasons likerace and that friendship, too, is based on several concepts such as trust andprotection. He, then, emphasises how these certain reasons and concepts mould adiverse personality in each character. Steinbeck also highlights how each oneof his characters desire, greatly, an escape from their monotonous lives.
Throughout the novella Steinbeck stresses howCrooks is isolated by the other ranch workers and isunwanted.Crooks’ race is the main danger line and obstacle between the workers and himwhich neither can cross, and this line is symbolised by the workers livingseparately in the bunkhouse while Crooks is boycotted into the harness room.The entrance to the bunkhouse is the obstacle line in Crooks life which doesnot let him blend with the other ranch workers. The first time the readerrealises that Crooks has approached the bunk house is when “…the stable buckput in his head..
.” (P.29 l.22-23) and addressed “Mr. Slim” to show that hecouldn’t enter the bunkhouse because “he’s black”, all he could do was ‘put inhis head’ for a conversation only if it was something important.
Furthermore,the title ‘Mr.’ is used to highlight the fact that Crooks has to respect othersbut he does not get respect in return as he is mostly referred to as a ‘nigger’or the ‘stable buck’ because back during the ‘Great Depression’ segregationbased on race was a norm due to racial prejudice especially for the colouredpeople. In addition, Steinbeck stresses the negative impacts, on Crooks, of hisisolation through the way he behaves at the ranch. “I can do it if you want,Mr. Slim” (P.49 l.29), the tone used here is polite but desperate and full ofstruggle to befriend ‘Mr. Slim’.
Moreover, Steinbeck reveals that “…Crookswas a proud aloof man.” (P.66 l.
8-9) to imply that he had become slightlyarrogant due to isolation and boycotted others the way they cut him off.Crooks, clearly, demands his space from others: “You got no right to come in myroom.” (P.66 l.
31). There is longing for a companion but is masked by anger andannoyance in order to give the other workers tit for tat for their behaviourtowards him. It is this hesitant arrogance of Crooks that separates him morethan ever from the other ranch workers. However, Crooks’ thirst forfriendship gets the better of him when “Lennie’s disarming smile defeats him.”(P. 68 l.1) and makes way into his room.
Steinbeck illustrates Crookspersuasion, to the reader, by ‘disarming’ him with a ‘smile’ that hints towardsa sense of warmth and the beginning of a genuine relationship. Steinbeckemphasises howeasy it was to overcome Crooks’ harshness with just a hint of kindness.It also brings upon the spotlight on Crooks desperation at how quickly heagrees to let Lennie “Come…in and set a while”.
Another effect loneliness has on Crooks is on his stand for himself.Despite the fact that “…he was more permanent than the other men.
18-19), he still “reduced himself to nothing” (P.79 l.3) when Curley’s wifethreatens him.
The use of the word ‘permanent’ indicates that Crooks is more ofa firm man than the others thought and that he is underestimated in hisabilities which reinforces the falseness of the perception of ‘coloured’ peoplebeing useless. The word ‘reduced’ creates an image of a fearful man making anattempt to protect himself from the more powerful (Curley’s wife). Furthermore,Crooks is portrayed as being ‘nothing’ before Curley’s wife and having noimportance. This is due to the absence of friendship because Crooks is wellaware he has no one to support him if he stands up against Curley’s wife and healone can barely prove to be any harm to Curley’s wife. The reader, alsorealises this is the first time Crooks stands up to protect himself and his newfriends which shows that the presence of this new friendship has brought upconfidence in Crooks. On the contrary, Steinbeck depicts an honest andunconditional friendship between George and Lennie.
Their relationship isdeemed unusual as they have each other to look after them unlike the otherranch workers which emphasises how prominently odd it was at the ranch forGeorge and Lennie to prove their friendship. Within the introductory chapter,the reader realises that George and Lennie are “A few miles south of Soledad”(P.3 l.
1), which tells the reader that George and Lennie are close to’Soledad’, literally meaning solitude. It foreshadows the ending of the novellawhen George is left alone because initially they, themselves, walked towardssolitude. Additionally, George and Lennie’s friendship is based on protectionespecially for Lennie because “He ain’t bright.” (P.
34 l.25) enough to lookafter himself. The phrase ‘ain’t bright’ creates an image of darkness meaningthe dull side of Lennie is that he is dull-witted. In this case friendship isportrayed as a relationship of innocence and sincerity. Steinbeck also illustrates the outcome of such a friendship throughGeorge and Lennie’s actions and relations with other ranch workers.
George isthe most ‘normal’ character, without any extremities, found in the novel by thereader. He is neutral with most workers on the ranch which accentuates that thepresence of friendship prevents you from going insane. Furthermore, Lennie’ssurvival up till this age in such a cruel society is only due to his friendshipwith George who has been protecting him since his “Aunt Clara died” (P.39l.
30). Lennie literally grew up under George’s shade; otherwise someone wouldhave used Lennie and pushed him aside to die. Besides, it is only when Georgeand Lennie arrive at the ranch that the real action in the novella startsbefore which the lives of the ranch workers were repetitious.
This accentuatesthat friendship is essential for the change and entertainment in life which everyonerequires.Anyhow, Steinbeck also underlines the independent effects on George andLennie of their friendship. When “Lennie smiled…in an attempt to makefriends.” (P.66 l.
30) Steinbeck shows that for Lennie a companion of his ownintellect level was necessary with whom he could relate his thoughts andemotions. He smiles and tries to befriend Crooks because Crooks, like all blackpeople at the time, was deemed unintelligent. Also, George does not always enjoy Lennie’s company, he, too, needssomeone smart enough to advise him, understand and help him with hisresponsibilities and “.
..if he was alone, he could live so easy. No mess atall” (P.12 l.14, 16). This statement of George allows Steinbeck to clearlyexplain that all George wants is peace and a normal life like any other ranchworker. The presence of such an unbalanced relationship is another reason whyGeorge hastily confides in Slim.
George, desperate as he was, trusts Sliminstantly: “You wouldn’ tell…No, ‘course you wouldn’.” (P.41 l.
14) George’sinstant reply to his own question suggests he is eager to share about ‘Weed’.The word ”course’, used by Steinbeck, clears all suspicion of any doubt oftrusting Slim. Their friendship dies in the end accentuating the fact thatranch workers are meant to be alone. Steinbeck depicts loneliness and friendship in several different waysfor several different characters but with a common central message thatfriendship is the abstract basic need of life just like the physical needs. Hestrengthens his message by illustrating the effects of the presence or absenceof friendship on different personality based characters. He describes theoutcome on their relationships that different race, loneliness and truefriendship cause.
Steinbeck also informs the reader that during the ‘GreatDepression’ loneliness was a law and so all friendships, former or fresh, arelost by the end of the novella.