“Of Mice and Men is, essentially, a story of friendship and loneliness.” Discuss the extent in which you agree or disagree with this statement.
Of Mice and Men is a story consisting of many different themes recurring throughout the novel, some more prominent than others, and a lot of which are contrasting ideas such as friendship and loneliness. It is debatable as to what extent friendship and loneliness are the most evident themes in the story and which other themes are more apparent, as the book includes an assortment of subjects.
One of the arguably main topics of Of Mice and Men is loneliness. Loneliness is common in many people’s lives, as in the book, where almost all of the characters are portrayed as lonely. The main characters, George and Lennie, have each other yet they are both isolated in some way. Lennie’s mental health detaches him from most other people and George seems to be his only real friend, and even then their relationship is often dependency rather than friendship. Because of their childhood together, George feels responsible for Lennie, although he knows he would be better off without him. “I can get along so easily and so nice if I didn’t have you on my tail” George tells Lennie, when he gets on his nerves at one point in the book.
Steinbeck also uses characterisation such as sexism, racism and ageism to convey loneliness. Candy is an old man who lives on the farm, but with one hand missing he doesn’t make much of an impact on work, and he knows so. “They’ll can me purty soon. Jus’ as soon as I can’t swamp out no bunkhouse, they’ll put me on the country.” he explains. Candy has nor family or any real friends. The workers on the ranch don’t dislike him, but they don’t care much about him either because he is old and virtually useless, a very ageist attitude. All he has is his dog, which is later killed, and in hope of coping with his loneliness, he shares Lennie and Georges dream of owning their own ranch.
Crooks, the coloured stable buck, is lonesome and friendless because of the prejudice and racist views of his fellow ranch workers, typical of that particular era where blacks were thought as inferior in comparison to whites. He has his own room and his own possessions and is not welcome in the rest of the men’s bunkroom. He talks about how is skin colour denies him things the other workers enjoy, “They play cards in there, but I cannot play”.
Curley’s wife could be considered as the loneliest character in the book, as not only is she the only female on the ranch, but her husband, Curley, forbids her to talk to any of the workers. She is constantly flirting with the other men whilst apart from Curley, and is often trying to make conversation with Lennie and George, as they are newcomers on the farm. Aside from all that, Curley’s wife doesn’t even have her own name. Steinbeck cleverly uses the absence of her name to represent the lack of freedom and amount of seclusion she has.
These are all examples of the many lonely characters that the author creates to show how “Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world.”
In contrast to the theme of loneliness, another major subject included in Of Mice and Men is friendship. As additional emphasis to the previously mentioned theme, there are many elements of friendship incorporated within the story line and characters. Lennie and George’s friendship is the main object of this theme. They are such good friends in a time when most people have no one and nothing to rely on, which is what separates them from the other farm workers. They have each other, and although they might not always get along, they stick together through thick and thin, “We got each other, that’s what, that gives a hoot in hell about us.” They are two very different men, both mentally and physically, but in spite of this they manage to put aside one another’s differences and work and travel alongside each other. The reason for this is that it is actually their differences that make them so close.
George is a clever, fit man who always knows what to say and knows how to look after himself and other people, and Lennie is a strong man with a child’s mind who is unaware of his own strength and is unable to look after himself. Although these differences might be thought to set them apart, it in fact brings them closer because they rely on one another. Lennie needs George to help him survive and be looked after, and, even though George knows that he would be fine without Lennie, he sticks by him because he also knows that he would be lonely without a companion and Lennie’s friendship and support is comforting. The two men were loyal to each other right until the end, where George has to eventually kill Lennie for his own sake, so as not to make him die a horrible death, but rather a peaceful one, sacrificing a better life for himself in the name of loyalty for his friend.
This subject of friendship is consistent throughout the book, shown by various different means, yet still always there.
Aside from the two formerly mentioned themes, friendship and loneliness, Of Mice and Men does have other significant and important aspects, such as that of dreams and power. Dreams is a consistent theme combined into the book by an assortment of characters. Lennie and George have their initial dream of earning enough money to own their own farm; George wants to run his own place, and Lennie wants to tend the rabbits. Once this idea is shared with Candy, he volunteers money in return for living on the farm with Lennie and George, which they both agree on.
Crooks has visions of his own, hoping one day for equality of rights for black people and white people, as he is at the time struggling to be recognised as a human being, let alone getting a place of his own. He is angry at how he is treated, and dreams for something better for the people of his race. Curley’s wife also has, or at least had, some dreams. She wanted to be in the pictures and become a movie star because a man one day told her she could act. When she tells Lennie about her story, she is convinced that she could have made it, “He says he was gonna put me in the movies. Says I was a natural.” Although Curley’s wife’s dreams are almost impossible, she hangs onto them, perhaps because she thinks that if she dreams of them long enough, they will one day come true.
The small amount of power, too, that some of the characters possessed, became a developed theme. Although their power was not much, it was enough to keep them going. Lennie had a bit of power because of his size and strength. Most people were scared of him because of what he was capable of doing, especially as he didn’t know his own abilities.
Although Lennie might have been unaware of this power, most other people were. Crooks has his own room, and therefore retains the right to control who comes in to it, giving him a small bit of authority. As he doesn’t obtain any rights within the ranch, this bit of power gives him something to hold on to. Curley’s wife gains some authorization from her husband, as she could get the workers into to trouble, which is one of the reasons why most of them avoid her. She uses this as often as possible, like with Crooks when she shouts at him after he tells her to get out of his room, “Listen Nigger, you know what I can do to you if you open your trap?”
Because all these dreams and bits of power are so small, they might seem worthless even having. However for these characters, without them they would have nothing.
In conclusion, I agree that, although there are other considerably significant themes and subjects included within the story of Of Mice and Men, the most prominent themes are indeed friendship and loneliness because they involve most of the characters and are consistent right from the start to the end of the book.