How Does John Steinbeck Portray Loneliness and Isolation in the Novel “of Mice and Men”?

essay A

Get Full Essay

Get access to this section to get all the help you need with your essay and educational goals.

Get Access

How does John Steinbeck portray loneliness and isolation in the novel “Of Mice and Men”? The novel of “Of Mice and Men” was written in the time of the great depression in the 1930’s in America, this was the time in which Professional workers became Migrant workers due to the Wall Street crash in 1929. The great depression caused many professional workers to turn to working in farmland harvesting wheat. John Steinbeck published the novel of “Of Mice and Men” in 1937 it is set in Salinas, California.

The title of the novel “Of Mice and Men” comes from the poem To a mouse ‘The best laid schemes o’ mice and men Gang aft agley [often go wrong] and leave us nought but grief and pain For promised joy! ’. The poem tells us that the best things always go wrong and leave you with nothing but grief and pain, this relates to the novel well because the best dream of having a ranch went wrong and left George lonely and crooks back to where he was being lonely.

In the novel Steinbeck has created many characters to follow a dream of having a better life and future, but none of their dreams come true, all are shattered when things go wrong and go back in a cyclical cycle. John Steinbeck’s purpose of the novel is to indicate to the readers just how life was as a migrant worker in America in the 1930’s, during the great depression. Steinbeck also wanted to show how lonely and isolated the workers got whilst travelling from ranch to ranch. Steinbeck has set the novel on a ranch Soledad, which ironically means loneliness, which ties into the novel being about lonely and isolated characters.

In the novel the ranch workers lifestyles sound happy and cheerful when they actually are not, they had to work on a schedule. In the novel it mentions that the workers are playing Solitaire, “ George cut the cards again and put out a solitaire lay…” Solitaire is a one-player card game so this also emphasizes loneliness, as they would be on their own a lot to get to the point where they have to start playing one-player games. In the novel the author has produced two lonely characters that both depend on each other to achieve the dreams which they dream will happen, so they can get away from the miserable life they live on the ranch.

George and Lennie follow a father and son like relationship, “Lennie, for God’ sakes do’nt drink so much”, this shows us that George is leading the father role and looking out for Lennie. George leads a lonely life, as he is not able to lead the life he wants to, both him and Lennie go from one ranch to another trying to find work to save money for their dreams. Lennie was isolated from being able to talk to people as George felt he would not be accepted if they heard how mentally immature he was. “ Jesus, he’s jes’ like a kid, ain’t he? Lennie thinks that the only person he can trust and talk to is George, but this is probably due to the way in which George has controlled him and stopped him from being able to communicate with any one else for his own protection and everyone else’s. This is proven when Curley turns to Lennie after the argument with Slim and Lennie has his mind on his Dream and doesn’t know how to react to Curley’s aggression and ends up being told how to defend himself against Curley’s attack, only to take it too far, because he is not aware of his own strength.

Lennies’ immaturity is shown in his dreams about coloured rabbits, which he is always dreaming about tending on his ranch. This is highlighted in his final minutes when he is talking to himself, the rabbit, and his Aunt Clara. This also confirms how much he had come to rely on George and as George was not there he was speaking to himself through other people in his mind, making it look as if he had followed George’s instructions and they had now become Lennies’ Insecurities as George was not there to confirm, he could do what he had always Dreamt. Well, he’s sick of you’ He’s gonna beat the hell outta you with a stick, that’s what he’s gonna do”. This was his conscience telling him that his dream was finally over and during this time cried out for his only friend, George. This was Lennie being child like and confirming the father figure he had been, George said that what Lennie had done did not matter. “I done another bad thing’. ” “ It don’t make no difference”. This displays loneliness by aunt Clara and the Rabbit coming out of Lennies’ head his symbolises surrealism, as no one would think they have big rabbits coming out of their heads speaking in their own voice unless they were like Lennie and have a mentality of a child. In the novel the character Crooks displays isolation. Crooks is the only black person on the ranch and because of his race he has been isolated from the rest of the ranch workers. By being isolated in to his own room in the stable he has had his human rights taken away from him. The author tells us he reads the California civil code for 1905, this is ironic having a black man reading about civil code when he has been isolated.

Due to having his own room and been banned from the bunk house he is not used to having visitors, so when Lennie enters his room he over reacts top everything that Lennie says. “Why aint you wanted, 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 stink to me. ” The way Crooks over reacts to Lennie speaking is because he does not know how to react to having white people talk to him and treat him like anyone else.

Crooks does not have any dream left in him, as he has seen so many people come through the ranch with their dreams, only to leave the ranch with nothing. He was not only isolated from the bunk house, but also from a normal living space as his room was connected to his place of work. In the novel the character candy an old disabled swamper displays loneliness. He is miss seen for his missing hand, he turns to his dog as if it were a human or his best friend, he spoke to his dog in the way you would to a friend if you were telling them how you felt.

Candy could not shoot his best friend himself but realised it was cruel to keep him alive any longer, so after a long and lengthy argument he was persuaded, or some might say bullied by Carlson, to allow him to shoot his dog. Candy only agreed to this as Carlson said that the Dog would not feel a thing. Candy later regrets that he didn’t put his dog out of its misery himself “ I ought to of shot that dog myself, George, I shouldn’t ought to of let no stranger shoot my dog”.

To take his mind off his dog being shot candy becomes enthralled in the Dream of Lennie and George as they are talking about the ranch and land they are saving for and just to confirm they all have the same dream Candy offers the money he has been saving so that there is more chance of his and their dream coming true. Curley’s wife displays both loneliness and isolation. Steinbeck has not given her a name, which automatically indicates her as Curley’s property. By taking away her name he has taken away her identity and ability of being able to express herself for who she really is.

People refer Curley’s wife to names in the novel, which show the fact she’s not liked and known, properly. As a way of trying to get the attention from the ranch workers for someone to talk to, she wears inappropriate clothing. “She wore a cotton house dress and red mules, on the insteps of which were little bouquets of red ostrich feathers”, “She had full rouged lips…, heavily made up. Her fingernails were red. Her hair hung in little rolled clusters, like sausages”. Steinbeck has made Curley’s wife into a character like this to emphasis the amount of isolation in her life.

She lives her dream and emphasises this in the clothes she wears and the way she struts around the ranch almost posing like a film star. Her loneliness and dream of a better life with a richer man away from her mother led eventually to her death, as searching for excitement away from Curley led her to toy with Lennie in the barn, not realizing how immature he was and how he would react to her flirting, caused him to panic when she wanted to stop him all he wanted to do was stop her from screaming, the more she screamed the more he panicked causing him to snap her neck.

The story runs in a cyclical cycle, with Lennie and George in the brush talking about their dreams, only the next time their in the brush it is the time their dream is finally over and George has to do what Candy couldn’t and shoot Lennie himself rather than let a stranger do it. “ You hadda George, you hadda”. As he didn’t want Lennie to be treated like an animal. Irony is conveyed as George always longed to be on his own and in the end he ends up realising that his dream was now over and his loneliness was all he now had to look forward to. “ Because I got you an…” “ An I got you”.

Get instant access to
all materials

Become a Member