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In the wider scheme of things, we could say that virtually all the characters – all the itinerant ranch hands –are discriminated against. As impoverished and itinerant labourers, with no homes of their own, they rank amongst the lowest in society, and this has negative effects on their outlook and behaviour, as George observes:
After a long time they get mean. They get wantin’ to fight all the time. (chapter 3)
George and Lennie, of course, are temporarily shielded from this by their companionship, although Lennie’s death at the end will seemingly reduce George to a state of extreme loneliness and instability once more. The misery of this kind of existence colours the whole story. In the world of the novel, which generally lacks human warmth and connections, George and Lennie’s friendship stands out as something exceptional, and its end appears all the more tragic.
Lennie is even more at a disadvantage in society due to his mental backwardness, and this makes him all the more dependent on George. Because of his slowness, he is also picked out as a target by the odious Curley who is always looking for a fight. His entanglement with Curley helps to precipitate the novel to its final tragic end.
Two characters at the ranch who are very specifically discriminated against are Crooks and Curley’s wife. Crooks is the only black worker and has to live entirely separate from the others. He copes with this discrimination by withdrawing into himself altogether: ‘into the terrible protective dignity of the negro’ (chapter 4). We see his bitterness come to the fore in his exchange with Lennie (who doesn’t understand) and Candy when they come into his room for a brief space.
Crooks’s situation does not really affect the course of the story; it simply shows another facet of discrimination. However, it is quite different in the case of Curley’s wife. She is discriminated against because of her gender; the men refuse to have anything to do with her because they think she’s a floozy who will cause trouble - even after she’s dead Candy still viciously refers to her as a ‘lousy tart’ (chapter 5). But she needs companionship as much as anybody else, and in her desperation she finally confides in Lennie. This leads to her death when Lennie accidentally breaks her neck after stroking her hair, leading in turn to Lennie’s death and the end of his and George’s friendship and dreams. Therefore, discrimination in the case of Curley’s wife has an important bearing on the outcome of the novel.
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