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There are several methods of characterization that authors use.
- through a physical description of the character
- through the character's action
- through the character's thoughts, feelings, and speeches
- through the comments and reactions of other characters.
- through direct statements giving the writer's opinion of the character.
The first 4 are indirect methods, while 5. is direct characterization.
Of course, the most obvious difference between Lennie and George is their physical size and strength. In the first pages of "Of Mice and Men," John Steinbeck masterfully describes Lennie who goes through the bushes "as silently as a creeping bear":
Lennie dabbled his big paw in the water and wiggled his big fingers so the water arose in little splashes; rings widened across the pool to the other side and came back again. Lennie watched them go. 'Look, George. Look what I done.'
Not only does the reader become aware that Lennie is crudely large ("paw"), but he/she also realizes that Lennie has a simpleness about him like an animal and a child. For, he plays with the water and then asks George to look at what he has done much like a child addressing a parent. The incorrect verb usage is indicative of childishness and/or lack of education/intelligence, as well.
Lennie's name is wryly ironic: Lennie Small. For, he is a huge, strong man ("creeping bear"), yet he is mentally handicapped. Dependent upon George after the death of his aunt, Lennie is doomed to be a migrant worker. And, he has only survived because of the intelligence of George, who has helped him elude retaliation after he wanted to feel a girl's dress and she screamed in fear.
Although Steinbeck describes them as dressed alike, the men differ greatly in both physical mental qualities. George, is "small and quick, dark of face with restless eyes and sharp strong features," and Lennie is offish, "shapeless of face with large pale eyes, sloping shoulders...dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags its paws." Unlike Lennie, George is able to assess a situation. He scolds Lennie for talking to Crooks, the alienated black hustler, telling Lennie to leave him alone. He warns Lennie to not bother Slim or Curley or Curley's wife. While playing cards one night, George asks Lennie is the girl was in the barn when Lennie went in to talk to Slim, "You sure that girl didn't come in like she come in here today?" When Lennie replies "no," George remarks that a woman in a whore house is less trouble:
A guy can go in ...and get ever'thing outa his system all at once, an' no messes...Thee here jail baits is just set on the trigger of the hoosegow.
Lennie, on the other hand, is incapable of any such perception. Like a child, he wants to have a puppy to pet and looks to George for direction. When the hostile Curley confronts him, Lennie waits until George tells him it is all right to strike the man.
Yet,while George's acumen in assessing people and situations is in sharp contrast to Lennie's, they both understand how important it is to have a friend; they both know the vulnerability of the soul:
Guy like us, that work on ranches are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family...With us it ain't like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn. We don't have to sit in no bar room blowin' in our jack jus' because we got no place else to go.
With all the differences among men, Steinbeck masterfully utilizes the marked contrasts between Lennie and George to communicate that there is a yearning in all that is universal.
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