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Lennie can be described as having animalistic qualities.
Early in the book, Lennie is depicted as "dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws." At the end of the novel when Lennie returns to the glen to wait for George, he "came as silently as a creeping bear moves."
There are numerous references in the text that connect Lennie to the animal world, perhaps suggesting that Lennie is unsophisticated to such an extent that he is not actually "civilized." In this way, if we cannot excuse his behavior, we can at least explain why he would act so violently and unthinkingly.
When Lennie projects in a hallucinatory fashion at the novel's end, he imagines that he is speaking to a gigantic rabbit, further establishing an unconscious or subconscious connection between Lennie and the world of nature.
But, what does it mean that Lennie is repeatedly associated with nature? For me, this motif suggests that there is more nuance in Lennie's character than it is convenient to recognize.
"Lennie Small, a simple-minded man of great size and strength" (eNotes).
While we can accurately summarize Lennie's character in the novel in this way, the connections between Lennie and nature imply that this shambling and shy giant serves a greater role somehow than that of the simple-minded brute.
He is a cipher, of sorts, an irreducible figure that cannot be explained via the common and ideologically imbued rhetoric of society. His actions are not conventionally moral or immoral. It is almost as if Lennie stands in as a symbol of nature - not man's nature but Nature itself - and while George attempts to protect and befriend Lennie, the connection between the two cannot be maintained.
To participate in the life of the society (keeping a job and having a social life), George cannot also keep living alongside Lennie.
Of course, this is only one way to interpret Lennie's character - one way among many. The idea here is simply to suggest that Lennie, in his animalism, is not reduced to simple-mindedness. His mind-set, rather, is something to be reckoned with and may be a more complex statement from Steinbeck than is commonly or easily understood.
Lennie might be described as;
- simple: Lennie has a very plain outlook and mentality, although this is largely a euphemism for his lack of intellectual development.
- physically large: This is Lennie's main asset in finding work.
- childlike: Lennie doesn't really understand things from an adult perspective, particularly the idea of what can and cannot be done in an adult context (like grabbing women's dresses)
- tactile: Lennie enjoys textures and the sense of touch; this is why he is enamoured of women's hair, as well as the rabbits he wants to tend.
- unlucky: Lennie simply cannot take care of himself and seems to bring misfortune to anyone he crosses paths with.
- loyal: Lennie maintains absolute faith and trust in George throughout the story, which is what makes George's execution that much more bitter.
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