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With elements of Naturalism, Of Mice and Men portrays men in a struggle for survival against the forces of alienation and disenfranchisement wrought by the Great Depression. Since it has often been said that much can be told about people by their hands, as well as their eyes, it is an interesting exploration of character that examines these hands as representative of these desperate characters.
Portrayed in zoomorphic descriptions, Lennie best illustrates what Steinbeck himself described as "the inarticulate and powerful yearning of all men." When he and George arrive in the clearing of Chapter 1, after flinging himself down and drinking water with his mouth from a green pool, Lennie
dabbled his big paw in the water and wiggled his fingers...
Also, Lennie "held his closed hand" to hide the mouse that he has crushed a mouse with his fingers as he has petted it in his pocket. In Chapter 3 he has been petting the pups so much that George warns him he will kill them. George says, "...he [Slim] told' you not to pet the pups so much." When George tells Lennie to give him the pups, Lennie holds "his hands out pleadingly."
These scenes foreshadow the petting of Curley's wife's hair in Chapter 5. Interestingly, Steinbeck uses the first descriptive word for Lennie's hands from Chapter 1 when Lennie is frightened. In Chapter 3 during the confrontation with Curley, Lennie "covered his face with his huge paws," but when George puts out his hands and grabs Slim, saying, "Wait a minute" and tells Lennie to let Curley "have it," Lennie "took his hands away from his face." Then, again, in Chapter 5, after Lennie accidentally kills Curley's wife, he "pawed up the hay" trying to cover her.
Very little is mentioned about George's hands as he is more cerebral than the other men. When George points to Lennie, "[H]e indicated Lennie with his thumb." As he plays cards with Slim in the bunkhouse, George metaphorically uses his hands as he "lays out his solitaire hand."
It is not until the end of Chapter 5 that there is a focus upon George's hands which yet are ruled by his mind. As he brings the gun to Lennie's head:
[T]he hand shook violently, but his face set and his hand steadied.
Later, when the other men arrive at the scene, George "looked steadily at his right hand that had held the gun."
In at least three instances, Curley is referred to as "handy" (Chapters 2 and 3). In Chapter 2, "his hands closed into fists" when he enters the bunkhouse; he is mocked for having his other hand in a "'Glove fulla vaseline,' George said disgustedly." When he fights with Lennie, his hand is crushed: "Looks to me like ever' bone in his han' is bust." Ironically, Slim uses the word hand when he bends down to talk to Curley,
"You got your senses in hand enought to listen?...I think you got your han' caught in a machine."
Almost no mention of Carlson's hands are made. He cleans his Luger, but the word hand(s) is not used. Instead, he points to Candy's dog with his feet, and his "footsteps are heard." One mention of hands regarding Carlson is figurative as he warns Curley about his wife, "You gonna have something on your hands."
Perhaps, you may wish to examine other characters and how their hands are described. One such character is Slim, whose hands are "large and lean" and "delicate." When there is conflict, Slim "subdues one hand over the other." (Chapter 3)
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