How does character ambition form Of Mice and Men?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Steinbeck does a great job in exploring how the primary motivations of different characters advance the narrative.  The opening section helps to bring out two of these particular motivations in Lenny and George.  The latter's primary motivation is to develop a means of making money, and enjoy the life associated with it.  However, there is a competing motivation present to integrate a vision of a future with Lennie.  The first section brings out how Lennie's hope of a farm is linked with George.  When Lennie tells George, "I can go in a cave," if he was no longer a part of George's vision of the future, George backs off of his own individualistic dreams and shares the vision of the future that includes Lennie. In this dual competition of ambition, the primary tension of the novel is present.  George's paradox of ambition lies at the heart of the narrative.  Does one act for their own sense of being in the world or seek to broaden it and include others in a more collective vision?  George battles the demons associated with both throughout the novel, all the way until the end when he takes Lennie's life.  The other characters in the novel all represent some form of these motivations, but in the despair of the time period, Steinbeck might be making a larger statement about where human ambition lies.  Individuals who embrace the shallow pursuit of self- interested ends might be doomed to futility in their desire for happiness.  Individuals who seek to embrace the more challenging pursuit of constructing reality different than what is, embracing a more collective vision of the future, represent  "the inarticulate and powerful yearning of all men."  Individual ambition seems to be poised within this dynamic in the story.

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