What do Steinbeck's first descriptions of George and Lennie tell us about their characters? What suggests that Lennie has the mind of a child?
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One of the first descriptions of Lennie and George is of them walking "in single file down the path, and even in the open one stayed behind the other." (Pg. 2) This is a significant description because it shows that one of the characters is deliberately following the other--like a child.
The more detailed description of George shows that he has sharp, strong features and "restless eyes." These somewhat simple descriptions give insight into George's character. His strong features suggest that he is also strong mentally, and his "restless eyes" suggest that he is watching over something--he is very observant.
The descriptions of Lennie also give clues as to what his character is like: "pale eyes" and "wide, sloping shoulders." It is said that he "walked heavily, dragging his feet a little"--like a child.
The other information that suggests that Lennie has the mind of a child is the way in which he "flung himself down and drank from the surface of the green pool." (Pg. 3)
It is at this moment that George reprimands Lennie for drinking the stagnant water, warning George of how he got sick the last time. It is obvious at this point that George watches out and takes care of Lennie because he is unable to take care of himself.
The description of their traits state that they are unusual. The traits say that their traits will have an effect on the role they play.
George is definitely the father figure in this situation. Lennie worships him; he mimicks every move George makes from the way he sits/lies back at the pond to the way George checks out the bed when they first arrive on the ranch. This shows his mindset because children mimick the action of adults around them.
He is constantly looking for reassurance and approval from George-a nod, a smile, a positive word. Lennie thrives from those and George knows it. That's why anytime George reprimands Lennie, like a parent would, Lennie hangs his head in shame and George feels guilty and apologizes. Not only does Lennie seem like a child in his actions, his words, too, accentuate that idea. Once the two men have settled down for the night (before they reach the ranch), Lennie wants George to tell the story. Lennie's interjections while George tells the story shows his enthusiasm and excitement and his "tunnel-vision" or focus on the rabbits. Children focus on the little things; adults on the larger picture. From George's description, he focuses on the dream; Lennie focuses on a singular item, the rabbits, like a child would.
Finally, George takes care of Lennie. He states if Lennie ran away and hid in the caves he wouldn't survive because Lennie couldn't find food on his own. George also says that someone would probably shoot Lennie and mistake him for a coyote if he was left to his own defense. George knows that without his parental supervision, Lennie would die.
George is the person in charge and Lennie is the follower. George is small, quick, nervous and sharp, while Lennie is big, shapeless and strong. George behaves like a fatherly figure to Lennie as he always take care of him through thick and thin. Lennie also worships George as his favorite idol as he always embraced his posture, even trying to sit with his knees on his arms, mimicking George at the same time and also “pulled his hat down a little more over his eyes, the way George’s hat was.” Lennie behaves like as if he is George's pet as stated in the text:
“like a terrier . . . to its master.”
Due to their affectionate relationship, Lennie had decided to endure George's tantrums and abuses and George had decided to also endure the frustrations and inconveniences of taking care of Lennie.
Lennie has a mind of a child. For example, during the opening sequence of the story, he appears to be dragging his feet "the way a bear drags his paws," and in the epilogue of the entire story , he enters the the bush "as silently as a creeping bear.", showing he behaves like a animal and looks more like a playful child.
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In the opening chapter, Steinbeck’s descriptions of the two protagonists George & Lennie are the opposite. We instantly understand that George is the leader of the two, “They had walked in single file down the path, and even in the open one stayed behind the other. Both were dressed in denim trousers and in denim coats with brass buttons. Both wore black, shapeless hats and both carried tight blanket rolls slung over their shoulders.” This quote tells us that even when they wear the same clothing and walk in the open they always walk single file and we see George leading the line as Lennie relies on him. But we get a sense of feeling that George doesn’t value himself too much. George is clearly the smarter one who does all the managing. “You fool, you never had your card. I’ve got it. Do you think I’d give it to you and let you carry it?” Lennie is incapable of even holding his own bus ticket so George being the ‘father’ in the friendship guides and teaches Lennie.
We understand that Lennie is a lot bigger physically but mentally he has a disability. Steinbeck gives Lennie ‘animal-like’ characteristics such as “he walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws.” And “He falls to his knees and slurps water from the river, just as a horse might, or a dog drinking water.” These common comparisons Steinbeck gives Lennie tells us Lennie isn’t intelligent, we know this by him not understanding that the water is not fresh.
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