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In the clearing of Chapter 1 of Of Mice and Men, as George and Lennie speak of their...

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suzannelucas | Salutatorian

Posted April 10, 2013 at 11:50 PM via web

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In the clearing of Chapter 1 of Of Mice and Men, as George and Lennie speak of their dream and of how they differ from other workers, what important qualities of George and Lennie's characters are revealed?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 2) Distinguished Educator

Posted April 11, 2013 at 1:13 AM (Answer #1)

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In Chapter One of Steinbeck's novella about itinerant workers of the Great Depression, the exhausted George Milton and Lennie Small trudge  into a clearing in the woods where they make camp. It is apparent that these two men have spent much time with one another, unlike the other lonely men of the era who traveled alone from job to job. Because of this companionship, there is a certain comfort evinced between the men. Much like the older brother, for instance, George scolds the child-like Lennie who has hidden a mouse in his pocket. And, when Lennie says he likes ketchup on his beans, George again reprimands him, "Well, we ain't got no ketchup." 

Nevertheless, in spite of his anger and his comments about the trouble that Lennie causes, George cares about Lennie. For, when Lennie begs him to tell him of their future plans, George's voice grows "deeper." As he speaks of their plans to have a little farm with rabbits, George's repeats his words rhythmically as those reciting a mantra:

"Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don't belong no place. They come to a ranch... and then they go inta town and blow their stake, and the first thing you know they're poundin' their tail on some other ranch. They ain't got nothing to look ahead to.,,,,/with us it ain't like that...."

Lennie broke in. "But not us!...Because...I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that's why...."

As they eat, George coaches the mentally challenged Lennie on what to do and where to go if he gets into trouble. Finally, after they make their beds by the fire, Lennie again tells George what he did when George yelled at him about asking for ketchup. "...I can jus' as well go away, George, an' live in a cave." Reaffirming their friendship, George retorts.

"You can jus' as well go to hell,... "Shut up now."

In this chapter, therefore, the reader can rightly infer that George and Lennie have a close relationship, a fraternity, that is uncommon among the disenfranchised migrant workers of the 1920s.  However, it is no equal relationship; George is intelligent and acutely aware of Lennie's shortcomings.  He also is wary of others as he urges Lennie to refrain from talking, if possible. In addition, while George recites their dream of a ranch, his voice takes on a different quality as though he is reciting a prayer, rather than a reality that Lennie is convinced of, as indicated by the italics that Steinbeck uses to emphasize his words.

And, so, George and Lennie are not truly friends because they are not equals. Moreover, George has promised Lennie's Aunt Clara to look out for Lennie, so he feels more obligation than affection toward Lennie.  In an Enotes criticism, "Of Mice and Men:  George and Lennie," it is observed, 

....theirs is a symbiotic relationship. The two men are forced together by common necessity rather than genuine emotional attachment. Lennie, of course, depends entirely upon his long-time comrade, and the very thought of George abandoning him sends the childlike giant into a state of panic.

Perhaps, then, the relationship of George and Lennie points to the interdependence of men, a social condition of fraternity that provides strength to all. With the dream that Lennie asks George to recite, there is also the recognition of man's basic need to hope for a better future.

 

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