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What is the principal theme of Chapter 2 in Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck?

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julier14 | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 18, 2010 at 10:22 AM via web

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What is the principal theme of Chapter 2 in Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck?

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henryscholar | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

Posted August 19, 2010 at 6:38 AM (Answer #1)

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The second chapter of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men - where George and Lennie arrive at the ranch in the late morning and meet some of the other major characters of the novel - functions as both a thematic contrast and extension to chapter 1. There the two men evince a spirit of human attachment and aspiration, especially in George's incantatory retelling of their dream to own a piece of land. Despite George's frustration with Lennie's limitations, both men travel together, share a common history, and are comitted to each other, simulating a family. In contrast, chapter 2 brings two other men into the story who are their polar opposites. One, Curley, the boss's son, is isolated from the working men, estranged from his wife, and kept at arm's length by his father. He is the epitome of inhumanity, irrationally hateful and aggressive toward Lennie simply because the 'bear-like' man is bigger than he is. Similarly, Carlson, insensitive and brutal, later bullies Candy, the one-handed swamper, into shooting his old and feeble dog. This chapter's setting also contrasts with that of the first. The reader moves indoors from the Salinas river valley - lush, vital, full of sunlight and peace - symbolizing the human aspiration for something better, to the ranch bunkhouse -dark (even with daylight outside), cramped, dormitory-like - symbolizing the hardscrabble, subsistent existence of rootless migrant workers. Yet the attachment seen in the first chapter extends even into the dehumanizing environment of the second in the characters of Candy and Slim. With the former, the reader encounters a man whose handicaps - age and one-handedness - might have been embittering, but who reaches out in sympathy to the travelers. In the latter, the reader meets the 'prince' of the ranch hands - quiet and empathetic, who, astounded by George and Lennie's friendship, nevertheless welcomes it as a corrective to the loneliness and isolation of the ranch hand's life: "'Ain't many guys travel around together,' he mused. 'I don't know why. Maybe ever'body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.'"   

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