What are the major conflicts (man v. himself, man v. man, man v. nature, man v. society) in Of Mice and Men?

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readerofbooks's profile pic

readerofbooks | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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This is a good question. The whole book is filled with conflict. This is why the book is so tragic. 

First, we have the conflict between the rich, who own land, and the day workers. The poverty of workers like Lennie and George is great. They really have nothing, whereas those with wealth are far better off, and they have power. Moreover, they use this power to exploit the laborers. 

Second, even among the workers there is conflict. For example, when George and Lennie arrive at the ranch, they have to make a place for themselves. No one really accepts Lennie; they tolerate him as long as he keeps to himself. Curley is downright hostile towards Lennie. Candy is always filled with insecurity because of his age, and Crooks, as a black man, always feels alienated. 

Third, there is also conflict among the sexes. Curley's wife is not even given a name. She also feels alienated from the men, as they avoid her. She is almost made to feel non-existent.  

Fourth, there is also conflict within. This comes out when George has to make a decision of what to do with Lennie when he accidentally kills Curley's wife. In the end, he shoots him. 

mercut1469's profile pic

mercut1469 | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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In general, there are four types of conflict in literature. Three of these conflicts are external and one is internal. There are excellent examples of two types of external conflict and an internal conflict in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. The most common of the external types is probably a conflict between two people or groups of people, often labeled man vs. man. An example of this is the antagonism that arises between Curley, the boss's son, and the common laborers who work on the ranch and live in the bunkhouse. This conflict intensifies in chapter three when Curley believes that Slim is in the barn with his wife. The conflict ultimately leads to the fight between Curley and Lennie at the end of the chapter and leaves Curley with a deep resentment of Lennie.

Another type of conflict is when an individual or group are set against the norms or laws of society (man vs. society). There are three good examples of this. One involves the old swamper Candy and his dog. Society, represented by Carlson and Slim, deem the old dog unfit to keep living. Candy, who loves the dog and doesn't want to part with it, is eventually overruled by society and the dog is euthanized. Later, Candy comments that he should have shot his dog rather than having Carlson do it. Another example is the racism which is exhibited by the larger white society against the stable buck Crooks. Crooks is ostracized from the bunkhouse because he is black, and he is often not able to associate with the group of white workers who are the majority on the ranch. Curley's wife is much like Crooks in that she too is an outcast because she is a woman living on a ranch dominated by men. The society of men will generally have nothing to do with her and they usually refer to her with derogatory remarks.

The best example of internal conflict (man vs. himself) is George's feelings about his friendship with Lennie. On one hand, he loves the big man and seeks to be his caretaker and protector from a society which has little patience for people who are mentally challenged. But, on the other hand, George yearns to be free of his responsibilities. He frequently comments that life would be good without Lennie on his tail. This internal conflict comes to a head in the final chapter when George brings the gun to the clearing by the Salinas River where he has told Lennie to hide. While he definitely brought the gun to kill Lennie, there is a hesitation as George ponders the awful deed he knows he must carry out. He laments that someday the world will be different; everybody will be nice to each other and there will never be any trouble. George's conflict is only slightly mollified at the end of the book when Slim suggests that George had no choice in the killing of Lennie.

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ask996 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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man v. society= neither man have the abilities or means to achieve the dreams they have in the society in which they live. man v. society=the inability of people to accept Lennie's disability man v. self=Lennie's disability and size cause him to do things he doesn't understand nor can control (the desire to pet soft things and getting carried away) man v. self=George understanding that killing Lennie himself is better than what society would do

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