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In Steinbeck’s novella the focal theme of dreams is central in providing the characters with a sense of hope. Nevertheless, the futility of these aspirations is immediately expressed in the title, “Of Mice an Men”. The origin of which is from the Robert Burns poem, “To a Mice”. In this poem the core idea presented is that the dreams of men always go wrong, consequently bringing about tragedy. This is expressed in the opening line, “The best laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft agley”; consequently establishing a sense of tragic inevitability.
Throughout the book, George talks wistfully about his mental picture of the farm and this has an extraordinary effect over his companion Lennie. When George is recollecting his prophesy, Lennie sits “entranced” and is overcome by a childlike enthusiasm. Steinbeck uses George’s dream like descriptions, which are the very opposite of their present existence, to slow down the pace of the novel and provide a period of calm before the storm. Due to the clear ambition he holds dear to himself, the dream of owning his own “little house”, he perseveres to stay out of trouble and responds with a determined tone, “I ain’t puttin’ out no two and a half”, when Whit encourages him to go out and witness a possible brawl.
Steinbeck shows the power of their dream when Candy is inspired to join them and the characters experience a moment of hope, as they sense the real possibility of an existence, in which they can “live off the fatta the land”. Their dream mirrors the Jefferson Agrarian Myth, which was a redeeming aspiration, held by many of the itinerant workforce, who were treated appalling, as a result of the social and economic problems caused by the Great Depression. Candy recognises that owning a piece of land, along with the status and self-esteem it would provide, is a dominating thought of the majority of his fellow ranch workers when he proclaims, “sure they all want it”.
It is not just the men who are transfixed by aspirations of an improved existence, Curley’s Wife also dreams of stardom. When she gets the chance to interact with Lennie, she reveals her dream of being “in the pitchers” in what amounts to a soliloquy. She appears to star-struck and despite her attempts at sophistication she seems pathetically naïve, notably when she is convinced that her “ol’ lady” stole the letter from Hollywood.
Tragically, in the end, the men’s dream is crushed by Lennie’s actions. The loss of hope has a profound effect on the men, as they realise their prospects are now no better than those of all the other itinerant workers. Candy’s immediate concern is that the heavenly future has disappeared and his fear is conveyed in the timid question, “you an’ me can get that little place, can’t we, George?” As a result of his pain he shows no pity towards Curley’s wife, claiming she “messed things up”.
Dreams are a theme in the novel Of Mice and Men because their importance shines through several times throughout the novel. It is what keeps these two men, Lennie and George, together in that their dream is one and the same: to have their own farm one day where they won't have to worry about anyone else or any boss, just themselves. Additionally, and probably most importantly, dreams link this text to the time period it was illustrating. This was during the Great Depression, when many Americans were finding themselves in the same situation as Lennie and George: having to travel far to find work and always striving to get ahead, yet never being able to make enough money to do so. Dreams are the only things America had left, both dreams of earlier, better days, as well as dreams of a brighter future. Either way, the theme of dreams in the novel reflects the need to escape felt by all Americans. Dreams gave them that temporary escape, as well as the hope many needed to continue in a time of such adversity.
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