Is the 'American Dream' presented as a myth or a real possibility in 'Of Mice and Men?'John Steinbeck's, 'Of Mice and Men.' How do I Link the novel to the country it was set in and how the...

Is the 'American Dream' presented as a myth or a real possibility in 'Of Mice and Men?'

John Steinbeck's, 'Of Mice and Men.' How do I Link the novel to the country it was set in and how the influence of the depression has on America at the time, paticularry the trouble of the migrant workers farm workers in the middle of America?

Asked on by sadia-x

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e-martin's profile pic

e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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We can see the American Dream in this novel as an emotional shelter that serves as an escape from the harsh realities of America at the time. However, I don't think we can look at this novel as a commentary on the American Dream, per se, not if we are defining the American Dream in a financial or status-oriented way.

If we take a more political interpretation of the American Dream and focus on the promise of equality and the idea that everyone has equal value as a human being, then we can begin to see this novel as a comment on the stumbling blocks to that practical, social equality across race, gender, and mental ability.

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that in many ways Steinbeck is portraying the futility of the American Dream.  It is there for everyone, but no one can achieve it. In this book two characters are trying desperately to reach the America Dream, but it is not a reality for them.  Metaphorically, it is not really possible for any of us.  Those who achieve it are the exception, not the rule.  It is, however, the myth that keeps us going and helps us achieve whatever we do achieve.

kiwi's profile pic

kiwi | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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It may be useful to examine the idea of the American dream from its original inception and its implication for those men living through the Depression. Wikipedia tells us that the initial outline of what the American dream should culminate in was highlighted by James Truslow Adams in 1931 –

  "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement"

This is interesting in that the Depression was already eating away at the core of America by this time. It is as if even at its inception the dream was only ever that for most people.

The American Dream’s political origin can be said to be the Declaration of Independence. However it was certainly apparent by the 1930’s that if all men were created equal, they certainly weren’t treated as such.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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When the Great Depression occurred, many saw it as the result of failed capitalism.  Thus, the disenfranchised and lower socio-economic classes turned to socialism as a solution.  (Do we not see parallels to this reaction today?)  As a result of the loss of their jobs and their inability to provide for their families many men abandoned these families in desperation and migrated to California in search of work.  Riding for long hours in boxcars of trains, men began to develop a camaraderie which reinforced Steinbecks ideal of the fraternity of men as a solution to their alienation.  During this terrible economic time, men spent their days simply worrying about obtaining enough to eat, surviving their isolation and competition with others.  Few entertained hopes beyond the near future.

That Lennie is the keeper of the dream for him and George indicates that this American Dream is mere illusion.  Yet, while George's incredulous recitation of this dream is done primarily to satisfy Lennie, George does come to believe that their dream may find fruition:  "I was beginnin' to believe it, myself."  However, with Lennie's death, the dream dies as well:  "Guess I knew we'd ne'er do her,"he tells Slim as they walk up the hill.

In John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, the American Dream is an illusion.  The men's only protection from their terrible aloneness is in the fraternity of men.

auntlori's profile pic

Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Your topic is a little different from your post, so let me address each.  Is the idea of the "American Dream" achievable in the context of this novella?  Yes, but certainly not by everyone.  Women, blacks, and the mentally or physically disabled certainly did not have a chance of achieving this ideal.  Even Curley, who appears to have it all, is unhappy and unfulfilled.  The only character who seems to be content and flourishing is Slim, primarily because he has everything going for him, he's not really a migrant or vagabond, and he's content with who he is.  In a "non-Lennie" world might have the same opportunity, but not in the story as written. 

Others will, I'm sure, give you more insight on the historical connections, but Of Mice and Men is clearly a denunciation of the inherent cruelties of the migrant-worker life.  These men have no place of their own, no real stake in where they're currently working, and no "normal" connections to each other outside of their common need to produce for someone else in order to provide for themselves. 

This is an interesting idea to pursue!

 

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