How does Steinbeck reflect the themes of violence and oppression in Of Mice and Men? How do these themes reflect the time in which the novella was written and set?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One distinct way in which Steinbeck is able to reflect the themes of violence and oppression in Of Mice and Men is in the killing of Candy's dog.  The entire sequence when Candy's dog is killed is one where violence and oppression emerge.  Steinbeck establishes that violence in the time period is predicated upon power.  Carlson possesses the power of suggestion, something towards which the other men in the bunk house either actively or tacitly voice agreement.  There is no voice of dissent.  Even Candy who "searches the face of the men" and who understands that "Slim's word was law," ends up acquiescing to power.  In the time period of the Great Depression, poverty and economic disenfranchisement established that power rests in the hands of the few.  Economic disempowerment impacted so many that those who have something, anything, are able to exert power.  Violence becomes immediately an extension of such power.  Carlson's power is enhanced because he owns a Luger pistol, reflective of how violence is an extension of power.   Carlson is able to demonstrate how violence and power are linked to one another.  As he kills Candy's dog, it is clear that there is not much in way of democratic inclusion and a validation of voices.  Rather, power and violence end up reflecting the setting of the 1930s, and help to establish a major condition of the novella's setting.

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