How are Candy, Crooks, and Curley's wife isolated and lonely in Of Mice and Men?

Candy is lonely because the loss of his hand leaves him unable to work with others, while the loss of his dog deprives him of a source of companionship. Crooks is physically separated from the other men on the ranch because of his race. Curley's wife is lonely because she is the only woman on the ranch. As a result, she has no one to talk to.

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In their own individual ways, Candy, Crooks, and Curley's wife are outsiders on the ranch and in society as a whole. It is because of their outsider status that they are isolated and lonely.

Candy is an outsider on account of his disability. An old man with only one hand, Candy is acutely aware of his condition, and is constantly preoccupied with the thought that he will soon be fired. Inevitably, this makes him feel different from the other workers at the ranch, who at least have sufficient health and youth to be able to change their destinies. Candy's condition also provides the spur for him to jump at the chance to be part of George and Lennie's dream of owning their own ranch.

Crooks is also lonely and isolated. As the sole Black man on the ranch, he's set apart from the others quite literally, forced to live in his own little shack. Crooks confesses that he's lonely, but given the predominant racial prejudice of the age, there's nothing he can do about it. He can engage in superficial conversation with the other men, but that's about as far as it goes. The racial barriers between himself and the others are simply too great for him to be able to forge meaningful connections with the guys in the bunkhouse.

As the only woman on the ranch, Curley's wife is about as lonely and as isolated as it's possible to be. Though much better off than Candy, and with the white privilege denied to Crooks, she's still all alone in the world. Trapped in a marriage that seems less than happy, and with unfulfilled dreams of movie stardom, Curley's wife is so lonely that she often hangs around the ranch hands, engaging in conversation and sexually provocative behavior.

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In Steinbeck's celebrated novella Of Mice and Mice, Candy, Crooks, and Curley's wife are depicted as powerless outcasts who experience isolated, lonely lives on the ranch. Candy's age and disability are the primary factors that influence his feelings of isolation. Candy is by far the oldest worker on the farm and is missing his right hand. Given his age and disability, Candy has been reduced to the role of swamper. Candy recognizes that he is no longer useful on the ranch and understands that it is only a matter of time before he is let go.

Candy's inability to perform manual labor makes him somewhat of an outcast because he spends the majority of the day cleaning the bunkhouse while the men work outside. He cannot keep up with the younger workers and has little in common with them. Candy's only companion is his "ancient dog," which Carlson shoots because it is useless and stinks. After Candy loses his dog, he desperately attempts to become partners with George and Lennie.

Crooks is isolated and lonely because he is the only Black man on the ranch and suffers from racial discrimination. Unlike the other white workers, Crooks is prohibited from sleeping in the bunkhouse and participating in certain social activities. Crooks is forced to live by himself in a small room attached to the barn. Crooks spends the majority of his leisure time alone and is excited when Lennie and Candy enter his room. As a victim of racial discrimination, Crooks is voiceless and cannot defend himself when Curley's wife threatens him. Although Crooks is a proud man and capable worker, he lacks social interaction and resents being discriminated against.

Curley's wife is lonely and isolated because she is the only woman on the ranch and is married to a possessive, insensitive man. Curley's wife had dreams of moving away and being in show business but settled for marrying Curley, who is an insecure, domineering husband. Curley's wife feels stifled by her husband's possessive nature and seeks companionship by flirting with the workers. However, the workers view her as a "tart" and fear that they will lose their jobs if they interact with her. Before Lennie accidentally breaks her neck, Curley's wife expresses her feelings of isolation and loneliness by saying,

Why can't I talk to you? I never get to talk to nobody. I get awful lonely … You can talk to people, but I can't talk to nobody but Curley. Else he gets mad. How'd you like not to talk to anybody?

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Candy is isolated in that after the loss of his hand he is unable to work alongside the other men and is reduced to the role of swamper. Once his dog has been shot Candy has little else to live for and is desperately lonely. He is powerless and afraid of the future. He does not go into town with the other men, and sees the inclusion in George and Lennie’s dream as the only way out.

 

Crooks is isolated because of his race, his disability and his deep mistrust of others. He is physically separated from the other men and has his own room in the barn. His crooked back means that like candy he has limited social or work contact with the other men as he tends the horses. His loneliness forces him to acquiesce when Lennie tries to talk to him. Crooks withdraws his request to be part of Lennie and George’s dream after Curley’s wife puts him in his place. His understandable suspicions and fears about how others treat him return and he cannot see beyond the prejudice he has always experienced.

 

Curley’s wife is the only woman on the ranch and has no-one who will talk to her – including her husband. Her sexuality isolates her from the other characters. She is bored and lonely, but her attempts to engage the attention of the men on the ranch only serve to push them further away from her. She has already given up on her dream of a better life as a movie star and appears to hang her hopes on any man who will listen, as Lennie appears to.

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Almost all of the characters deal with loneliness and isolation to some degree in Steinbeck's novella. The two characters who could be considered the loneliest, however, are Crooks and Curley's wife. For a brief time Candy is also quite lonely.

Crooks is the black stable buck on the ranch. He is also partly crippled after being kicked by a horse. Because he's a black man on a ranch dominated by white men he is the victim of both racism and segregation. He is usually not allowed in the white bunkhouse and the one time he is welcome he is involved in a fight, presumably over race. Candy describes the scene:

"They let the nigger come in that night. Little skinner name of Smitty took after the nigger. Done pretty good, too. The guys wouldn’t let him use his feet, so the nigger got him. If he coulda used his feet, Smitty says he woulda killed the nigger. The guys said on account of the nigger’s got a crooked back, Smitty can’t use his feet.” 

In chapter four Crooks explicitly expresses both the racism he is victimized by and his sense of loneliness and isolation. Crooks explains to Lennie why he's not allowed in the bunkhouse:

“’Cause I’m black. They play cards in there, but I can’t play because I’m black. They say I stink. Well, I tell you, you all of you stink to me.” 

Later while talking to Lennie, Crooks pours his heart out about his sense of loneliness. He tells Lennie how lucky he and George are to have each other to talk to. He says it doesn't even matter what they talk about, it's just the talking that's important. He says,

“A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t make no difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you. I tell ya,” he cried, “I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an’ he gets sick.” 

For a brief time, Crooks's loneliness is assuaged as both Lennie and Candy come into his room. Crooks even offers to lend a hand on the ranch the men are planning on buying. His dream, however, is abruptly put to an end when Curley's wife comes into the barn and begins talking to the men gathered in Crooks's room.

Curley's wife is possibly the loneliest and most isolated character. She is a woman on a ranch full of men. Her husband is often belligerent and treats her poorly. It is even suggested that he cheats on her by going to the whorehouses in Soledad. Thus, she seeks companionship with the other men on the ranch who are generally suspicious of her and use derisive terms such as tramp, tart and floozy to describe her. In both chapter four and five she reveals the level of her loneliness. While talking to Crooks, Lennie and Candy she says,

"Think I don’t like to talk to somebody ever’ once in a while? Think I like to stick in that house alla time?”

As with Crooks, Curley's wife really pours her heart out to Lennie. In chapter five she describes her dreams and how she wound up marrying Curley. She claims she could have been in the movies had it not been for her mother. She even tells Lennie her true feelings about Curley:

"I don’ like Curley. He ain’t a nice fella.” 

Because she feels comfortable with Lennie she allows him to stroke her hair, which, of course, is a terrible idea and it costs her life as Lennie accidentally breaks her neck. Her struggle to seek companionship is fatal. Steinbeck describes her in death:

And the meanness and the plannings and the discontent and the ache for attention were all gone from her face. She was very pretty and simple, and her face was sweet and young. 

Candy is often referred to as being lonely, yet this is only true for a very short time the book. He is old and crippled but at the beginning he has the companionship of his old dog. Unfortunately, the dog is euthanized by Carlson in chapter three. For a brief time Candy feels the misery of loneliness until he hears George talking about the dream of owning his own farm. Candy is immediately interested and offers to put in money to make the dream a reality. The dream ultimately fails and the reader must assume that Candy lived out his days lonely and isolated on the ranch. 

 

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