With both stories set in the 1930s and with characters who are marginalized or brave, there are, indeed, comparisons that can be made between To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.
- Jim Crow Laws
Both Tom Robinson of Lee's novel and Crooks of Steinbeck's novella are victims of the strict laws of segregation as they are separated from whites. Placement near white women is extremely dangerous for both of them; Crooks quickly objects to Curley's wife entering the barn, and Tom is careful when he assists Mayella, not wishing to go near or into the house. The two men know that if the white woman accuses them of something, they will be doomed, probably hanged. For instance, on the day that Tom helps Mayella "bust the chiffarobe [armoire]," after Mayella's drunken father appears on the scene, Tom runs. In the courtroom, Atticus Finch asks him why he ran,
"I was scared, suh."
"Why were you scared?"
"Mr. Finch, if you was a n***r, like me, you'd be scared, too."
Similarly, after Crooks tells Curley's wife,
"You got no rights comin' in a colored man's room....I'm gonna ast the boss not to ever let you come in the barn no more."
he quickly becomes terrified as has Tom Robinson. For, she retorts,
Listen, N***r,...You know what I can do to you if you open your trap?" [implying that she will claim rape just as Mayella has]
Tom Robinson and Lennie Small are "mockingbirds"; innocents who become caught in situations out of their control which lead to their deaths as men with mob mentalities seek to destroy them. Tom is accused of rape because Mayella is shamed by her advances to a colored man and Bob Ewell is enraged that she would act in such a way, so in order to deflect any accusations of breaking the racial code, he points blame at Tom. After Lennie accidentally kills Curley's wife,
In another aspect of his childlike innocence, Lennie is comparable to Boo Radley; both are frustrated in their lives, limited by their capabilities. In Chapter 29 of Lee's novel, Sheriff Tate speaks to Atticus of Boo's "shy ways," personal idiosyncrasies that parallel those of Lennie Small who is also childlike.
Common to both literary works are the themes of Racial Prejudice, Courage, Alienation. Regarding the theme of Courage, George Milton summons the courage to shoot his friend and destroy their dream of a farm so that Lennie will not have to live as a caged animal. In Lee's novel, Atticus Finch, Scout, Jem, Miss Maudie, Mrs. Dubose, and Boo Radley all display courage in different aspects of the narrative. Common to all of these characters is their bravery in doing the right thing when such action is necessary. A close parallel to George's courage is that of Boo Radley, who prevents Bob Ewell from harming the children.