How Does The Account Of Whitey's Quitting Contribute

How does the account of Whitey's quitting contribute to the book's mood of alienation in Of Mice and Men?

Expert Answers
readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the most striking qualities of the book is that there are no friends. There is no community. This is why what is powerful about George and Lennie is that they are together. In fact, when they come together, a few men remark that this is unusual. And even when Lennie and George speak to one another, they often say that they have each other. 

Whitey is just like the rest of the people in the book - alone - much like Carlson, Candy, Crooks, and everyone else. They come, go, and even when they stay they are alone. The passage that describes Whitey is very sad. He dresses up, cleans himself, but he has nowhere to go, no one to see. He is just an odd character who eventually leaves, a vague memory in the mind of a few men. 

“Tell you what,” said the old swamper. “This here blacksmith—name of Whitey—was the kind of guy that would put that stuff around even if there

wasn’t no bugs—just to make sure, see? Tell you what he used to do—At meals he’d peel his boil’ potatoes, an’ he’d take out ever’ little spot, no matter what kind, before he’d eat it. And if there was a red splotch on an egg, he’d scrape it off. Finally quit about the food. That’s the kinda guy he was—clean. Used ta dress up Sundays even when he wasn’t going no place, put on a necktie even, and then set in the bunk house.”

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The fact that Whitey quits apparently for no reason, and no one thinks to question it, reinforces the alienation of the migrants.

George says being a migrant worker is a lonely life.  Most guys don’t have anyone.  George and Lennie are the exception, because they travel together.  The example of the finicky eater Whitey who quit for apparently no reason shows that the life was a lonely one.

"Why... he... just quit, the way a guy will. Says it was the food. Just wanted to move. Didn't give no other reason but the food. Just says 'gimme my time' one night, the way any guy would." (ch 2)

By describing Whitey’s quitting as nothing unusual, Candy reinforces the mood of alienation and loneliness.  Whitey was clearly lonely. He stood out from the others, and that made him even lonlier.

Few of the men on the ranch have any real connection with anyone else.  Whitey's situation is all too common.  Migrants went from place to place, never putting down roots anywhere.  Whitey may have used the food as an excuse to leave because he did not feel like he belonged, or because he never felt like he belonged anywhere.