How does the American Dream affect characters in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men?

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

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The American Dream affects different characters because it provides a horizon upon which their sights are set.  In Of Mice and Men, the American Dream is the ability to see what is and envision what can be.  Steinbeck is skilled enough to create this reality as something that both drives individuals to greatness, but also drives them to painful ends when it eludes their grasp.  For example, George and Lennie envision the American Dream as owning their farm and being their own "boss."  This drives both of them to work as hard as they can and to save up their money without spending much on their own indulgences.  However, the pain that strikes both of them is the pain of not being able to achieve such a vision.  George knows this when he sees Curley's wife's dead body in the barn.  Lennie might never have as clear of insight, but he knows that he "done a bad thing" and that George is "gonna give him hell" as a result.  Candy's dream is to be able to share in this vision, something that drives him and gives him hope, but also causes him to experience great pain when he recognizes its impossibility.  This is seen when he curses Curley's wife's lifeless body.  Curley's wife is affected by the American Dream in her belief that she could be an actress and be in "pitchers."  This motivates her to see herself as Lennie would see her, and as a result, Lennie is unable to control himself and she dies.  Finally, Crooks is motivated by his own American Dream, which ends up being one of inclusion and companionship.  Crooks is left to envision what might be when it is clear that being Black in America  in the 1930s precludes any expanded notion of dreaming. Steinbeck's genius is to show the American Dream motivating individuals to aspire, but also showing how it can crush them when the weight of their dreams cannot be sustained.

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