How does being different combined with the prevailing attitudes of intolerance lead to tragedy in Of Mice and Men?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Being different" is shown to fly in the direct face of intolerance in Steinbeck's novella.  The tragic consequences that result from this collision are death, loss of identity, and a sense of alienation that traps people into understanding a need to be different, but complacent in the intolerance and lack of validation that might come with being different.  Tragedy arises from this condition of being.

Fundamentally, characters are defined by their status of being "different" in combination with the prevailing attitudes of intolerance.  A symbolic representation of this would be Candy's dog.  It is "different" in that it is old and in an older stage of life.  The dog smells and does not really embody much of what is "accepted" in terms of a dog's purpose.  Carlson targets the dog because of it being different. He never relents in seeking to eliminate the dog primarily because it's different.  In Chapter 3, his justifications as to why he feels the dog needs to be killed is because of its different capacity.  At the same time, I think that being different is what causes Lennie to wind up in so much trouble.  Curley perceives Lennie to be different, which is why he misreads Lennie's smiling as meaning to cause offense.  Lennie is also seen different by Curley's wife, which is why she confesses her own dreams to him.  This causes him to be in close proximity to her, enabling the tragic conclusion to unfold.  

Being different and its inevitable collision with the attitudes of intolerance can be seen towards the end of Chapter 5 when Candy's wife, Lennie, and Crooks all represent the narrative of "difference."  Yet, for all their differences, they collide with the prevailing attitudes of intolerance when Curley's wife puts them all in their social place.  In this scene, being different flies into the direct intolerance of social reality that defines their reality.  Emotional tragedy results from difference colliding with the attitudes of intolerance.

At the same time, it is precisely being different that leads to the tragic conclusion.  George has to kill Lennie because he's different.  George recognizes that he has to take care of Lennie and tend to him, honoring the promise made to Aunt Clara.  At the same time, George also understands that the need to kill Lennie comes from his own compassion towards him, an attitude that is fundamentally different from others.  In this, the reality of being different combines with attitudes of intolerance to render a tragic emotional reality.

lugana | Student

This is the whole question I couldn't write it all.

How does being different and the prevailing attitudes of intolerance lead to tragedy in the story? Discuss examples of these issues with all the characters in the novel that are different, and as a result play tragic roles. Take care to show the relationship between the way in which each charater is different from normal, and how each character is oppressed by the intolerance or disregard of others.