How does the natural setting of the novel contrast to the ranch? How is the idealized world Steinbeck creates using imagery different than the harsh reality of life on the ranch setting?

Expert Answers
Michael Foster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The two contrasting settings (the secluded pond and the ranch) present diametrically opposed environments in which Lennie and George learn to exist. At the pond, George presents it to Lennie as a place of refuge, where Lennie is to go in case of trouble at the ranch. It is uncivilized, as opposed to the “civilization” of the ranch. It is a place of food and drink, where shelter is not even necessary as they sleep under the stars. All that is needed is in this spot, yet the desire to improve themselves within the social setting pulls them reluctantly to the ranch.

The bunkhouse should be a shelter, yet to Lennie and George it is a place of possible danger. The other men pose a threat at first, though Candy soon becomes a friend. Some, such as Lennie, Candy, and Crooks, are presented as having some weakness. In the world where social Darwinism reigns, it is survival of the fittest only. These three are condemned to be marginalized no matter where they go if people are present. Curley is seen as weak, despite the fact that he is the boss’s son. He cannot control his wife or his temper. He is viewed with contempt by the other men because of his weakness. This weakness (symbolized by his short stature) makes him arrogant and vicious. He is no match for Lennie, however, thus proving that social Darwinism also has its effect over him.