How does Steinbeck present Lennie as a disadvantaged character in the novel Of Mice and Men?
John Steinbeck's novella contains a number of characters who are diasadvantaged, with Lennie Small as the most prominent of them.
- Zoomorphism - In the exposition, Lennie drags his feet "the way a bear drags its paws" as the two men walk down the road from Soledad toward a clearing. He is described as pawing the water when he leans down to the stream for a drink. In the denouement of the narrative, Lennie comes back to the clearing, "as silently as a creeping bear." This comparison to an animal certainly connotes lack of mental acumen.
- Lennie's surname - His last name which obviously does not suggest his physical size, hints at his diminished mental capacity. On the other hand, George's last name--Milton--suggests great insight, an insight upon which Lennie is dependent.
- Lennie's poor memory and inability to reason well - As George and Lennie converse in the exposition, Lennie has memory lapses and George must remind him of past incidents, as well as why they are in the clearing. Lennie becomes upset, too, as he believes that he has lost his work ticket because he does not remember that George has kept it. That his reasoning is poor is also proved when Lennie mistakenly thinks George is angry with him over his remark about wanting ketchup on his beans for their meal in the clearing. Consequently, he tries to ingratiate himself with George by saying that he would not eat the ketchup even if they had it, but would let George have it, instead. In another episode, Lennie demonstrates his poor reasoning: As Crooks taunts him in the barn by saying that George is not going to return from town, Lennie's only defense is childlike as he retorts that George would not do that. He does not think that George would return for his things in the bunkhouse, or that he said he would be back, etc.
Lennie's diminished capacity and his disadvantages represent the situation of the itinerant worker during the Great Depression. Treated poorly, they were made to feel inferior by the managers of the large farms and some of the owners of the ranches, such as Curley, who seeks to intimidate the men. Commenting on his personage, Lennie Small, Steinbeck wrote that Lennie was created to represent "the inarticulate and powerful yearning of all men."
- Lennie's lack of physical control - When Lennie works, he does pace himself as a wiser man would do. When he grabs anyone, his emotions control the situation and he is unable to regulate his power. A smarter man would know not to really harm Curley; he would just let Curley feel his strength enough that Curley would understand what could happen; with Curley's wife, he would just restrain her until she calmed down. But, Lennie in his panic inadvertently kills the little woman.
Lennie is disadvantaged in many ways in the novel. Primarily we think of his limited mental capacity, as George has to care and provide for his friend. We see this as George is responsible for everything from bus tickets to food.
Lennie also as the misfortune to have a feeble mind in a very strong body. He does not appreciate or understand his own strength as we see him destroy anything living from mice to Curley’s wife. His physical strength presents a challenge to Curley, but as he learns when Lennie crushes his hand, coupled with his lack of cognition Lennie is a lethal cocktail.
Lennie’s other disadvantage is the time in which he lives. He is threatened with being ‘locked in the booby hatch’ and really the options for helping someone like Lennie operate in society were not available. Indeed George chooses to shoot his friend rather than him suffer the torture and indignity which would face him in prison or a mental institution. The itinerant lifestyle of scrubbing for work during the Depression was a desperate time for many, And Lennie shared this challenge with thousands of others. His dream is as unlikely as those of any man around him at the time. As was indicated by Steinbeck himself, "Lennie was not to represent insanity at all but the inarticulate and powerful yearning of all men."