In Of Mice and Men, how does Steinbeck use characters to convey important ideas about society at that time?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As is so often true, there is much of the artist in his art with respect to John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.  For, as a young man, Steinbeck learned much about unmarried male migrant laborers, who were recruited to work during harvest seasons in his native Salinas Valley. In addition, Steinbeck drew from his own experience as a worker on company-owned ranches. From these experiences, Steinbeck formed his socialist views that the community of men was of paramount importance. In order to express this need of men's joining against alienation, Steinbeck drew Lennie, of whom he himself wrote,

"Lennie was not to represent insanity at all but the inarticulate and powerful yearning of all men."

It is this yearning that becomes nearly every character in the novella. Lennie yearns for the rabbit farm and a lasting home with George, George for a place of his own; Candy desires to belong with others and not worry about outliving his usefulness--

Jus' as soon as I can't swamp out no bunk houses they'll put me on the county--

Curley desires respect and recognition as does Crooks, who also craves companionship without which "He got nothing to measure by." Curley's wife yearns for attention and some value as a person: "Coulda been in the movies, an' had nice clothes." 

In short, nearly every character feels displaced and lonely, desiring some meaningfulness in his/her life, a meaning that comes with sharing, with fraternity, with community--that which is sorely missing in the life of the displaced itinerant worker.


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Of Mice and Men

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