How does John Steinbeck portray the power struggle among the men in his novella "Of Mice and Men"?1) how power is presented. 2) what is suggested about the idea of power?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ironically, in John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men," there exists a struggle among the men because of their aloneness.  Set against the dire times of the Great Depression, the men are insecure as they have no real home, they are separated from their families, they have no permanent job and must vie for jobs against strangers; as a result, they become distrustful of one another. In this Darwinian setting, the men have a profound sense of their aloneness. 

The Swiss psychiatrist and influential thinker of the twientieth century, Dr. Carl Jung, contended that the healthy man does not torture others--generally, it is the tortured who turn into torturers. His statement proves true with the personages of  Crooks and Curley.  When the racially isolated Crooks, the stable worker, finds Lennie in the barn, he is hostile and then taunts him cruelly:

'George know what he's about.  Jus'talks, an' you don't understand nothing....This is just a nigger talkin'.....  So it don't mean nothing, see?  You couldn't remember it anyways....S'pose George don't come back no more...What'll you do then?'....

Crooks' face lighted with pleasure in his torture.

At the same time that Crooks tortures Lennie, he also makes the remark that

talkin'...and It don't make no differencece...The thing is, they're talkin, or they're settin' still not talkin'

indicating that the communion of men is what is important.  Thus, he proves the verity of Jung's statement.  Likewise, Curley engages in this power struggle/torture in his isolation as the son of the boss and husband of the temptress-wife.  In his insecurity about being short and insecure about this wife, Curley is pugnacious, wishing to fight anyone in his jealous rages.  He verbally assaults Lennie after he enters the bunkhouse looking for his wife because Lennie smiles as Carlson and Candy insult him.  When Curley punches Lennie, Lennie simply grabs his hand and holds it so tightly that he damages it.

Steinbeck, a socialist, believed in the interdependence of society; this theme is explored throughout the body of his works. And, in "Of Mice and Men," he presents the ill-effects of man's isolation in which the predatory human tendencies of man emerge when there is no friend or family who can help him measure the world and no dreams to give meaning to life.

Slim, with his "God-like eyes," understands,

I seen the guys that go around on the ranches alone.  That ain't no good.  They son't have no fun.  After a long time they get mean.


coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The element of power is shown within a hierarchy on the working men's ranch in John Steinbeck's 'Of Mice And Men' and in the main relationship.

In the relationship between George and Lennie, the hierarchy varies. On a day-to-day basis Lennie appears to depend on George for absolutely everything such as food, work and company. However Steinbeck turns this upside-down sometimes too, both with George and Lennie and on the ranch. For example, Lennie is soooo..oo clever at knowing what power He has! He only has to hint at running away or 'doing something silly' to spook George into letting him have some small insignificant thing that he wants - a bit like a child threatening to scream and act up in Walmart!

On the ranch, the hierarchy seems all set but is deceptive. Yes the owner and his son seem to 'have it all' but Steinbeck shows us it's not that simple. For example Curley's bullying and abusive nature is only papering the cracks of his own low self-esteem and human frailty. Financially, the workers are on thin ice and have no say - they own no property which ironically is what George and Lennie dream of owning. They would then have the power to be their own bosses and be independent of everyone else - the best power of all.

archteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are a few things you can look at here:

Power struggle between individuals.  What kind of power dynamic do you see between Curley and Slim?  Curley and Lennie?  Curley and his wife?

Power struggle between social groups:  What do Curley's wife's interactions with the men/her husband say about power in terms of gender?  What does the relationship between Crooks and the rest of the men say about race and power?

Power struggle between farm owners and migrant workers.  This was a big theme in Steinbeck's writing, so you have a lot of material to work with.  Think back to what you know about the Depression and migrant work.  What gives the bosses power to treat their workers so poorly?  Why don't the men just quit?

Good luck!

mickie33 | Student


In Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck the power struggle is seen through the way none of the characters ever seem to win. The characters are surrounded by an atmosphere of strength but, some of the characters are not. George has an almost natural power that he dictates to Lennie and the residents at the ranch respect him for this. Lennie on the other hand, has a strange type of power that is different to George. Lennie is a tall character who is very powerful. However Lennie is seemingly lost without George and lacks power when George is not around. When George is not there, Lennie sits back and does nothing. Slim is a character that is one of the most influential of all the characters at the ranch. He is very strong and influential, but he is also humble which makes him sincere. In Mice and Men it talks about how "Slim doesn't have to wear high heeled boots to say he wasn't a working man." There is an ongoing power struggle in the ranch between the characters which makes it not a very nice place to be. Sometimes the characters rebel and fight for domination over each other. Each character struggles to be friendly with one another all the time.