How is the theme of loneliness developed in chapter 4 of Of Mice and Men? Think about the characters Lennie, Crooks, Candy, and Curley's wife.

The theme of loneliness is developed in chapter 4 of Of Mice and Men through its characters whose actions are motivated by isolation. By emphasizing the specific loneliness of Crooks and Curly's wife, as well as the brief relief that the men get from dreaming about a future farm together, chapter 4 shows how loneliness can make people behave in aggressive and even anti-social ways, especially when they are openly marginalized.

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John Steinbeck emphasizes the theme of loneliness in chapter 4 in several ways. Firstly, he emphasizes the racial alienation of Crooks, the sole Black worker on the ranch. Crooks initially rejects Lennie's company because of how white society sees fit to shun and abuse him, even though he is lonely deep down. He mentions his past, specifically how he felt alienated even while playing with white children and how his father advised him not to fraternize with white people. Now that he is intentionally shunned on a daily basis, he says he understands what his father meant.

Crooks's loneliness, while unique from that of other characters in the book due to the racial nature of it, nevertheless ties him to the other characters in the novel. Like Curly's wife or even Lennie during this scene, he is seeking relief from his loneliness, even if he is too proud to admit it.

Steinbeck offers his characters temporary relief from their alienation by gathering several characters in Crooks's harness room dwelling: in addition to Lennie, Candy also makes an appearance, getting over his prejudice and treating Crooks with respect. The three men discuss plans of a farm. Though Crooks mocks it, Candy convinces him that buying a farm might be economically within their reach. The three men get to dreaming aloud together, and this dream of land ownership allows them to briefly overcome their loneliness.

Unfortunately, their moment of companionship is interrupted. Curley's wife appears. Like Lennie and Candy, she's been driven to the harness room by her own loneliness since her husband has gone off to a brothel with the other men. When the trio ignores her attempts to connect with them, she starts mocking their "weak" natures (Crooks has a crooked spine, Lennie is mentally challenged, and Candy is old). Like with Crooks, loneliness prompts Curley's wife to lash out, and when her desire for company is not given to her by the men, she starts making threats at Crooks. Ultimately, the brief companionship between the men is dissolved, and Crooks ends the section alienated once more. And like Curley's rejected wife, the rejected Crooks lashes back out, retracting his desire to join the others on the farm.

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In this chapter, four marginalized figures—Crooks, Lennie, Curley's wife, and Candy—meet up on the ranch when the other, more mainstream ranch hands go out together on a day off.

Each of the characters reveals deep loneliness. Crooks, when he realizes Lennie presents no threat to him, opens up at length to him about how lonely he is. Because of rampant racism, the other ranch hands refuse to let Crooks sleep in the bunkhouse and don't ask him to join their activities. Crooks is achingly lonely, a loneliness that work and reading can only do so much to alleviate.

Lennie, meanwhile, is lonely and lost without George. He grows frightened and aggressive when Crooks taunts him about George possibly not coming back. Crooks backs down when he realizes Lennie can't tell he is teasing, but the interaction reveals how dependent Lennie is on his friend.

Curley's wife also shows up and complains about her loneliness as the only woman on the ranch. She feels unhappy in her marriage with a narcissistic, self-absorbed husband. She too reveals herself as an outsider.

Candy's age and handicap—his hand was chopped off in an accident, and he was reduced to a swamper, a loss of status—marginalize him. He is lonely, especially after his elderly dog is shot, and worries about his fate when he can no longer work. He is very much committed to wanting to be part of George and Lennie's dream of a ranch.

These outsiders reveal their loneliness and need, but they also find it difficult to connect with each other in any real way: each is lost in his or her own pain.

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A group of the ranch hands have been left behind, deserted by the others who are out enjoying themselves a bit.

In this chapter, we see Lennie, who is socially at a disadvantage because of his mental challenges, reach out to Crooks, who is socially at a disadvantage because of his race in this era. Lennie feels a bit lost without George, and this loneliness prompts him to reach toward another person in friendship:

Lennie smiled helplessly in an attempt to make friends.

Crooks said sharply, “You got no right to come in my room. This here’s my room. Nobody got any right in here but me.”

Lennie meets rejection; Crooks is legitimately concerned about any possibility of incrimination against his character because black people in this era were regularly lynched. In fact, we see Curley's wife threaten just this later in the chapter:

Crooks stared hopelessly at her, and then he sat down on his bunk and drew into himself.

She closed on him. “You know what I could do?”

Crooks seemed to grow smaller, and he pressed himself against the wall.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Well, you keep your place then, Nigger. I could get you strung upon a tree so easy it ain’t even funny.”

In these characters, we see loneliness fueling anger which leads to further isolation. Because Crooks is excluded from society, his anger about that isolation spills over onto Lennie's genuine attempts to befriend him. Lennie is thus left lonely without George's presence. Curley's wife is not well-suited for ranch life, and she has a wandering eye that longs for more than her husband can provide for her—especially in this setting. She feels isolated, without any real female companionship, and surrounded by men whom she can't relate to. When she enters the bunk house, she insults the men, commenting that the other men left all the "weak ones" behind, and then when she is asked to leave, she speaks to her own isolation:

Think I don’t like to talk to somebody ever’ once in a while? Think I like to stick in that house alla time?

After she strikes out at Crooks, Candy tries to defend him; Curley's wife insults him as well, telling him that if he dares speak against her, no one would believe him. He sadly agrees.

This group represents those who are isolated from their society, and their varied attempts to connect with others leave them bitter, frustrated, and detached. This sense of a group of individuals who are isolated even from each other furthers the bleak tone of the plot.

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