How is the lifestyle of the itinerant worker considered to be lonely in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men?
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck is a novella which exposes some of the negative aspects of living an itinerant life. He demonstrates these things most through the lives of George and Lennie, two itinerant ranch hands who have no one but one another.
An itinerant worker is one who moves from place to place, sometimes distant and other times not, to follow the available work. The nature of this work is temporary, usually seasonal, and generally the kind of work no one can or wants to do permanently.
The itinerant lifestyle is lonely because it is temporary, so it is virtually impossible for these workers to put down any roots, such as family, or own anything of their own, such as land. The landscape of jobs and people is always changing, and friends are temporary unless they travel together. George says it best:
“Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don't belong no place. They come to a ranch an' work up a stake, and the first thing you know they're poundin' their tail on some other ranch. They ain't got nothing to look ahead to.”
This is why the dream of owning some land, a small farm, a little garden, and of course some rabbits, is so appealing to George and Lennie. All the other lonely or other outcast characters, like Crooks, Candy, and even Curley's wife, who hear about the farm are also drawn to the dream. Having something when you do not have much of anything is an appealing prospect.
This is also why, despite the problems Lennie causes for him and not just because of the promise George made Lennie's aunt, George continues to travel with the mentally challenged Lennie.
“I ain't got no people. I seen the guys that go around on the ranches alone. That ain't no good. They don't have no fun. After a long time they get mean. They get wantin' to fight all the time. . . 'Course Lennie's a God damn nuisance most of the time, but you get used to goin' around with a guy an' you can't get rid of him.”
Itinerant workers lead lonely and difficult lives, and this is something Steinbeck wrote about often in his novels.
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