How does John Steinbeck present the American life and society in the ranch environment throughout Of Mice and Men?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Steinbeck presents American life and society in the ranch environment as very difficult to endure.

The life of the ranch hand was one filled with challenges.  The hardship of a ranch hand's life was not widely publicized.  Known as "bindlestiffs," they moved from job to job.  They were transients.  Steinbeck wanted to call attention to their plight in Of Mice and Men.  It is for this reason that he presents their life in a detailed manner.  Steinbeck brings attention to something previously silenced.

The difficulty that is a part of the ranch hand's life can be seen throughout Of Mice and Men.  Steinbeck's first description of life in the ranch environment reflects a sparse existence:

Against the walls were eight bunks, five of them made up with blankets and the other three showing their burlap ticking. Over each bunk there was nailed an apple box with the opening forward so that it made two shelves for the personal belongings of the occupant of the bunk.

Living in bunk bedding with burlap ticking for mattresses along with reducing one's life to a two-shelved apple box shows difficulty.  It shows that the ranch hand's life was very spartan, a life filled with a lack of comfort or luxury. 

In addition to the physical difficulty of ranch life, Steinbeck depicts emotional difficulty.  Crooks talks to Lennie about how the ranch hand's life is filled with loneliness, especially for people of color.  Candy's experiences also reflect a sense of emotional difficulty.  Candy has no family or next of kin. The only companion he has is his dog, who is killed.  Slim talks about the emotionally difficult isolation that is a part of a ranch hand's life:

"Slim looked through George and beyond him. 'Ain’t many guys travel around together,' he mused. 'I don’t know why. Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other."

These painful aspects are matched with the disrespect that ranch hands experience.  Curley and his father bully and intimidate the ranch hands.  All of these conditions show a very emotionally difficult way of life on the ranch.

In the Great Depression of the 1930s, American life and society was filled with hardship and difficulty.  The spirit of Social Realism that animated Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men compelled him to depict as many aspects of American life as possible.  He wanted to show the difficulty that ranch hands experienced in American life and society. Through depicting both emotional and physical difficulties in the ranch environment, Steinbeck is able to give voice to something previously silenced.

Read the study guide:
Of Mice and Men

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