In chapter 6 of Of Mice and Men, what is the significance of Lennie's dream about Aunt Clara and the rabbit?

When Lennie speaks with his aunt and the rabbit in chapter 6 of Of Mice and Men, he is lucid and awake. He’s not literally dreaming. Each figure comes from the side of his head to torment him. The haunting condemnations are significant because they make Lennie more culpable for his actions and, conversely, more sympathetic.

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First off, calling what Lennie experiences a “dream” might be misleading. Lennie is not asleep or unconscious. In fact, someone might argue that he’s lucid. As other Educators have already pointed out, Lennie has just killed Curley’s wife and is on the lam. When he stops at a bank, “a little fat old woman” and then a rabbit come out of Lennie’s head. Based on John Steinbeck’s own description, it’s probably more on point to describe Lennie as tormented or haunted by Aunt Clara and the rabbit than dreaming about them.

These mysterious, supernatural dialogues might be significant to Lennie’s culpability. They demonstrate that Lennie can reason and does know right from wrong. Perhaps Lennie isn’t as innocent or helpless as he comes across. Maybe Lennie did have the resources to make different choices. Lennie tells Aunt Clara that he “couldn’ help it.” Yet if he knew that he was supposed to help it, there’s a likelihood that he could have shown some restraint.

The idea that Lennie is actually a nefarious figure gains further significance when compared to John Milton’s representation of Satan in Paradise Lost. In this famous poem, Satan gives birth to Sin from his own head. It might not be incidental that both Satan and Lennie have things coming out of their heads.

Conversely, the supernatural conversations with Aunt Clara and the rabbit could be a significant way for Steinbeck to maintain sympathy for Lennie. Neither Aunt Clara nor the rabbit treat Lennie nicely. The rabbit is particularly nasty. He tells Lennie that he isn’t worthy to “lick the boots” of a rabbit. He also suggests that Lennie is going to hell. Without these acidic reprimands, readers might feel less sorry for Lennie and the ending might be less impactful.

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In using Lennie's dream in chapter six in the novel Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck allows readers to see into Lennie's thoughts, to understand his fears. 

In chapter five, Lennie killed Curley's wife. He didn't understand what he was doing, and he doesn't understand his own strength, being mentally challenged. But nonetheless, he has committed murder, and he understands that he is responsible for something bad and that George will be disappointed. 

Chapter six describes the dream Lennie has which opens with his Aunt Clara speaking in Lennie's voice. She is scolding him for doing bad things and being a burden to George. Aunt Clara was Lennie's caretaker before she died, and she asked George to take care of him when she was gone. 

Next, in the dream, a gigantic rabbit scolds him. He tells him he isn't fit to tend rabbits, that he would forget to feed them. He explains how much George has done for him, and that Lennie has been nothing but trouble to him. Clara says (in Lennie's voice):

"I tol' you and tol' you and tol' you, mind George because he's such a nice fella and good to you, but you don't ever take no care. You do bad things. You never give a thought to George. He's been doing nice things for you all the time. When he got a piece of pie you always got half or more. And if there was any ketchup, why he'd give it all to you."

Lennie responds that he knows, and he tries, but he seems helpless against making bad choices or doing bad things. 

The dream highlights Lennie's greatest fears, that he is worthless and causes only trouble to those he loves. He has disappointed his Aunt Clara, George, even the rabbits he so wants to care for. 

The dream foreshadows Lennie's death, which occurs in chapter six when George shoots him in the back of the head. 

George's final conversation with Lennie is about their dream, that they would get a little place and "live off the fat of the land" where Lennie could tend rabbits. It was a merciful act that George allowed Lennie to visualize their dream, keeping his hope alive until the end of his life. 

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In Chapter 6 of Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck uses the dream sequence to give Lennie some depth of character.  The dream functions as a kind of soliloquy, for the reader could not know what Lennie is thinking otherwise.

The dream presents Lennie's great fears: first disappointing Clara and George and then being abandoned by them.  Clara turns into a giant rabbit and tells Lennie that he isn't worthy to tend them on the dream ranch.  The rabbit also tells him that George is going to hurt and leave him.  All of this, more or less, will come true.

The rabbit is an example of Steinbeck's anthropomorphism (attributing human qualities to an animal).  It is obviously an omen that foreshadows Lennie's death.  He almost sees it coming, though he never suspects it when awake.  The rabbit is a symbol that the American dream is an illusion, that it is destined to tempt guys like George and Lennie.  Subconsciously they know that the dream ranch was only a romantic ideal; it could never have worked out.

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In Chapter 6 when Lennie takes refuge at the clearing in order to hide in the brush where George has instructed him, he thinks, "George gonna wish he was alone an' not have me botherin' him." Suddenly, Lennie begins to hallucinate, imagining that his Aunt Clara scolds him in his own voice.  Then, he replies to her,

"I might jus' as well go away.  George ain't gonna let me tend no rabbits now."

In another example of Steinbeck's anthropomorphism, the rabbit, symbolic of the American dream of ownership of a ranch that George and Lennie hold, is another hallucination that Lennie has. As Lennie begins to hear the rabbit in his own voice, his fears that he and George will never realize their dream. Also, the rabbit repeats another fear of Lennie's, that George will leave him; however, Lennie, in his frustration, tries to argue with the rabbit.

Lennie's scolding of himself as he hides provides him some comfort as it is a repetition of what George has always said to him.  But, as his fears grow, and the rabbit becomes increasingly cruel in its scolding, Lennie becomes terrorized, crying out George's name.

This scene of Lennie's hallucinations exempilfies what Steinbeck himself wrote about Lennie,

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

And, Steinbeck's novella concludes with this very yearning that is, indeed, inarticulate and unrealized.  Lennie's illusions are what he dies with because he cannot live without them.  Tragically, as George recites the words of the hopeless dream, "Lennie giggled with happiness" right before George shoots him.



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