John Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men clearly illustrates how the 1930s were difficult times in which to live as there were harsh conditions from which it was difficult, if not impossible, to escape.
Explore three characters who happen to be caught in such confining conditions.
Three characters who are caught in the desperate and confining conditions of the Great Depression and the 1930s are George Milton, Candy, and Crooks.
- George Milton
Like the other disenfranchised men, George Milton is a "bindle stiff," an itinerant worker who has no real home, no family. He has assumed the responsibility of taking care of the mentally-challenged Lennie Small because Lennie's aunt asked that he do so. With little hope for a future, George goes along with Lennie's hope for having some rabbits to pet and a little place of their own. To appease Lennie, he recites this "dream" although at times he complains that he could get along more easily without Lennie. However, he later confesses that he himself started to almost believe the dream as, perhaps, it has given George some hope.
Because Lennie is not capable of understanding the nuances of people's actions and speech, a worried George instructs Lennie to let him do the talking when they first report to a ranch for a job. This arouses the suspicions of the boss, however, and "[T]he boss turned on George," causing George some further anxiety as the boss asks, "What are you trying to put over?"
Later in the novella, George has the difficult responsibility of deciding Lennie's fate after Lennie inadvertently has gotten into "trouble" as he did back in Weed. But this time Lennie has killed a woman. To prevent Lennie from the reprisals of the other men--Carlson looks for his luger and the others such as Curley, whom Slim says "gonna want to shoot 'im" (Ch 4, p.92) are angry enough to physically harm Lennie--George steals Carlson's luger and shoots Lennie himself to prevent the men from capturing him. Slim tries to console George, "You hadda, George."
Anxious about his disability ("Got it caught in a machine") and age, Candy fears that he will be fired. When his old dog is shot by Carlson, Candy is sickened by grief and fear. "I ain't much good with on'y one hand" he tells George when he asks if he can go in with him and Lennie on the plan for a little farm; further he offers them the money given to him as compensation for his accident and promises to leave it to them in his will. Candy wants to plan his future, so when he finds Curley's wife dead, old Candy's hopes are shattered; he asks George, "What we gonna do now, George? What we gonna do now?"
Marginalized from the other bindle stiffs who stay in the bunkhouse, the black "stable buck" is made to live in the barn, but he has a few personal belongings and books that he reads. Nevertheless, his isolation is traumatic at times. He explains,
A guy sets alone out her at night, maybe readin' books or thinkin' or stuff like that. Sometimes he gets thinkin', an' he got nothing to tell him what's so an' what ain't so....He can't turn to some other guy and ast him if he sees it too. He can't tell. He got nothing to measure by.
Crook's aloneness is disturbing for him. Later in Chapter 4 Curley's wife comes in the barn and threatens Crooks even more after he says she has "no rights comin' in a colored man's room." She asks Crooks, "You know what I can do to you if you open your trap?"
Crooks seemed to grow smaller, and he pressed himself against the wall. "Yes, ma'am."
"I could get you strung up in a tree so easy it ain't even funny," Curley's wife elaborates so as to threaten Crooks even more.