If "Of Mice and Men" is an allegory, what is the lesson John Steinbeck wants the reader to learn and what in the novel supports this?

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mlsldy3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

An allegory is a story, poem or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden message, typically a moral or political one. I wouldn't necessarily call Of Mice and Men an allegory, however, John Steinbeck did put some of the meanings in his story. All of the characters represent groups of people from society.  Here are some of the characters and how they represent society.

Lennie: He represents people with a certain handicap. His character shows how people with a handicap are often misunderstood and victimized within society. The character of Lennie is a classic case of someone with such a big heart, but is judged by his limitations.

George: He represents the classic working man. His character is a working man trying to escape from reality. By his escaping with his reckless spending and drinking, he is never going to save enough money to buy a farm like he wants. His cycle of abuse on himself will never get him out of his financial means.

Curley: Curley is the classic bully in life. He symbolizes every bully that uses their status to abuse and manipulate others to get what he wants.

Crooks: This character is the symbol for someone who is forced to be an outsider in life just because of his race. 

Candy: Candy represents the elderly. This character shows us how some elderly suffer from abuse or discrimination due to their age. They often end their lives in poverty or misery.

Boss: This character is the classic business owner in society. These people always make a passive income, without having to do much work.

Curley's wife: She is the representation of the superficial woman. Her character shows us the objectification of women and of how some women die of their dreams.

Carlson: He is the typical blue collar worker. He is shown that blue collar workers go to work and do their jobs, but they don't think too much of the future and how they will live.

As you can see, John Steinbeck uses his characters to represent American society at the time. He raises questions that every person should ask themselves. John Steinbeck makes us ask why people act the way they do. He also makes us ask ourselves why are some people treated the way they are? Why are there not more people willing to right some of the wrongs in society. John Steinbeck's classic novel proves to be a thought provoking piece of literature. The lessons of this novel are far reaching and leave the reader thinking about society long after the book is done.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As a Socialist, John Steinbeck reported on migrant workers and gave voice to those in his own Salinas Valley. His realistic depictions of the Depression in The Grapes of Wrath are poignant and inspiring both. Another work set during the Great Depression is the play-novella Of Mice and Men. In this work, Steinbeck gives voice to the dispossessed of that era, as well as having Lennie of whom the author himself has written,

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

Thus, Lennie truly is an allegorical character, who lends a naturalistic and moral meaning to the work, as well. For, with his human dreams and animal passions, Lennie exemplifies the Darwinian representative of natural selection. Like Candy's old dog, Lennie becomes detrimental and no longer of any positive use; therefore, he is removed from nature. Candy, too, worries that he will be discarded when he no longer can be of use while Carlson, a Darwinian representative of survival of the fittest wants to remove anyone and anything that is no longer useful.

However, with his "God-like eyes," Slim offers the men the socialistic concept of fraternity while he is in the clubhouse. This fraternity of men--it is interesting that many of the men's names begin with C--is also depicted in the "dream" that George and Lennie hold of owning their own ranch; certainly, there is an expansion of fraternity as the dream catches hold of the spirits of Candy and the marginalized Crooks who, too, begins to believe in a future that can offer hope and lend meaning to their lives. As Crooks tells Lennie in the barn,

"A guy set alone out here at night...Sometimes he get 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...."

As an allegory, Of Mice and Men offers fraternity and friendship as social relationships by which one can measure himself and find comfort, strength, and security as well.