In the novel Of Mice and Men, how is the theme of power presented?

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While the importance of friendship, the pain of loneliness and the American Dream are the prominent themes in Of Mice and Men, power could be considered a theme because examples of misuse of power are apparent in the book.

George misuses the power he has over the simple minded ...

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While the importance of friendship, the pain of loneliness and the American Dream are the prominent themes in Of Mice and Men, power could be considered a theme because examples of misuse of power are apparent in the book.

George misuses the power he has over the simple minded Lennie when he reveals to Slim that he used to play dangerous jokes on Lennie. He describes a scene on the Sacramento River:

"One day a bunch of guys was standin’ around up on the Sacramento River. I was feelin’ pretty smart. I turns to Lennie and says, ‘Jump in.’ An’ he jumps. Couldn’t swim a stroke. He damn near drowned before we could get him. An’ he was so damn nice to me for pullin’ him out. Clean forgot I told him to jump in. Well, I ain’t done nothing like that no more.”

Throughout the course of the novel, however, George's behavior toward Lennie is nothing but honorable. The mercy killing at the end is a hard but necessary moment in the two men's friendship.

The saddest example of power in the novel is that which Carlson wields over Candy in the killing of Candy's dog. Carlson continues to insist that Candy's dog is too old and no good anymore. He finally gets the approval of Slim, who, in the world of the bunkhouse, has final say. Slim's power, however, can be considered benevolent because he offers one of his puppies to Candy after passing final judgement on the old dog. Slim says,

“You can have a pup if you want to.” He seemed to shake himself free for speech. “Carl’s right, Candy. That dog ain’t no good to himself. I wisht somebody’d shoot me if I get old an’ a cripple.” 

The dog is virtually Candy's only friend and his killing, even though probably the best thing for the dog, hits Candy hard.

Another example of power is that which is held by the brutal and unstable Curley. Because he is the boss's son the other men are afraid for their jobs if Curley takes a dislike to them. After the fight between Lennie and Curley in the bunkhouse Slim is able to turn the tables on Curley and threatens to tell what happens if Curley gets George and Lennie "canned":

“I think you got your han’ caught in a machine. If you don’t tell nobody what happened, we ain’t going to. But you jus’ tell an’ try to get this guy canned and we’ll tell ever’body, an’ then will you get the laugh.” 

The black stable buck Crooks is also a victim of the power of racism and segregation, prominent in 1930's America. Because he's black Crooks rarely associates with the white workers other than during horseshoe tournaments or on special occasions. When Lennie enters his private quarters and asks why Crooks is not allowed in the white bunkhouse Crooks replies, 

“’Cause I’m black. They play cards in there, but I can’t play because I’m black. They say I stink. Well, I tell you, you all of you stink to me.” 

And later in the same chapter after Crooks shares some camaraderie with Lennie and Candy, Curley's wife reminds him of his impotence in the face of racism. After he tells her to get out of his room Curley's wife threatens him with a plain fact of life in segregated America. Merely mentioning that Crooks might have touched her or even spoken to her provocatively would get Crooks in terrible trouble. Curley's wife says,

“Listen, Nigger,” she said. “You know what I can do to you if you open your trap?” ... “Well, you keep your place then, Nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny.”

So, one could make a definite argument that power, as exemplified by the above examples, is an important theme in Of Mice and Men.

 

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