How does Steinbeck use comfort to develop theme and character? 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the narrative of Of Mice and Men, which is set in the Great Depression, without knowing what the future holds for them, the displaced characters that John Steinbeck has drawn yearn for a future that holds some comfort and financial security. The substance of this comfort is what the dream of Lennie contains. 

During the Depression of the 1930's, there were thirteen million men who were unemployed, and there was no unemployment insurance or social security; consequently, people lost faith in the American Dream because they lost their homes and were reduced to standing in bread lines and seeking shelter wherever they could find it. Many migrated to California, especially the Salinas Valley, known as America's Bread Basket. There, men known as bindle stiffs who worked on ranches and farms at harvest time for a short time, and then they had to travel to another job. For them, there was no security or comfort in their lives; instead, they lived day-to-day.

So, for all those characters, the bindle stiffs of Of Mice and Men, security and comfort are the main goals because the fear of the future is in all of them. In the opening chapters the readers learn that George and Lennie have fled from one town and must now do hard labor at a ranch in the Salinas Valley. In the bunkhouse they meet Candy, who has lost a hand and can only sweep out the lodging for the workers. He worries that he, like his old dog, will simply be cast out. 

Without wives and homes, many of these bindle stiffs have squandered their wages on drink or loose women, but the child-like Lennie engages in simpler pleasures. With a boyish innocence, he believes in the recitations of how their future will be. With the recitations of their dream of owning a farm where Lennie can pet the rabbits, George provides his simple-minded friend a sense of comfort. Upon hearing of George and Lennie's dream, old Candy. who has been in despair over the shooting of his decrepit dog, pleads with them to let him join in, offering his savings to them, telling them he could cook and "tend chickens and hoe the garden some." With this offer, George says "reverently"....

"I bet we could swing her." His eyes were full of wonder. "I bet we could swing her," he repeated softly.

As the men plan together, they are comforted with thoughts of fraternity and a secure home. This sense of comfort in a future is enviable, and when Lennie tells Crooks, the ostracized stable mate,about his and George's plan for a little farm, Crooks is at first cynical:

"You're nuts....I seen hundreds of men come by on the road an' on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an' that sae damn thing in their heads. Hundreds of them."

Despite his words, the idea of having financial and social comforts lures Crooks, as well. For, the fraternity of men and its comfort also provides a security for the soul as well as for the body. This is a theme of Steinbeck's work.