John Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men was published in 1937. The setting is the area around Salinas, California during the era called “the great Depression.” Lennie and George, the main characters, struggle to survive in a time when employment was hard to find.
What indications are there in the story that the Great Depression is the background of the story? Most of the indications of the time period are found in references to what is going on in the story.
In the beginning of the book, Steinbeck writes descriptively of the setting of the story.The second paragraph of the story, gives a hint to the time period when it describes the pool:
“There is a path…beaten hard by boys coming down from the ranches to swim in the deep pool, and beaten hard by the tramps that come wearily down from the highway in the evening to jungle-up near water…”
The reference to the two kinds of people who utilize the pool indicate the basic problem during the Great Depression: those who had a job and those who did not. The tramps were those men who traveled by highway or railroad trying to find work. These were the non-working men during the time when money broke up many families when the men left in search of work leaving the woman at home to take care of the children as best she could.
Later in the story, George describes his plight:
Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place. They come to a ranch an’ work up a stake and then the go into a town and blow their stake, and the first thing you know they’re poundin’ their tail on some other ranch. They ain’t got nothing to look ahead to.
Steinbeck’s George describes the workers and men who were the lost souls of the Depression era. They had no homes and worked only to survive. They traveled the area in search of a stake with the dream that some time they would have something to call their own. It usually never happened. Sadly, what they owned could be carried in something like “Lennie’s bindle.”
The Depression impacted the men who had little education and no place that they called their own. During this time, many young men left home in order to lighten the load of their families who often had more mouths to feed than they had food. Many times, the pay for work was not money but a place to stay and food to eat. It was a lonely, hard life.
The men in this story still believe in the idea that “America was the land of opportunities.” If a person worked hard, he would eventually achieve his goal.
George: “If we can get jus’ a few dollars in the poke we’ll shove off and go up the American River and pan gold. We can make maybe a couple of dollars a day there, and we might hit a pocket."
Again, George gives his naïve view of the possibilities of finding his “pot of gold.”
Steinbeck gave his characters the necessary positive outlook which encourages the idea of never giving up. Hope is needed for a man to get up each day and work toward his individual goals despite the many deterrents in his way.