Name two symbols in Of Mice and Men and explain what each represents.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Symbols in Of Mice and Men:

1. Perhaps the most significant symbol of Of Mice and Men is that mentioned in the title of Steinbeck's novella, the mouse. Its mention is part of the title that alludes to the poem of Robert Burns, "To a Mouse," which bemoans the cruel fate of the little field mouse who has made himself a winter shelter only to have it destroyed by mowers of the field. In his poem, Burns regrets that "...man's dominion/Has broken nature's social union." That is, man and nature were in harmony, but the owner of the field has it mowed for his future use. The machinery of man has, thus, harmed nature, represented by the little mouse.

Like the machinery that comes and razes the homes of the sharecroppers of The Grapes of Wrath, the forces of man and his greed which has stripped the land of its nutrients, have caused the Dust Bowl and the resulting Great Depression, the setting of both of Steinbeck's works. With Nature so undone, men are left homeless and disenfranchised, just as the mower has left the mouse homeless and bereft in the oncoming winter in Burns' poem. Both the mouse and the "bindle stiffs," such as George, Lennie, and others, are victims of "man's dominion, pawns of a fate over which they have no control.

1. the symbolic mouse = the bindle stiffs, who like the mouse are victims of a cruel fate.

Also, as in Burns's poem-- 

The best-laid schemes o'mice and 'men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!--

the dream of George and Lennie, that of owning their own little farm, goes awry; with its failure, there is "grief and pain" since having shot Lennie to prevent his incarceration which would be torture, George is left so terribly alone and without hope.

2. Another symbol is Curley's wife, who is interpreted as an Eve, a temptress who is divisive and prevents the friendship of the men, a fraternity that represents man's way of dealing with his terrible alienation. At moments of fellowship and connection, Curley's wife interferes--"Ever' time the guy is around she shows up," Carlson tells George. Shortly after George and Lennie arrive, she appears in the bunkhouse doorway, her nails and lips painted in 'temptress red,' and after her departure, a disconcerted George warns Lennie to stay away from her, calling her "jailbait." Later, her disruption of the men's camaraderie is best exemplified in Chapter 4 when she enters the barn and causes a rift in the emerging congeniality among Candy and Crooks along with Lennie. For, when Candy makes efforts to repel her from the group who has unified in the dream of a co-operative farm, she ridicules the men and Candy's hopes of owning land that he uses as a defense against her, telling her they will soon have their own place.

"Baloney...I seen too many you guys. If you had two bits in the worl', why you'd be in gettin' two shots of corn with it and suckin' the bottom of the glass...."

Further, just as Crooks has felt himself accepted by the others, Curley's wife puts him back into his marginalized place as she threatens to say that he has attempted to sexually assault her,

"Well, you keep you place then, N****. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain't even funny."

Clearly, then, Curley's wife, like Eve, is a temptress and a destructive force to the happiness and fellowship of the men. 

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