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John Steinbeck wanted to write a story about the hard lives of the farm workers in California. His implicit message was that something should be done to help them, although he did not specify what he thought could or should be done, or by whom. He created the characters of George and Lennie to lead the reader in imagination into the big ranch where most of the action takes place, and the reader has the illusion of being present and sharing the lives of these unfortunate men.
Steinbeck uses only three settings to represent the ranch. The most important setting is the bunkhouse, and his description of the room suggests the plight of the men who have to live in it. The bunks have mattresses made of burlap sacks stuffed with straw. There is no indoor plumbing. The men must have to wash outdoors in basins with only cold water, and they must have to use an outhouse. They have no privacy. Each bunk has an apple box nailed to the wall above it with the open side facinig out. This serves for storing personal possessions such as toothpaste and shaving mugs. There is one big table where men sit around and talk or play cards. The company doesn't even provide chairs; they have to sit on upended wooden boxes.
Crooks is not allowed to sleep in the bunkhouse because of racial prejudice. His room is another of the three settings. It is just a storage room off the barn and is full of the leather reins, harnesses and other paraphernalia used on the teams of horses which still provided the power for pulling farm equipment in those days. Crooks is virtually a charity case because of his broken back. He probably receives no salary, only food and this storage room. He has taken up reading to pass his lonely hours. Steinbeck's description of Crooks' collection of reading material tells a lot about their owner's poverty and wretchedness. He has old magazines the white workers threw out and a few ancient books salvaged from the junk pile. Crooks doesn't even possess a mattress.
His bunk was a long box filled with straw on which his blankets were flung.
His only friends and companions are the horses who are stabled right next to his little room.
Through the open door that led into the barn came the sound of movinig horses, of feet stirring, of teeth champing on hay, of the rattle of halter chains.
Steinbeck's dispassionate, matter-of-fact description of the living conditions of his characters effectively conveys the feelings of the men themselves. They are treated not much better than the horses. Their lives are empty and hopeless. They have no comforts or pleasures except for pitching horseshoes. They work all day and come back to the bunkhouse exhausted. Their food is not described, but there is barely enough of it to go around. They stampede to the mess hall when the bell rings. Slim tells George and Lennie:
"You guys better come on while they's still something to eat. Won't be nothing left in a couple of minutes."
The men are trapped in this existence. George and Lennie seem to be exceptions because of their dream of owning their own little farm. But, as the book's title suggests, the best laid plans of mice and men are often thwarted by some unforeseen turn of fate.
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