The theme of alienation in Steinbeck's novel "of mice and men"In the 1930s the life of migrants created many forms of isolation. What forms of alienation can be found in the novel? What are the...

The theme of alienation in Steinbeck's novel "of mice and men"

In the 1930s the life of migrants created many forms of isolation. What forms of alienation can be found in the novel? What are the effects of such isolation? Can someone propose a thesis to this topic?

Asked on by skaribas

8 Answers

e-martin's profile pic

e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The characters that represent alienation most directly, in my reading, are Crooks and Curley's wife. These are the two minorities in the novel, to use today's parlance.

Crooks is very literally, physically isolated from the others on the ranch.

Curley's wife rebells against her isolation, unsuccessfully.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Key to the theme of alienation/isolation is the Great Depression of the 1930s.  Because of the dire economic state of the country, many men were unemployed; as a result, they had to rely upon family or their wives for support.  With this loss of their traditional role as breadwinner and decision maker, men lost their self-respect and became paralyzed emotionally.  Many ended up walking out on their families and riding out to California where they sought work as migrant workers on the huge farms owned by corporations.

Thus, the Depression was a period of desperate alienation.  Steinbeck perceived the failure of capitalism and turned to the ideology of socialism as a solution to this alienation.  In the fraternity of men, the equalization of men, (Curley is outside this sphere), Steinbeck sought the support that men need to have some sense of belonging and hope.  Clearly, the characters of George, Lennie, Candy, and even Crooks illustrate the change that comes in a man when he has hope of a future and a place where he belongs.  Women do not figure into this hope, either, as their presence has contributed to the men's despair and troubles in the past; therefore, the men must bond together first and improve their soiciological state.

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ask996 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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Is it possible that the characters foster the alienation in order to avoid facing a life that might be less than they dream. After all, George waits until there is trouble involving Lennie, and then they move on to different parts. The fact that they run away rather than learning more appropriate coping strategies. After all, we're never really told that George tried to get help for Lennie. Are we? Perhaps George creates the alienation so that he has an excuse for never achieving his dream.

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The result of alienation in the novel is isolation and a crippling sense of loneliness. This theme is developed through the various characters in different ways. In George and Lennie's relationship, the ideas of isolation and loneliness are contrasted. George and Lennie together are isolated from the larger society by their poverty and lack of education, but because of their friendship, they are not lonely, as are the other hands. George and Lennie become a society of two. The idea that we are social creatures who build a more fulfilling life when we band together is a common theme in Steinbeck's work. Being alienated from society, then, means being cast out and cut off from fulfillment.

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missy575 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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I think when we separate ourselves from success, we often feel of less worth as Americans. The American Dream is to be able to do what you want or love, live happily, and for some it merely means home ownership.

In Of Mice and Men we see several who struggle through this process. They feel less than because they have so little to show for what they have done in their lives. That was not necessarily a reflection of their circumstances, but a sign of the times. I think we have a great pride. This separated characters because they couldn't show each other what they had achieved or earned.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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You have pinpointed a key theme in this story - so many characters are alienated from each other and even themselves. #3 gives a good list of how this impacts the major characters, but you might want to think about the pessimistic message of the story. Throughout the story the dream of "living off the fatta' land" has sustained George and Lennie and given them something to live for. With the death of Lennie, that dream has likewise died, and George is left with a very bleak future indeed, where he is alienated from everyone.

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Alienation takes many forms in Of Mice and Men, starting with the two main characters.  The reason for Lennie's alienation is obvious; George's separation from his world is connected to Lennie. He is a man who has assumed the responsibility for Lennie, and while it makes him a good man, it also keeps him from the normal interactions and experiences of other men.  Curley's wife is isolated by her position as the lone woman on the ranch as well as her less-than-stellar background.  Crooks is isolated, literally, by his color as well as his bitterness toward the white world which has isolated him.  Candy is isolated because he is no longer useful in an environment where usefulness is all that men value.  Curley is isolated by his inferiority and his weakness of character.  All the ranch hands are isolated, as they are generally migratory workers and disconnected from one another and their employers.  This entire novella reflects a yearning for connection, as evidenced by the enticement of a "family" living on a farm like "normal" people.  These characters' ultimate isolation is confirmed when their dream does not come to fruition.

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epollock | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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Do you mean the subject of alienation? Alienation is a recurring motif throughout the story as it relates to the characters, the setting, and the plot. Most characters are alienated from society since they are never able to live their dreams fully--some are short-lived, some never leave the farm life of drinking and wasting their entire salary. The farm is cruelly alienating itself.