What is one word that describes all the characters in the book-one word that somehow captures what they all have in common, in Of Mice and Men? I am thinking of Candy, Carlson, Crooks, Curly, Curly's wife, George, and Lennie.
One word that describes all of the characters in Of Mice and Men is lonely.
They are all lonely and searching for companionship. From the beginning of the book, we are introduced to our main characters, George and Lennie, who are migrant farm workers looking for work across California. They never stay in one place long, and they never have a home. This leads them to a feeling of helplessness and loneliness, even though they have each other.
Slim even notices that loneliness is an epidemic in the world.
Slim looked through George and beyond him. "Ain't many guys travel around together," he mused. "I don't know why. Maybe ever'body in the whole damn world is scared of each other." (Ch. 2)
Although George keeps Lennie around as a bastion against loneliness, he is far from an intellectual equal. George protects Lennie and looks out for him, but then he can’t really talk to him. Lennie can’t remember things one day to the next.
Even the characters permanently stationed at the ranch are also lonely, particularly Curly and Curly’s wife. They are constantly looking for each other, since they are newlyweds. Curly does not seem to trust his wife. Curly’s wife is not even given a name by Steinbeck, to reinforce her isolation.
When Curly’s wife goes to see Lennie, it is clear that she is desperate to find someone to talk to.
"Wha's the matter with me?" she cried. "Ain't I got a right to talk to nobody? Whatta they think I am, anyways? You're a nice guy. I don't know why I can't talk to you. ..." (Ch. 5)
She feels abandoned by her husband, and ostracized by the other men on the ranch. There are no other women for her to talk to, and the men are afraid to talk to her because they might be accused of flirting with her.
Loneliness and isolation, whether physical or social, are recurring themes in the book. Whether it is because of class, gender, race, or mental prowess, many of the characters in the book feel rejected by others and alone.
It seems to me that the best word to describe all the characters in Steinbeck's book without exception is "ignorant." None of the men appears to have had even a high school education. Most of them couldn't qualify to get into a high school and might have trouble in middle school. Curley's wife is obviously a dropout who never even went to high school. She gets all her information fro movies and fan magazines. Crooks is trying to acquire a little education, but he doesn't have anyone to help him and he doesn't know where to start. Furthermore, the little collection of reading material he has gathered from trash cans is pathetic. Some of the men who can read pass around pulp magazines full of mindless adventure stories written by hacks for a penny a word. Whatever worldly wisdom some of the men might have has been acquired by their natural intelligence and conversations with others. The two smartest men are George and Slim. The boss probably has some intelligence, but he is a very minor character who appears in a few pages and is never seen again. The men who do the hard labor are condemned to do the same work for the rest of their lives, because they have no skills and no understanding of the opportunities the world has to offer to men who can do something better than carrying heavy sacks of barley. Ignorance is a terrible thing. Ignorant people are exploited in every possible way. They get low wages, if any, and then get cheated when they spend what little they have earned. John Steinbeck grew up among such people, but he rose above his environment.