What is the hierarchy of the ranch in Of Mice and Men?

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cornert07 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Central to Steinbeck’s portrayal of ranch life is his creation of a distinct hierarchy. It becomes immediately clear that the Boss maintains the highest position. Through the symbolism of his lack of name, “The Boss” is defined as being almost like an uninvolved god-like figure. This impression is reinforced by his imposing body language; the daunting action, “he hooked his thumbs”, is used to demonstrate the superiority in his position. At the conclusion of his meeting with George and Lennie, he “abruptly” left, consequently stressing his self-importance.

Simply because of his connection to The Boss, Curley adopts a position of power. Corrupted by the authority, he possesses a threatening personality. This is exhibited by Steinbeck’s description of his physical appearance – his glance is “cold” and he adopts the stance of a fighter, with his “hands closed into fists”. Furthermore, he seems to think that he can assert his authority only by physically terrorising others, such as Lennie. The tension in their relationship is exhibited by Curley’s vicious threat, “Well, nex’ time you answer when you’re spoke to.” This bravado can be explained by the fact his status is undermined because his wife is not satisfied with their married relationship and is “eyeing” other men.

In juxtaposition to Curley, his wife is presented as having a very low status. Steinbeck doesn’t give her a name and this has a symbolic meaning that emphasises her second-class citizenship. It reflects the inferior role of women in society at that period in time and gives the impression that she is a “possession of Curley”; this is ironic, as they never seem to be together. Apart from referring to her as “Curley’s wife”, the author and some of character use many derogatory terms for example “tart” and “rat trap”. This shows that the men are wary of and don’t class her as an equal.

Similarly, Crooks also holds no authority and he has long been the victim of oppressive violence, due to the colour of his skin. He is often referred to as “nigger” by his fellow ranch workers and this dehumanising insult exhibits the lack of respect for him. Nevertheless, he gains self-confidence from the company of Lennie and Candy in his “bunk”; this encourages him to try to counter the intrusion of Curley’s Wife. However, his he humiliated by her consequential fierce threat, “I could get you strung up”. This brutal threat establishes the cruel power of white over black.

When Steinbeck first introduces Candy, he is just described as “the old man”. This generic term dehumanises him, showing the reader the low status he possesses, because of his old age. Moreover, he is shown to have no real place on the farm; exhibited by the way he was “jus’ standing in the shade”. The word “jus’” implies that he has nothing better to do, due to the other ranch workers; exclusion of him. This illustrates how, because of his age and his disability, he has become marginalized, as symbolised by the word “shade”.

Slim is the most respected person on the ranch. Steinbeck's descriptions of Slim suggest an idealised characterisation and he attaches images of royalty: “majesty” and “prince”. He exerts a natural authority as a result of his strong moral sense. His opinions are valued by the ranchers and his pronouncement about Candy’s dog, “he ain’t no good to himself”, seals its fate.

scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Good Question!

The Boss certainly maintains the highest position on the Tyler Ranch. He is so impersonal to his workers that he is known only by his title (similar to "the king"). In some aspects, he is almost a uninvolved godlike figure, though not a benevolent one. He doesn't get his hands dirty with the men but watches over their doings to make sure that he is profiting.

Slim is surprisingly next in the chain of command. Described as The Prince of the Ranch, he is the most respected character on the ranch. He is wise, discerning and fair. While Curley should technically hold Slim's position, he has not earned such respect either from the workers or seemingly from his dad.

Curley holds enough power to be able to threaten others and to get away with doing as little work as possible. Simply because of his connection to the Boss, he can make decisions that will advance himself and that will harm others.

After these three men, the other workers are basically equal. The only ones who fall beneath characters such as George or Carlson are those who are outcasts (Curley's Wife, Candy, Lennie, Crooks).

jdar08 | Student

Hierarchy in Of Mice and men is very complicated considering the mindset of everyone on the ranch. It seem that the most obvious answer to the strongest person upon this ranch is the Boss. His name never revealed, showing his arrogance of his place, however his lack of contact upon the ranch allows others to rival his place. Slim, the 'price of the ranch', is the jerkline skinner upon the ranch; this similar to a master craftsman in a forge, he is the most respected and skilled worker. He has no war hero however he holds the confidence and respects amognst all the ranch members. His silent and thoughful demeanor wins favor among  all of the   Steinbecks clearly depicts Slim as a discerned member upon the ranch; he moves 'with a majesty only acheived by royalty and master craftsmen'. Compared with the Boss's 'short quick steps of a fat man' compared with the majesty of Slim; it does seem the Boss is being undermined by Slim's demeanour. Thus I believe that if Slim spurred the workers with his manipulative manner he could probably overthrow the Boss. He has everyone in the palms of his hand when really that should be the Boss's power.

The others are obvious, Curly as he is the Boss's son afterwards, followed by Carlson, George, Lennie, Candy, Curly's Wife and then Crooks.