What ideas of masculinity does Steinbeck portray in Of Mice And Men?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that Steinbeck offers some differing conceptions of masculinity in the novella.  He is careful enough not to suggest that one type is superior to another, although it is clear where his loyalties lie.  Yet, he shows that society seems to favor one vision of masculinity over another.  Steinbeck demonstrates one aspect of masculinity as a traditional and more monolithic characterization in the characters of Carlson, Curley, and to a lesser extent, other characters such as Whit.  These individuals are surface in their perceptions of reality, willing to use violence, if need be, to accomplish their own agendas.  Carlson and Curley have little in way of a reflective element, and seek to appropriate the world in accordance to their own subjectivity.  On another sphere, there is a certain pain in masculinity, seen in the characters of Candy, Lennie, and Crooks.  For these men, their ability to embrace the standard and traditional notion of masculinity is something that is automatically limited, given their own conditions in consciousness.  This shows masculinity to be something that is externally dictated, and causes a level of frustration when one's own conception of self cannot compete with external reality.  In this midst of these depictions would be a conception of masculine reality that is evident in Slim and George, characters who are forced to deal with the realistic world of what is and who seek to use their own sense of identity to make this a bit more bearable.  In both of them, there is an understanding that pragmatism is what ends up defining reality in a critical manner.