What if the importance of hands in Of Mice and Men?The hands of many characters are mentioned inlcuding Curley, Lennie,  Curley's Wife and Candy's lack of a hand. What is the importance behind...

What if the importance of hands in Of Mice and Men?

The hands of many characters are mentioned inlcuding Curley, Lennie,  Curley's Wife and Candy's lack of a hand. What is the importance behind this and is there any symbolism?

Expert Answers
literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hands do exist as an underlying symbol in Steinbeck's novel Of Mice and Men. Perhaps the most poignant image of hands comes with relation to Curley.

Curley's hands have dual meaning. One hand, the one without the glove, is meant to symbolize strength. Curley is very open about his fighting ability and it is even spoken about among the ranch-hands. Curley's other hand, the one with the glove, is one he protects with Vaseline--"Keepin' that hand soft for his wife."

The symbolism of Curley's hands change after his fight with Lennie. Curley underestimates Lennie's brute strength and Curley's hand is crushed. This symbolizes two very distinctive things. First, the crushing of Curley's hand depicts the crushing of Curley's ego. He has been beaten by a man he deemed weaker and less of a man than himself. Secondly, the crushing of Curley's hand represents the loss of his own sexual prowess/power. Lennie, by crushing Curley's hand, takes away both Curley's sexuality (the ability to please his wife) and his fighting past.

Outside of that, Candy's lack of a hand represent his inability to be a true man. He is unable to perform the tasks as well as the other ranchers and they look down on him for this. Lennie's hands simply represent a combination of brute strength and softness. It is Lennie's inability to comprehend his strength which results in the death of the animals he adores. As for Curley's wife's hands, they represent what is lacking on the ranch--a woman's touch.

davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

People who work on a farm are called "hands." It's hard, physically demanding work, and you need a good, strong pair of hands to earn your wages. The word "hand," in this case, is an example of what's called synecdoche. This is a figure of speech in which a part of something stands for the whole. As well as farm workers, "hands" can also refer to sailors, as in the saying "All hands on deck."

As hired hands, the farm workers are looked upon primarily as common laborers, rather than men. The synecdoche represents how the men are de-humanized; they are not valued in themselves as human beings, but only for the work that their hands can perform.

In each character of the story, the hand synecdoche is used to provide an insight into their most important traits. Lennie's hands, for example, always seem to get him into trouble of one sort or another, whether it's accidentally killing poor, unfortunate mice or touching the hair of Curley's wife; Curley's crushed hand (crushed by Lennie, no less) stands for his impotence and his general lack of manliness; Curley's wife has bright, painted nails that show us how brassy and vulgar she is.