What messages about American life and society does Steinbeck communicate in his book, Of Mice and Men?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In East of Eden, John Steinbeck's narrator comments,

I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story.

This is certainly the story of Of Mice and Men. Set during the Great Depression, this tale presents the struggles of bindle stiffs as they must migrate from one job to another. They must be aware of other men who would challenge them, they must try to create some comfort and happiness in their lives, they must dream in order to keep hope alive, and they must fight aloneness.

  • Homelessness

George Milton and Lennie Small are two of many disenfranchised men who must travel from ranch to ranch in search of work. As a result they are mistrustful of others; additionally, because Lennie is mentally challenged, George instructs Lennie to be quiet and not cause problems. In their loneliness, they construct a dream about owning a farm where Lennie will have rabbits to pet. 

  • Alienation

While all the bindle stiffs feel alienated, the African-American stable buck is clearly marginalized as he is prohibited from living with the other men and playing horseshoes or engaging in any other way. This alienation causes Crooks to begin to doubt himself at times. He explains,

A guy sets alone out here...an' he got nothing to tell him what's so an' what ain't so. Maybe if he sees somethin', he don't know whether it's right or not. He can't turn to some other guy and ast him if he sees it too. He can't tell. He got nothing to measure by.

  • Fraternity

As a socialist, Steinbeck felt that the solution to the ills of economic breakdown was the unification of men in fraternity. For, when the men on the ranch unify in their belief of Lennie's dream, they all start to believe that owning a little farm is a real possibility. Friends help each other and protect each other, also. Together they are stronger than if alone. Part of Lennie's litany has these words:

Because...because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that's why.

Meaning in life does depend upon sharing.

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