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I would think that the role of the characters in the Steinbeck novella is to explore how there is a hollowness in America of the Great Depression. Each of the characters experiences a hollowness within their pursuit of dreams. This helps to bring out how Steinbeck feels that the American Dream of the 1930s is fraught with pain and emptiness. Each character's dream is undercut by some aspect of reality making their dream impossible. The ring in which Curley now fights is against other ranchers, never to experience the fight in the ring again. Curley's wife believed she could have been in cinema, or "pitchers," but that dream will never materialize. Crooks' hope of finding solidarity or community is something undercut by both social and economic reality. Candy's dream of joining George and Lennie ends when Lennie kills Curley's wife. George's hope of being in the position of economic ownership and possessing autonomy in his own life is essentially gone when he has to kill Lennie, who will never realize his dreams of tending the rabbits. Each of these dreams represents extinguished hope and ruptured hopes. In this light, the function of Steinbeck's characters is to represent the pain and suffering of American citizens during the 1930s and the Great Depression.
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