What are some quotes about the hands of the main characters in Of Mice and Men? Why are they important?

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mercut1469 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John Steinbeck does seem to spend a good deal of his narrative describing hands in his novella Of Mice and Men. The description of these hands seems to be a method of indirect characterization and a character's hands have much to do with their overall personalities. In Chapter One, in his physical description of George, Steinbeck notes that he has "small, strong hands." George's hands are those of an ordinary man who is both strong and capable. After all, George hopes one day to use his hands to build up his farm. In contrast to George's small hands are Lennie's "big paws." That his hands are linked to an animal symbolizes both Lennie's primitive nature but also his innocence and playfulness. Unfortunately, the strength of his hands prove fatal to mice, puppies and eventually Curley's wife. In Chapter One, Lennie's hands are both lethal and playful. He is carrying a mouse which he has probably killed with his hands, but he also uses his hands to make rings in the water:

Lennie dabbled his big paw in the water and wriggled his fingers so the water arose in little splashes; rings widened across the pool to the other side and came back again. Lennie watched them go. "Look George, look what I done."

Later in the novel, the brutal strength of Lennie's hands will be used to crush Curley's hand and to kill Curley's wife.

In Chapter Two, the reader is introduced to four characters and Steinbeck makes sure to mention their hands. Candy, the old swamper, is missing one of his hands ("stick-like wrist"), symbolizing not only that he is crippled but also that he is at the mercy of a society which has no room for those who cannot hold their own. The skinner Slim has "large and lean" hands that are "as delicate...as those of a temple dancer." Slim can use those hands to kill "a fly on the wheeler's butt with a bull whip without touching the mule." Slim is like royalty and his hands reveal a capable man who is not only strong but also sensitive.

Curley is described as a fighter who fought in the "Golden Gloves" and so has the hands of a boxer, both strong and skilled. According to Candy, on one hand Curley wears a glove with vaseline "for his wife." This symbolizes Curley's manhood and his sexual prowess. Later, his hand, and metaphorically his masculinity, will be crushed in the bunkhouse fight with Lennie. Curley's wife is described with "full, rouged lips" and her "fingernails were red." These characteristics enhance the girl's lurid sexuality. Later in Chapter Four she is portrayed as "rubbing the nails of one hand with the thumb and forefinger of the other" as if she is out to impress the men who have gathered in Crooks's room.

Finally, in Chapter Four, the black stable buck Crooks has a "pink palmed hand" as he rubs his back with liniment. This pink is usually concealed but the reader is witness to it in the beginning of the chapter when Crooks is alone in his room. He is described as "proud and aloof" and does not often reveal his true feelings to the world because he is segregated on a ranch which is predominantly white. When Crooks does let his guard down and offer to go to the dream farm with Candy and Lennie, he is quickly rebuked by the racism of Curley's wife.

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Of Mice and Men

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