What does Steinbeck tell you about migrant farm workers?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Steinbeck wanted to tell the American people that migrant farm workers were not just anonymous hoboes trudging from ranch to ranch with their belongings on their shoulders tied up in bed-rolls. They were real human beings, all with separate personal identities, and all with their feelings, hopes and dreams, some with exceptional characters and talents, such as Slim. No one before Steinbeck had paid any attention to the lives of itinerant farm workers in California. Steinbeck wanted the American public to take an interest in their plight. He was successful, and this led to improvements in living and working conditions via legislation. Farm workers had had no protection. Their working conditions were brutal.

Steinbeck dramatizes how the men in his book had to work from sunup to sundown loading 100-pound bags of barley onto wagons. They worked six days a week. When they got too old to do that kind of heavy work, they were thrown out. There was a haunting sense of fear on these ranches. Candy and Crooks expect to get fired any day because they are losing their usefulness. Middle-aged men like Carlson can see their destinies in Candy and Crooks. For men like George it is nothing but an endless grind which will gradually wear them down until they are no longer worth even the low wages and poor food they receive. 

Steinbeck does not say what should be done about this problem in Of Mice and Men, although he does offer specific recommendations in his longer novel The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck obviously thought that the federal government should offer what people many called socialistic or communistic remedies for the deplorable conditions he described. The Great Depression destroyed a lot of Americans faith in the so-called American Dream and created an interest in the lives of ordinary people as opposed to those of the upper class. 



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Of Mice and Men

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