Who are the characters that best illustrate the theme of loneliness and difference in Of Mice and Men?I have to write an essay on the theme of loneliness and difference, and I have to refer to...

Who are the characters that best illustrate the theme of loneliness and difference in Of Mice and Men?

I have to write an essay on the theme of loneliness and difference, and I have to refer to characters and setting in my response. What are the characters that symbolise this theme and how do they do this?



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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Great Depression of the 1930s saw many men leave their families when they could no longer provide for them.  They became "bindle stiffs," riding the railroad cars to California where they became itinerant workers on the large corporate-owned farms.  Alienated from family and home, these disposessed men often became paralyzed emotionally.  John Steinbeck wrote of Lennie Small, whom he created to express this paralysis,

"Lennie was not to represent insanity at all but the inarticulate and powerful yearning of all men."

Steinbeck turned to the ideology of socialism as a solution to man's alienation.  With the motif of the fraternity of men that socialism brings, Steinbeck has his characters seek a sense of belonging and hope with one another. For George and Lennie, who already have each other, it is also their dream of owning a ranch that propels them; likewise Old Candy begins to have hope for his future when he thinks of joining in on George and Lennie's plans.  Even the Crooks, the doubly alienated stable worker, sheds some of his despair after he learns of the dream ranch in which he may become a partner.

But, outside of the dream, George and Lennie are still just itinerant workers who must be cautious in their speech and actions so that they can keep their jobs.  Worse yet, the boss's belligerent son, Curley, acts as an opposing force to George and Lennie's friendship and happiness by harassing Lennie until Lennie is instructed by George to "let him have it," and he crumples Curley's hand.  Of course, when Curley's wife tempts Lennie and he accidentally breaks her neck, the friendship of the two men is endangered; then, after Lennie's death, George knows the dream, too, is dead and he is so terribly alone.

Likewise, Curley's wife, who is merely a genitive of Curley, acts also as an opposing force; this time she is a temptress, an Eve as it were, interfering with the fraternity of the men. She and her husband illustrate difference as they both are outside the fraternity of the men.

Old Candy, crippled by having lost a hand, spends his days sweeping and cleaning up the bunkhouse.  He worries that the boss and the others may feel that he is like his old dog and has outlived his usefulness. He tells George and Lennie that he will make a will and leave his share to the others if they let him buy in on their dream.  When he discovers Curley's wife and George leaves, Candy kneels by her'

"You...tramp....You done it di'n't you? I s'pose you're glad.  Ever'body knowed you'd mess things up.  You wasn't no good.  You ain't no good now, you lousy tart.....I could of hoed in the garden and washed dishes for them guys."

Crooks, isolated from the society of his home town, is doubly alienated as he is made to live in the stable alone because he is black.  Hostile at first at Lennie who steps into the barn, he later tells Lennie that he feels as though he is "goin' crazy" because he has no one to talk to or to compare things by. Crooks expresses his terrible aloneness,

"A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody.....I tell ya a guy get too lonely sn' he get sick."  ....Sometimes he get thinkin', an' he got nothing to tell him that's so an' what ain't so....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."

Alienated from their own communities and from those they work with, the bindle stiffs of the ranch in Of Mice and Men experience a terrible loneliness.