Why did John Steinbeck give Lennie a soft-side and a harsh animalistic side? What is the purpose of that?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that part of the reason Lennie is constructed in such a stark and dualistic manner is to reflect how human beings are complex.  In the most unique of ways, we, as human beings, are like Lennie.  There are moments of tenderness within our own frames of references as well as moments of intense savagery.  This encompasses our human experience and is representative of Lennie's predicament.  He holds intense amounts of strength, something that cannot be restrained or controlled when the circumstances are aligned in a particular manner.  Yet, his character is one of overall goodness.  It seems to me that Steinbeck wants to bring out human complexity in the idea of how good people can do bad things.  By any definition, Lennie could not be seen as a "bad" person.  Yet, he does do bad things.  In the same way, George could not be seen as a "bad" person, but he does a "bad" thing in shooting Lennie.  In the end, Lennie's compassion and his intense power of destruction are both a part of his character and in displaying him in such a manner, Steinbeck seeks to make a statement on what it means to be human.

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