Why do you think Steinbeck writes about a world in which there is no hope?John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Many critics classify Steinbeck as a naturalist, and as such he sees the grim side of life.  But, beyond his literary penchant, Steinbeck was convinced that capitalism neglected the common man, who under such a system, did become a wretch. It is only through the brotherhood of man that there is any happiness and strength, Steinbeck suggests in his novella, Of Mice and Men.  This theme is prevalent as George extols the advantages of having someone to talk with and care for; when Candy, Lennie, and Crooks are in the barn together there is a camaraderie.  However, there are forces that interrupt the fraternity of the men:  a woman and the cruelty of man for man.  These are the naturalistic forces that Steinbeck perceived working against men.  As a Socialist, he believed that in men's unity there was hope; alone they were victims of the harsh capitalistic world.  And, in Mice and Men, this desperate setting of the Great Depression is proof, especially of the American migrant worker, who was being displaced by the low-wage immigrants such as the Chinese, Japanese, and Fillipino.

Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I don't know that the world of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men is a world with absolutely no hope, but I will grant you it is a world with little hope.  And I can't really speak for Steinbeck.  What I can tell you is that the novel reflects the human condition, at least for many, many humans.

Twentieth-century fiction, for the most part, attempts to strip away human illusions and reveal the human condition.  Even when it is not realistic in form, its themes are realistic, actual.  In other words, even when it is, say, science fiction (anything from Vonnegut, for instance), its ideas/themes pertain to human existence.  The form, etc., may be playful, but the ideas treated are serious. 

Steinbeck, who is realistic in form, is no exception.  The novel presents a world with little hope because that's how the world is, or, at least, that's how the world is often perceived to be.  The world is a nasty place for most humans. 

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would say that this is because he was writing during a time, and about a group of people, for whom there seemed to be little hope.  He wanted to dramatize the terrible situation that such people were going through.

This book was first published in 1937 and was set at right about that same time.  This was right in the middle of the Great Depression and the US economy as a whole was in very bad shape.

Things were especially bad for people who had been itinerant farm workers.  They were becoming more and more obsolete as machinery replaced them.

Between the mechanization and the Depression, these people would have felt like they were being pushed around by all sorts of powerful forces.  George and Lennie are a good metaphor for these people.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Steinbeck is a novelist commited to exposing his readership to the uncomfortable truths facing America at the time. Thus many of his novels seek explicitly to evoke the horror and reality of the desperate position of his protagonists. This is why Grapes of Wrath, The Pearl and Of Mice and Men are of course depressing reads and his challenging titles are by no means limited to these three novels. What it does do is challenge us as readers to take note of the desperate poverty of these times and to learn moral stories from his tales. Of Mice and Men therefore extols companionship and brotherhood as a means of maintaining hope, and shows how capitalism and unbridled commercialism erodes away at that friendship.

coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is hope in the novel 'Of Mice and Men' by John Steinbeck, but maybe not for the 'right' people as decent caring people might see it. For example, if we are talking of financial hope and security for the future, then Curly, his father and Curly's wife have it - at least for a time in Curly's wife's case. Her hopes and dreams of a career in the Hollywood movies may have been dashed, but she still had the hope of children and finacial security and progress ahead of herbefore the killing. Nasty types though they were, the two bosses had financial security to look forward to. So maybe what Steinbeck was representing was that the hope was only for the undeserving - the exploitative, the capitalists and the tyrants.

missy575 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Steinbeck obviously commits time to the issues of the Great Depression and coming industrialization.

I think his purpose for showing a world with no hope has to do with the American prospect that occurs over and over. America re-creates itself regularly. It is often painful, but hope is never quite lost.

I think he provides this perspective to give hope. If someone else's situation seems so lost, then a reader's life may not seem so bad. As a piece of history and social injustice, Of Mice and Men demonstrates an era in time that we have succeeded through and it's important to remember how tough times have indeed been.

e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is hope in this world. We can see it most clearly in the scene set in Crooks room. Despite the bitterness of his experience and the suspicions that have grown out of it, Crooks is able to be happy for a moment with honest companionship.

The fact that this moment is short-lived is telling but not entirely defeating.

epollock | Student

John Steinbeck, American writer and Nobel laureate,  described in his work the unremitting struggle of people who depend on the soil for their livelihood. Steinbeck’s stories can all be classified as social stories dealing with the economic problems of rural labor, but there is also a streak of worship of the soil in his works, which does not always agree with his matter-of-fact sociological approach.

Steinbeck created the term manself, to describe and celebrate the human species; used in place of men and women. This manself is always struggling to make a success of his or her life and will prevail, no matter how terrible circumstances are.

Whereas John Steinbeck is a towering figure in the minds of most literate Americans of a certain age, his reputation in the academic world has suffered considerably over the years. Steinbeck's great work stems largely from a single decade, the 1930s, the time when he published his most endearing shorter pieces, Tortilla Flat and Of Mice and Men, closing with his masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath, in 1939.

Steinbeck's mix of folklore, politics, and moral indignation does not sit well with all readers, and his depictions of a bygone America have not always weathered the passing of time. Yet Steinbeck will be remembered as a California scribe, as the man who told the story of the American dream of going West, of the promised land that seems to be American destiny. In Of Mice and Men he offers us unforgettable images of a key chapter in our national history: The crisis of the migrant farm worker system, the ingredients of a national disaster meted out by an economic order turned monstrous, the joint plights of the downtrodden on the road and the migrant workers in California. The depiction of George and Lennie's search for the American dream of land ownership in America ends up being a story about our relation to the land and our relation to each other. Steinbeck's themes of upheaval, brutality, and unfulfilled dreams, and the violence of both nature and the economic system, are timeless, and his voice, which captures the accents of both rural America and life on the farm, continues the Whitman legacy, but in a new key: Pungent, proud, and hurt.

Above all, Steinbeck bears witness to the destruction of an earlier mode of life, an earlier covenant between man and the land, annihilated by the coming of a new industrial paradigm.

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Of Mice and Men

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