Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

 Animal imagery is vital in the characterisation of Lennie and he is often described as being like a “bear”. This animal context establishes the essential nature of him – the combination of brute strength and animal-like innocence. It is a particularly appropriate image, because it shares both his harmless appearance (as in a teddy bear) and his tendency to hold onto things in a bear hug. Furthermore, the animalistic imagery is repeated when Lennie is described as being “like a terrier”, which refers to his desire to hunt for things he can stroke.

In addition, like an animal, Lennie always tries to satisfy his immediate needs and seems unable to see the possible consequences of his potentially dangerous actions; shown by the oblivious way in which he “drank from the surface of the green pool”. Moreover, he also uses his “paw” to “dabble in the water”. By describing these animalistic behavioural traits, Steinbeck is reinforcing the reader’s view that Lennie is more like an animal than a human

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Animal imagery is used in at least two ways in this book. In both cases we can interpret the imagery as having symbolic value or representational quality. 

The most meaningful animal images are those which are repeated. Lennie is connected to mice and rabbits, innocent yet furtive creatures, soft and defenseless but wily and invasive as well.

Throughout the novel, Steinbeck associates Lennie with animal movements, and Lennie’s love of dogs and rabbits brings about the tragedy of the novel.

Lennie's inability to become truly socialized can be seen in the repeated connection between his character and animals. Like the rabbits he dreams of and the mice he keeps to pet, Lennie is wild at heart, unable to follow social rules. 

Candy is also connected to an animal, his old, smelly dog. Very much like his dog, Candy has nothing to offer anyone but a small amount of comfort. This is true of Candy's suggestion that he join Lennie and George in buying a piece of land. In this case Candy is merely padding the dream; making it seem more realistic. 

Candy's dog was his only companion, but the dog was not a real companion in the human sense. The dog needed to be cared for and tended, like George and Lennie's dream, any comfort it offered was intangible and ultimately misleading. 

Animals also figure into the setting of the book, appearing as part of the opening section. Here, animal imagery is used to convey an idyllic landscape: quiet; pastoral; timeless; natural. Living a "natural" life is not possible for George and Lennie. They are part of a commercial, capitalist system that makes the rules for their lives. 

The animals represent a natural order which Lennie craves and, ultimately, belongs to but which is denied to all the characters in the book. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss examples of animal symbolism in Of Mice and Men.

Animals are important in this book.  From the beginning, we have Lennie acting like a dog and George treating him like one when he sticks his face in the green water.  The imagery continues with the rabbit farm.  For some reason, George and Lennie have latched on to the idea that rabbits are innocent and good and made rabbits their symbol of prosperity and the easy life.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss examples of animal symbolism in Of Mice and Men.

I think that you can find many different examples of the symbolic representation of animals in the story.  The animals are a way in which Steinbeck can convey aspects of both the natural world and the human one.  For example, the rabbits represents the world of humans of what should be.  In other words, the rabbits represent Lennie's hope for the future.  One of the most constant elements in the story is how Lennie hopes for his chance to tend the rabbits.  They represent his desire for something that is not of this world.  They represent hope and dreams.  This is why the rabbit that appears to him in the form of a hallucination at the end of the novel is a foreshadowing of the despair to come.  It is at this point when Lennie realizes that he has committed a major transgression, one that will endanger his hope for the future.  I think that the opposite to this would be the animals that represent the condition of the present.  For example, if the rabbits that Lennie wishes to tend to represent the future, Candy's dog has to represent the present.  The fact that Candy's dog is dragged out by Carlson, with no one speaking out against its murder, is a statement on how reality is.  Candy's dog, a dog that has supposedly outlasted its usefulness, is taken out in the night, the "silence" as Steinbeck notes, and killed.   No one, not even his owner, speaks out in defense of it before it dies.  It is killed because society (the men on the ranch) want it killed. In the end, Candy's dog symbolizes the fact that the present condition in which humans live is brutal and cruel, one that represents the state of affairs in which humans live.  When contrasted to the hope and zeal of the future in the rabbits, Steinbeck might be making a statement that humans have a long way to go in such a process of transformation.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What animal imagery is there in Of Mice and Men?

Steinbeck - Of Mice and Men

This is an intelligent question. The careful reader will undoubtedly see that Lennie is often described as an animal. Right in the beginning of the book, Steinbeck describes him as shapeless, but when he describes his hands, he call them paws.

Behind him walked his opposite, a huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes, and wide, sloping shoulders; and he walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws. His arms did not swing at his sides, but hung loosely.

Similarly, when Lennie drinks water from a pond, he does so as a dog. He dabbles his paw in the water. Here is what the text says:

Lennie dabbled his big paw in the water and wiggled his fingers so the water arose in little splashes;

Even when Lennie gets into a fight with Curley, the text says that Lennie covered his face with his paws.

Lennie covered his face with his huge paws and bleated with terror. He cried, “Make ‘um stop, George.” Then Curley attacked his stomach and cut off his wind.

From these descriptions, it seems that Lennie does not have hands. If we follow this imagery, things begin to make greater sense from a thematic  point of view. Just as Candy's dog was shot and Slim's pups, at least four of them, were downed, Lennie will be shot as well. This is not to say that dogs come off badly in the novel. In the world of migrant workers, life is cheap. Lennie's life is included as well. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss the use of animal imagery and its function in the novel Of Mice and Men.

Lennie and George remind me of two stray dogs, wandering around looking for a meal and a warm place to lay their heads.  They dream of owning a farm, and Lennie talks of the rabbits he will raise.  Rabbits are a symbol of life or fertility, if only they can realize this dream, they will be surrounded by the bounty of life.  

Lennie has killed the mouse he held in his hand, crushing it with his strength and power, similar to how the harshness of life can crush the human spirit. 

Lennie accidentally kills his puppy, illustrating the power of the strong over the weak, and how poor Lennie and George are the weak in the current conditions in society.  They are marginalized wanderers trying to survive in the harsh conditions of the times.  

Candy's dog is shot, and put out of its misery, yet he pleads for the dog's life, explaining that he is devoted to the dog, he raised from a puppy.  The dog, according to Carlson has no purpose, similar to Steinbeck's stark barren landscape that dominates the book, life is bare, about survival, not sentiment or emotion.

The death of Candy's dog, for me is a foreshadowing of the death of Lennie at the end of the book.  He too must be done away with because he is more trouble than he is worth.  Of course George kills him to save him from suffering a harsher fate, just like Candy's dog. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on