How does Steinbeck portray Lennie as disadvantaged in Of Mice and Men?

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John Steinbeck's novella contains a number of characters who are diasadvantaged, with Lennie Small as the most prominent of them. 

  • Zoomorphism - In the exposition, Lennie drags his feet "the way a bear drags its paws" as the two men walk down the road from Soledad toward a clearing.  He is described as pawing the water when he leans down to the stream for a drink.  In the denouement of the narrative, Lennie comes back to the clearing, "as silently as a creeping bear." This comparison to an animal certainly connotes lack of mental acumen.
  • Lennie's surname - His last name which obviously does not suggest his physical size, hints at his diminished mental capacity.  On the other hand, George's last name--Milton--suggests great insight, an insight upon which Lennie is dependent.
  • Lennie's poor memory and inability to reason well - As George and Lennie converse in the exposition, Lennie has memory lapses and George must remind him of past incidents, as well as why they are in the clearing.  Lennie becomes upset, too, as he believes that he has lost his work ticket because he does not remember that George has kept it.  That his reasoning is poor is also proved when Lennie mistakenly thinks George is angry with him over his remark about wanting ketchup on his beans for their meal in the clearing.  Consequently, he tries to ingratiate himself with George by saying that he would not eat the ketchup even if they had it, but would let George have it, instead.  In another episode, Lennie demonstrates his poor reasoning:  As Crooks taunts him in the barn by saying that George is not going to return from town, Lennie's only defense is childlike as he retorts that George would not do that.  He does not think that George would return for his things in the bunkhouse, or that he said he would be back, etc.

Lennie's diminished capacity and his disadvantages represent the situation of the itinerant worker during the Great Depression.  Treated poorly, they were made to feel inferior by the managers of the large farms and some of the owners of the ranches, such as Curley, who seeks to intimidate the men.  Commenting on his personage, Lennie Small, Steinbeck wrote that Lennie was created to represent "the inarticulate and powerful yearning of all men."

  • Lennie's lack of physical control - When Lennie works, he does pace himself as a wiser man would do.  When he grabs anyone, his emotions control the situation and he is unable to regulate his power.  A smarter man would know not to really harm Curley; he would just let Curley feel his strength enough that Curley would understand what could happen; with Curley's wife, he would just restrain her until she calmed down.  But, Lennie in his panic inadvertently kills the little woman.
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Lennie is disadvantaged in many ways in the novel. Primarily we think of his limited mental capacity, as George has to care and provide for his friend. We see this as George is responsible for everything from bus tickets to food.

Lennie also as the misfortune to have a feeble mind in a very strong body. He does not appreciate or understand his own strength as we see him destroy anything living from mice to Curley’s wife. His physical strength presents a challenge to Curley, but as he learns when Lennie crushes his hand, coupled with his lack of cognition Lennie is a lethal cocktail.

Lennie’s other disadvantage is the time in which he lives. He is threatened with being ‘locked in the booby hatch’ and really the options for helping someone like Lennie operate in society were not available. Indeed George chooses to shoot his friend rather than him suffer the torture and indignity which would face him in prison or a mental institution. The itinerant lifestyle of scrubbing for work during the Depression was a desperate time for many, And Lennie shared this challenge with thousands of others. His dream is as unlikely as those of any man around him at the time. As was indicated by Steinbeck himself, "Lennie was not to represent insanity at all but the inarticulate and powerful yearning of all men."

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How does Steinbeck show disadvantaged characters in the novel Of Mice and Men?

Steinbeck wrote of Lennie Small:

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

Certainly, the title of Steinbeck's great novella frames the narrative of the failed yearnings of all Steinbeck's characters who are disadvantaged economically, socially, racially, and mentally. Each of the characters of George Small, Curley, Candy, Crooks, and Lennie are deprived of the basic needs of man while their "well-laid schemes go awry."

Alienated from their homes, the itinerant workers who seek jobs wherever they can find them are alone and vulnerable.  In their vulnerability they become mean, as George says.  For, aggression is spawned by weakness and vulnerability as demonstrated by Curley.  Even Crooks, who has been ostracized from the others is cruel to Lennie when he enters the barn.  And, Curley's wife exhibits this aggressive attitude when Crooks tries to deter her from entering the barn as she threatens,

You know what I can do to you if you open your trap?...I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain't even funny.

Coinciding with the meanness of the disadvantaged as they seek to protect themselves, is a great distrust of one another.  When George and Lennie arrive, George is distrustful of the cleanliness of the bunkhouse, then he is wary of Candy's motives for talking to him. In addition, he feels an immediate antipathy for Curley with his appearance in the doorway; George cautions Lennie to stay away from him and not talk to him. George also views Curley's wife as "jail bait" as well as Candy, who is always suspicious of her motives for coming around the bunkhouse.  After the others learn of the death of Curley's wife, it is a distrust of the man who has killed her that creates their frenzied search.

The disadvantaged characters of Of Mice and Men are chiefly deprived of the essential needs of man:  love, security, and fraternity. Because of this deprivation they become aggressive, cruel, and uncertain of life, holding desperately to shallow dreams that give them some hope in their lonely world. 

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How does Steinbeck show disadvantaged characters in the novel Of Mice and Men?

Steinbeck seems to purposely demonstrate disadvantaged characters through every stereotype our society still struggles with.

WOMEN: Curley's wife is characterized by being a stereotypical blonde. He paints her to long for being in the movies like many girls today still dream of: fame and fortune. I think it is significant that he doesn't give her her own name.

THE ELDERLY: Candy or the swamper is tolerated by the rest of the crew. Although he has had great value at other times in life, it seems that now all he is capable of is cleaning out the bunkhouse. He has wisdom of sorts about people, yet is really not treated as an equal. He doesn't get invited out with the guys anymore. The death of his dog demonstrates great significance that comes clear when Lennie is killed, but another way to look at that is the fact that the dog was taken out because he was old and not useful anymore. This similarity to Candy was ironic.

THE MAN OF ANOTHER RACE: It is no secret that America has been a country that has struggled with race, but the treatment of the stable buck and the segregation he encounters reflects the society of the time. He had to endure beatings, isolation, and harsh words. These all perpetuated the theme of loneliness.

THE DISABLED: Clearly, Lennie is the character who takes center stage as the disadvantaged character. the plot centers events around his ability to do work and to be side-tracked by soft things. These soft things ultimately lead to his downfall.

Steinbeck portrays these characters in different ways, yet ensures that all stereotypical disadvantaged people are represented. His work proves that loneliness affects them all and society has a responsibility to repair this inhumane response to that which is different.

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Explore the ways in which Steinbeck presents characters in disadvantageous positions in Of Mice and Men.

The novel is about characters on the fringe of society. This was Steinbeck's favorite type. George and Lennie are migrant workers, which means they travel from ranch to ranch and act as hands temporarily. They never have enough money and certainly not job security. On top of that, Lennie is mentally challenged, and George as his caretaker is also enfringed.

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Explore the ways in which Steinbeck presents characters in disadvantageous positions in Of Mice and Men.

Not all of Steinbeck's disadvantaged characters react in the same ways to their disadvantage.  By portraying them in this way, Steinbeck explores the different ways that people might react to adversity.

For example, Lennie reacts to his disadvantage by relying on George.  Crooks reacts to his disadvantage by making the best of it.  He has carved out this space for himself and is very protective of that space even if it is not all that physically great.  Curley's wife reacts by lashing out in a way against the constraints imposed by her husband.

So, all of the characters who are disadvantaged react, but they do so in different ways.

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Explore the ways in which Steinbeck presents characters in disadvantageous positions in Of Mice and Men.

The entire novel is about characters who are placed in disadvantageous positions, either socially or personally.  Ironically enough, I don't see Lennie and George as being extremely representative of this.  They might have been dealt challenges, and the ending is one of them, but I when I consider "disadvantageous positions," I consider a sate of sadness surrounding the character, a description that I don't think fully applies to George and Lennie.   I would say that Candy is one of those characters placed in such a situation.  He is old, one handed, and like is dog, his usefulness around the ranch is dwindling.  The fact that he cannot speak out to save his dog is representative of much in way of "disadvantage."  The first is that his voice is silenced and he has become silent in speaking out for someone like him, his dog.  Additionally, he fully acknowledges that he has no social merit or weight in that no one speaks for him in protecting the life of his dog, something he comes to regret later on in the novella.  Crooks is another example of someone who is in a disadvantageous situation.  His condition of being Black in a time where being White was tough enough adds to his social isolation, a condition that he can only articulate, but do little regarding in the novel.  His discussion with Lennie in chapter 4 reveals this stunningly powerful state of self- perception matched with an equally powerful impotence to do anything about it.  Finally, Curley's wife is someone that is fairly disadvantaged in that she dreams of a life that will never come to her and cannot make do with the life she has.  In the end, the collision between both conditions is her undoing.  I think it's interesting that the three of these forces meet in the end of chapter 4 in a brutal exchange where their pathetic states are revealed with venomous cruelty.

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How does Steinbeck present and develop the central character of Lennie Small in Of Mice and Men?

Steinbeck presents Lennie as a childlike man. Lennie is simple-minded. Next to George, Lennie is a large man:

Lennie is 'his opposite, a huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes, with wide, sloping shoulders.'

He would never hurt anyone intentionally. Lennie doesn't know his own strength. He is strong and heavy handed. He is mentally challenged:

Lennie is mentally handicapped: he cannot quite remember what had happened in Weed; he speaks with a child's vocabulary; and he bursts into tears when George makes him give up the dead mouse that he has been secretly petting in his pocket.

Lennie would never have broken Curley's hand if Curley had not instigated the fight.

Likewise, Lennie only meant to quiet Curley's wife. He never meant to break her neck.

George loves Lennie unconditionally. Lennie loves George. The two of them are as close as family is. Lennie trusts George. He has lived by his every word.

With simple trust, Lennie has no idea what George is about to do. Lennie would never have believed that George was about to shoot him. George meant everything to Lennie.

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How does Steinbeck portray disadvantaged characters in Of Mice and Men? 

I think that Steinbeck shows that disadvantaged characters still possess the capacity to dream.  Steinbeck is able to to show that individuals are able to envision a world of what can be from what is.  Despite their own conditions, individuals find a sense of purpose and driving motivation when they are able to envision a world fundamentally different from their disadvantaged condition.  Steinbeck does not repudiate this ability to dream, even if disadvantages prevent these dreams from fruition.  It becomes the ability to dream and the intrinsic value of dreaming that is its own good, despite an individual's disadvantaged condition.

When George and Lennie travel, it is their dream that enables them to transcend their disadvantages.  When Lennie is able to reaffirm the sing- song vision of "I got you and you got me" it reflects how disadvantages can be forgotten, if only for a moment.  The fact that George kills Lennie while reminding him of his dream is a reflection of this.  Candy is much the same way.  His own disadvantaged condition does not prevent him from dreaming a vision of a world in which he can serve his own dream.  Even Crooks is able to dream of companionship and camaraderie, while Curley's wife's dreams of being in "pitchers" motivate her being.  The disadvantages that these characters face do not prevent them from dreaming.  While their dreams do not come true and remain unfulfilled, it is the act of dreaming that Steinbeck believes is part of what it means to be human.  In being a disadvantaged human being, one does not surrender the ability to dream and envision what can be from what is.

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