In Of Mice and Men, how does Steinbeck present the ranch workers' lives?

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The lives of the ranch hands, who are, by and large, workers traveling from place to place, are described as harsh. For example, as George and Lennie lay down to sleep under the stars near the Salinas river before they start their new job on the ranch, George says:

I seen thrashin' machines on the way down. That means we'll be buckin' grain bags, bustin' a gut.

The ranch is a place of loneliness too. Although the men live close to one another, with little privacy and few possessions, sleeping together (except for Crooks) in the same bunkhouse, they are still lonely because their wandering lives mean they can't put down roots and become part of a community. As George says to Lennie, explaining how their friendship sets them apart:

We don't have to sit in no bar room blowin' in our jack jus' because we got no place else to go.

This particular ranch also has a mean, frightening quality, mostly radiating from Curley. George tells Lennie he's "scared" after they interact with Curley and says the place:

ain't no setup. I'm scared. You gonna have trouble with that Curley guy. I seen that kind before.

The dream farm George spins endless stories of owning is the opposite of everything wrong with the ranch: on the farm, George and Lennie can keep out people like Curley who cause trouble, they will be able to take a day off if they want to, and they will have a sense of place and plenty that the ranch does not provide.

The farm George and Lennie dream about, at least in their imaginations, provides a respite from their current dawn to dusk labor. As George says, they would only have to work:

Maybe six, seven hours a day. We wouldn't have to buck no barley eleven hours a day.

They also would a sense of satisfaction from their labor that they don't now, because their migrant status alienates them from what they do:

An' when we put in a crop, why, we'd be there to take the crop up. We'd know what come of our planting.

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In Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck presents the lives of ranch workers in a negative light. Take, for example, his description of the bunkhouse in the opening of chapter 2: the bunkhouse is where the men live, and it is depicted as being more like a prison than a home. There are few windows, for example, and the walls are "whitewashed." In addition, the men have only minimal personal effects, including soap and razors. The bunkhouse, therefore, lacks any personal touch and sense of belonging.

For Crooks, the bunkhouse is symbolic of his isolation because he is generally not allowed to go into the bunkhouse. In fact, he has only been inside once, during Christmas.

Steinbeck also suggests that the lives of these workers are dominated by feelings of loneliness and isolation. Note how a number of characters say how unusual it is for two ranch workers to travel together, as George and Lennie do. Instead, men travel and work alone. Their contact with the outside world is restricted to their visits to town on a Saturday night.

In addition, with the exception of Curley, they do not marry or have families. Their only relationships with women consist of visits to local brothels, as we see in chapter 4.

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Steinbeck presents the lives of the ranch workers to be unfulfilling, lonely, and arduous. The transient workers are essentially powerless because of their economic situation and are forced to work long hours for little pay. Typically, workers travel alone from one farm to the next without staying very long, which explains their isolated lives. However, George and Lennie are the exception and travel together as friends while they search for work. Many of the workers on the ranch also have dysfunctional, difficult lives, which are portrayed in various ways throughout the novella. Candy is getting too old to be useful and fears that he will be let go soon. Crooks is marginalized because he is black, while Carlson is depicted as a coldhearted man, who lacks empathy for others on the farm. The only wise individual who is presented in an unambiguously positive light on the farm is Slim. Throughout the novella, the workers long to own their own property and become financially stable. However, their dreams are simply fantasies which will never be attained. Even George is forced to accept the reality of his disheartening situation after Lennie accidentally kills Curley's wife. Overall, the lives of migrant ranch hands are difficult, isolated, and discouraging. The lack of significant personal relationships and financial freedom prevent the workers from living satisfying, comfortable lives.

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The life of the ranch hands is characterized by hard work, first and foremost, and also loneliness, isolation and powerlessness. Though most of the men work and bunk together, they are presented as existing in a situation where every man is on his own. 

Loneliness is a recurrent theme in the novel. "Guys like us," George says, "that work on the ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don't belong noplace."

Candy and Crooks are the best examples of the ranch hands being isolated and lonesome. Candy has just one friend, an old dog. He also has only one hand, so he can no longer do much work on the ranch. Without the ability to work, Candy is powerless in ways that are literarl and figurative. He has no property, no family, and no real wealth. 

This state of affairs characterizes all of the ranch hands. Only Lennie and George can be said to have a friend. 

Crooks is forced to stay in his own room in the stable and is not allowed to mix freely with the other ranch hands. There is a definite, if invisible, line between Crooks and the other ranch hands drawn due to race. 

Crooks' racial identity parallels the economic or financial identity of the ranch hands. They are separate from the big house, separate from Curley and Curley's father. They are separated by the issue of wealth and land ownership. 

Through these examples we can see that the ranch hands have a defined "place" on the ranch which serves to isolate them. 

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How does Steinbeck show what the living conditions are like on the ranch?

Steinbeck portrays the difficult, harsh living conditions on the ranch in chapter two by introducing the readers to the sparse bunkhouse, which is the workers's sleeping quarters. The bunkhouse itself is a long, rectangular building with whitewashed walls and an unpainted floor. There are also eight bunks inside, and each bunk has an apple box above it that serves as a shelf. The small shelves hold the men's various personal commodities like razors, powder, soap, and magazines. There is also one cast-iron stove and a big square table in the middle of the room. The empty, undecorated environment of the bunkhouse indicates that there is not much leisure time on the ranch. The lack of personal items also reveals that the men are poor and corresponds to their transient nature.

Steinbeck further illustrates the difficult life on the ranch during George and Lennie's initial interactions with Candy and the boss. George's skepticism regarding whether or not his bunk is infested with lice reveals that ranches are often unsanitary places. The boss then enters the bunkhouse and is depicted as an aggressive, distrustful man. He criticizes George and Lennie for not showing up on time and questions their work ethic and background. The boss warns them to not start any trouble and instructs them to immediately begin working on Slim's team. The boss's adversarial nature and intimidating demeanor suggest that the ranch is a hostile environment. Overall, Steinbeck illustrates that the ranch is a difficult, harsh environment, which is dangerous and extremely competitive.

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How does Steinbeck show what the living conditions are like on the ranch?

First, Steinbeck offers a detailed description of the bunk house in which the ranch hands live: an unpainted floor, eight bunkbeds, apple boxes nailed to the walls to act as shelves for personal belonging, a wood stove to heat the house. We see that the living conditions are spartan. The men do not have private rooms or even private spaces and the bunk house contains no luxuries. 

We also learn about living condition through conversation and action: George learns that Whitey, a previous hand, said he left because of the food. George carefully examines his mattress for bedbugs and lice, because Whitey left behind a powder to kill bugs, including roaches. This would indicate that such infestations were not uncommon.

Finally, we witness the boss, Curley, as he enters the bunk house and speaks threateningly to George and Lennie, warning them not to try to put anything over on him.

Everything in this initial description of living conditions indicates that ranch hands live the harsh lives of people at the lower end of the economic scale.

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What view of life on the ranch does Steinbeck present and develop in Of Mice and Men?

John Steinbeck's novella, Of Mice and Men, contains many different themes which help to present his view of life on the ranch.

Idealism versus Reality

This theme helps to define Steinbeck's view of life on the ranch based upon the motif of the American Dream. Some of the men on the ranch have submitted to the fact that their life is what it is. For example, Crooks' conversation with Lennie shows Crooks' grasp on reality.

They come, an' they quit an' go on; an' every damn one of 'em's got a little piece of land in his head. An' never a God damn one of 'em ever gets it. Just like heaven. Ever'body wants a little piece of lan'. I read plenty of books out here. Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land. It's just in their head.

Lennie, on the other hand, lives in his own idealistic world where he truly believes that he and George will have a little plot of their own land where he (Lennie) can raise his rabbits.

Alienation and Loneliness


While many men work on the ranch, all of them seem to feel a sense of alienation and loneliness. Candy feels alienated by Slim and the other men when they all agree that his dog must be put down. Crooks, on the other hand, is alienated because of his race and handicap. The idea of being surrounded by others, yet feeling alone is apparent in the novella.

Race and Racism

As mentioned above, race and racism is apparent in the novella. Crooks is isolated by the others on the ranch, forced to bunk in the harness room. Life for an African American on the ranch is lonely and isolated.

Class Conflict

Life on the ranch is defined by one's class. In this text, class is defined by both wealth and ability. Both Slim and Curley are looked up to by the ranch hands--Candy for his wealth and Slim for his ranching ability. Without either wealth or recognition, one is considered lower than another and deemed unimportant.

Loyalty

The majority of the men at the ranch do not understand the relationship between George and Lennie. They question the relationship repeatedly. That said, this illuminates life upon the ranch--men are meant to be on their own, with strength enough to stand and survive alone. The loyalty between George and Lennie is not typical on the ranch, showing that life on the ranch is an isolated one.

 

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What view of life on the ranch does Steinbeck present and develop in Of Mice and Men?

In Steinbeck's construction of the ranch, the view of life is a very isolated one.  From the very start of the narrative this is evident with the George's repeating of how "guys like he and Lennie" are different from others.  George says that "they work up a stake."  For Steinbeck, this need to "work up a stake" is significant because it is a key feature of his view of life on the ranch.  In the opening to chapter 2, there is an emotionally detached construction of the living quarters that George and Lennie encounter.  This emotional detachment is seen in the small details relayed as well as how there is little to indicate to know who was there earlier.  Such a reality helps to enhance what Steinbeck feels is essential in life on the ranch: Lack of emotional attachment.  Ranch hands come and they go and there is little in way of emotional connection or investment to one another or to something larger than themselves.  The view of life on the ranch is atomized, individualistic, and devoid of attachments.

It is for this reason that the friendship between Lennie and George are fundamentally different than the other men on the ranch.  The boss notes this in thinking that George is stealing from Lennie.  Slim remarks on this to George when he first meets him, carefully considering how people are "afraid" of one another to commit to them as George and Lennie have committed to one another.  Steinbeck presents George and Lennie as the opposite of what life is.  His presentation of the friendship and loyalty that both share represents what Steinbeck believes should be as opposed to what is.  The view of life that Steinbeck presents and envelops is one of isolation and emotional forlornness.  Yet, in presenting Lennie and George as people who believe in one another until the end, Steinbeck suggests that even the most atomized of conditions can be changed into something of solidarity.  When Slim takes George at the end for a drink, it is a reflection of how there might be a change to the view of life presented.  There is some level of hope in which what is can be transformed into what can be.

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