How is power presented in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men?

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In Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, power is depicted through socio-economic, physical, and racial dynamics. Characters like Slim gain respect through physical prowess, while figures like Candy and Crooks face powerlessness due to physical disabilities. Financial power is represented by characters like Curley and his father who control employment, and racial power is highlighted by the isolation and threats faced by Crooks due to his skin color.

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Two kinds of power prevail in Steinbeck's book - material/financial power and physical power. These forms have their counterparts in the powerlessness of poverty and physical disability. 

Many of the characters in the story are directly aligned with one of these categorical descriptions. Slim presents an example of how physical...

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prowess translates into esteem within the community of the ranch. He is very capable as a skinner and this physical ability makes him the most respected member of the community. 

Emphasis is placed on Slim's skill and craftsmanship; he does his job exceedingly well.

Contrastingly, Candy and Crooks have physical disabilities that can be read symbolically. A missing hand and a crooked back are representative (and perhaps the cause of) the powerlessness that characterizes them. With a diminished ability to do work, Crooks and Candy are relegated to the low end of the social ladder. 

In these ways, power is presented in a rather literal way in the book. Social power grows from physical power. 

Financial power is another mode of power in the book. Curley and his father occupy a position of power, with the ability to hire and fire men. This type of power is not enough to satisfy Curley, as we can see from his behavior toward Lennie. In picking a fight with Lennie, Curley displays the nature of his power as well as his insecurity.

His position in society has encouraged this behavior; his real strength lies not in his fighting ability but in his power to fire any worker.

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In the setting of the 1920s, there are two divisions of power:  socio-economic and racial.

  • Socio-economic power

In Chapter One, as George and Lennie make camp in the clearing, their talk is about one day owning a farm and the fact that they have another to care about them:

"We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us.  We don't have to sit in no bar room...because we got no place else to go....

"O.K. Someday--we're gonna get the jacktogether and we're gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an' a cow and some pigs and--..."

This concept of fraternity and community ownership are central to Steinbeck's socialism which he purports in his narrative as solutions to the alienation of workers in California.

The bosses wield power because of their economic prowess. For, Curley comes around the other men, who say little in response to his aggressive words simply because he is the son of the boss. Taking advantage of her social position,  Curley's wife flirts and taunts the men, knowing that they must be polite to her because of who she is.

  • Racial power

Crooks, the black stable mate, is ostracized from the other ranch workers because of his color. Marginalized in this manner, Crooks reads and occupies himself alone when not working. In Chapter Five, however, when he tells Curley's wife that she cannot enter the barn near his quarters, she issues orders to Crooks, instead, and threatens him, as well.

"You got no rights comin' is a colored man's room...I'm gonna ast the boss not toever let you come in the barn no more.

She turned on him in scorn. "...You know what I can do to you if you open your trap?"

Crooks stared hopelessly at her, and then he sat down on his bunk and drew into himself."

Crooks is so intimidated by this confrontation that he withdraws his name from wishing to join the others on a farm.

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In the novel Of Mice and Men, how is the theme of power presented?

While the importance of friendship, the pain of loneliness and the American Dream are the prominent themes in Of Mice and Men, power could be considered a theme because examples of misuse of power are apparent in the book.

George misuses the power he has over the simple minded Lennie when he reveals to Slim that he used to play dangerous jokes on Lennie. He describes a scene on the Sacramento River:

"One day a bunch of guys was standin’ around up on the Sacramento River. I was feelin’ pretty smart. I turns to Lennie and says, ‘Jump in.’ An’ he jumps. Couldn’t swim a stroke. He damn near drowned before we could get him. An’ he was so damn nice to me for pullin’ him out. Clean forgot I told him to jump in. Well, I ain’t done nothing like that no more.”

Throughout the course of the novel, however, George's behavior toward Lennie is nothing but honorable. The mercy killing at the end is a hard but necessary moment in the two men's friendship.

The saddest example of power in the novel is that which Carlson wields over Candy in the killing of Candy's dog. Carlson continues to insist that Candy's dog is too old and no good anymore. He finally gets the approval of Slim, who, in the world of the bunkhouse, has final say. Slim's power, however, can be considered benevolent because he offers one of his puppies to Candy after passing final judgement on the old dog. Slim says,

“You can have a pup if you want to.” He seemed to shake himself free for speech. “Carl’s right, Candy. That dog ain’t no good to himself. I wisht somebody’d shoot me if I get old an’ a cripple.” 

The dog is virtually Candy's only friend and his killing, even though probably the best thing for the dog, hits Candy hard.

Another example of power is that which is held by the brutal and unstable Curley. Because he is the boss's son the other men are afraid for their jobs if Curley takes a dislike to them. After the fight between Lennie and Curley in the bunkhouse Slim is able to turn the tables on Curley and threatens to tell what happens if Curley gets George and Lennie "canned":

“I think you got your han’ caught in a machine. If you don’t tell nobody what happened, we ain’t going to. But you jus’ tell an’ try to get this guy canned and we’ll tell ever’body, an’ then will you get the laugh.” 

The black stable buck Crooks is also a victim of the power of racism and segregation, prominent in 1930's America. Because he's black Crooks rarely associates with the white workers other than during horseshoe tournaments or on special occasions. When Lennie enters his private quarters and asks why Crooks is not allowed in the white bunkhouse Crooks replies, 

“’Cause I’m black. They play cards in there, but I can’t play because I’m black. They say I stink. Well, I tell you, you all of you stink to me.” 

And later in the same chapter after Crooks shares some camaraderie with Lennie and Candy, Curley's wife reminds him of his impotence in the face of racism. After he tells her to get out of his room Curley's wife threatens him with a plain fact of life in segregated America. Merely mentioning that Crooks might have touched her or even spoken to her provocatively would get Crooks in terrible trouble. Curley's wife says,

“Listen, Nigger,” she said. “You know what I can do to you if you open your trap?” ... “Well, you keep your place then, Nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny.”

So, one could make a definite argument that power, as exemplified by the above examples, is an important theme in Of Mice and Men.

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How does Steinbeck use symbolism to convey his theme in Of Mice and Men?

Steinbeck uses two animal symbols to convey his theme of innocence lost in the novel Of Mice and Men: the rabbit and the mouse.

Rabbits play an important role in this novel. They symbolize freedom on the farm as they are able to survive and flourish in their cages, but they also represent cuddly warmth and happiness to Lennie. Rabbits, however, do not exist on the farm to be cuddled; rather, they are a food source that happens to be fun to pet, but only while they are alive, which isn't for long. Rabbits represent a sort of innocent fantasy life for Lennie, a life that is pleasant, but only temporary.

Mice are also significant, especially as they are mentioned in the title of the novel. Lennie carries a dead mouse in his pocket because he likes to stroke it, and in this slightly grotesque image, the reader can observe Lennie's attraction to what is soft and vulnerable. The dead mouse portends Lennie's own death, which he accidentally brings upon himself because he, in his childlike innocence, can't help but overpower soft and vulnerable things.

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How does Steinbeck present the theme of power in the novel Of Mice and Men?

Think of power in personal relationships. For example, Slim and Curley's father all have social power in that they are in positions of authority. Everyone on the ranch has authority over Crooks, as a segregated, second-class citizen in the America of the 1930s. Curley has authority over his wife, since this was long before women achieved some social equality. These all represent one kind of power.

Another kind of power is economic power. Curley's Dad owns the ranch, and can fire workers at will, and is the one who pays them each month. He is wealthy while the workers are living month to month.

The story reinforces these themes of power constantly, so it is the central premise of the book.

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How does John Steinbeck use techniques to portray power in his novel Of Mice and Men?

I would say that the most evident technique that Steinbeck uses to display power between characters is his use of dialogue.  The spoken communication between characters really brings out where power lies and who has it as opposed to who lacks it.  Consider the scene between Lennie, Crooks, Candy, and Curley's wife.  There is intense dialogue present that brings out how she has power and how they lack it.  This comes out in her denigration of Candy and her insulting of Crooks on a racial level.  This dialogue reveals the power dynamic in which all of the characters live and helps to explain how they will never be able to escape the power that envelops them all.  This same dynamic is seen in the shooting of Candy's dog.  Through dialogue, power is revealed.  The lack of power is also revealed.  In this setting, those who speak up for the dog being shot represent the power, for the voices that believe the dog should live are in the minority.  It is here where I think that a great deal of illumination is present in how power is constructed on the farm and in the society in which the characters live.  Steinbeck's use of narration and through this, dialogue, helps to bring such a condition out to the reader's mind.

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How is the theme of power linked to all the other themes in the novel Of Mice and Men?

Of Mice and Men is a novella in which power plays a significant role.  One way to talk about power is to see who has it and how it's used, as the post above does.  Another way to look at the theme of power in this work is to see who doesn't  have it, why they don't, and the consequences of being powerless.

Lennie is powerless in all the ways that matter.  He isn't particularly able to think for himself or make his own decisions because of hs mental disability.  The consequences of that are being dependent on others for nearly everything and continually being held in check on things he does want to do.

George is powerless in one sense--because he loves Lennie and feels responsible for taking care of him, he is powerless to do the things he'd really like to do.

Candy is powerless now that he's no longer able to be productive.  He was once empowered; since his injury, though, he has been powerless, just like his dog, to live what he considers to be a productive life.

Curley's wife is powerless in that she is trapped in an unhappy, loveless marriage but wants nothing more than to be loved.  This unfulfilled need drives her to be the lonely "bad girl" she ends up being.

Crooks is powerless because of his color as well as his physical deformity.  Society might be able to overlook one or the other, but certainly not both.  As a consequence, his inside is as deformed as his outside.

How power is wielded against the powerless, as well as the consequences of being powerless, is a fascinating concept in this novella.

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How is the theme of power linked to all the other themes in the novel Of Mice and Men?

Power is a difficult theme to assess in a novella like Of Mice and Men. A more pointed theme is alienation or lonliness. It seems as if, however, most alienation or lonliness in the text comes as a result of someone else exerting their power over another character.

For example, Lennie is under George's power and control. Lennie somehow comprehends that this is for his own good. Ironically, Lennie has enough strength as it relates to physical power to take George out if he wanted to.

Another example of power is when Curley begins beating on Lennie in about the middle of the book. Lennie doesn't fight him back at all... until George lets him. Curley is exerting his power as the boss' son. When George lets Lennie defend himself, all Lennie does is grab Curley's hand and squeeze it. This shows Lennie's physical strength so strongly that the group decides (under Slim's direction) not to say a word about what actually happened, but to report he got it caught in a machine.

 These examples of power are linked to other themes because Curley would not have to do what he did except that he lacks the confidence in himself. He is trying to show off. This demonstrates he must have feelings of alienation or he wouldn't go to such great efforts. With George, he uses his power sparingly and in an effort to keep peace. Dealing with Lennie's mental disability he must make these efforts or the two of them would constantly be in trouble.

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Explain the ways in which John Steinbeck presents the theme 'power' in the novella Of Mice and Men.

Central to Steinbeck’s portrayal of ranch life is his creation of a distinct hierarchy. It becomes immediately clear that the Boss maintains the highest position. Through the symbolism of his lack of name, “The Boss” is defined as being almost like an uninvolved god-like figure. This impression is reinforced by his imposing body language; the daunting action, “he hooked his thumbs”, is used to demonstrate the superiority in his position. At the conclusion of his meeting with George and Lennie, he “abruptly” left, consequently stressing his self-importance.

Simply because of his connection to The Boss, Curley adopts a position of power. Corrupted by the authority, he possesses a threatening personality. This is exhibited by Steinbeck’s description of his physical appearance – his glance is “cold” and he adopts the stance of a fighter, with his “hands closed into fists”. Furthermore, he seems to think that he can assert his authority only by physically terrorising others, such as Lennie. The tension in their relationship is exhibited by Curley’s vicious threat, “Well, nex’ time you answer when you’re spoke to.” This bravado can be explained by the fact his status is undermined because his wife is not satisfied with their married relationship and is “eyeing” other men.

In juxtaposition to Curley, his wife is presented as having a very low status. Steinbeck doesn’t give her a name and this has a symbolic meaning that emphasises her second-class citizenship. It reflects the inferior role of women in society at that period in time and gives the impression that she is a “possession of Curley”; this is ironic, as they never seem to be together. Apart from referring to her as “Curley’s wife”, the author and some of character use many derogatory terms for example “tart” and “rat trap”. This shows that the men are wary of and don’t class her as an equal.

Similarly, Crooks also holds no authority and he has long been the victim of oppressive violence, due to the colour of his skin. He is often referred to as “nigger” by his fellow ranch workers and this dehumanising insult exhibits the lack of respect for him. Nevertheless, he gains self-confidence from the company of Lennie and Candy in his “bunk”; this encourages him to try to counter the intrusion of Curley’s Wife. However, his he humiliated by her consequential fierce threat, “I could get you strung up”. This brutal threat establishes the cruel power of white over black.

When Steinbeck first introduces Candy, he is just described as “the old man”. This generic term dehumanises him, showing the reader the low status he possesses, because of his old age. Moreover, he is shown to have no real place on the farm; exhibited by the way he was “jus’ standing in the shade”. The word “jus’” implies that he has nothing better to do, due to the other ranch workers; exclusion of him. This illustrates how, because of his age and his disability, he has become marginalized, as symbolised by the word “shade”.

Slim is the most respected person on the ranch. Steinbeck's descriptions of Slim suggest an idealised characterisation and he attaches images of royalty: “majesty” and “prince”. He exerts a natural authority as a result of his strong moral sense. His opinions are valued by the ranchers and his pronouncement about Candy’s dog, “he ain’t no good to himself”, seals its fate.

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How does Steinbeck use Slim to show ideas about power in Of Mice and Men?

Slim is the most respected person on the ranch. Steinbeck's descriptions of him suggest an idealised characterisation. He exerts a natural authority as a result of his strong moral sense. His opinions are valued by all of the ranchers and his pronouncement about Candy's dog, "he ain't no good to himself", seals its fate. In addition, his superior status is reinforced when Steinbeck attaches images of royalty to him through his use of divine imagery, for instance, "majesty" and "prince"

I hope that helps!!!

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