What does Steinbeck say about human nature in Of Mice and Men?

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Different characters inOf Mice and Menreact to the harsh lifestyle of the itinerant worker in different ways. Curley, compensating for his small stature and harsh job, acts braver and stronger than he is. Slim seems adept at this life and is therefore able to contain Curley. Slim is also thoughtful. He understands George's sadness when Lennie is dead. Crooks realizes that even on the ranch, removed from mainstream American society, racism still exists. He reacts to this discrimination by keeping to himself. Candy, even though he's quite old, or perhaps because he's quite old and desperate, is inspired by George and Lennie's dream of owning a farm and asks to be a part of it. Prior to this, Candy's main companion and distraction from the reality of his harsh life was his dog. With the dog gone, he needs some other crutch or some other idea to take his mind off of the job.

George and Lennie feel that they are different than all these other itinerant workers but they also represent this class of people. In Chapter 1, George explains this to Lennie.

Guys like us, that work on the ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no fambly. They don't belong no place.

With us it ain't like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us.

This is a Naturalist or Social Realist novella. That is, it depicts the social and economic forces acting on human beings. The novella does call attention to the social and economic hardships of these workers during this period of American history. The novella also shows how humans react in the face of adversity.

Each character reacts differently. Lennie is simple and the dream of the farm is more than enough to keep him going from job to job. George is frustrated but generous with Lennie. George also believes in the dream of the farm or at least tries to believe in it, for his sake and for Lennie's. For George, Lennie is a friend but also a burden. He uses the dream, impossible as it might seem, to keep his and Lennie's spirits up. With respect to human nature, one conclusion is that humans find ways of dealing with harsh lifestyles. Human beings' resiliency is admirable and can be tragic, considering the obstacles they might face. Some, like Curley, react by becoming insecure and defensive. Some, like George and Lennie, dream of something better even if they know, deep down, that it is virtually impossible.

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What comments about life does John Steinbeck seem to want to convey in his novella, Of Mice and Men?

Like the mouse of Robert Burns's poem, the bindle stiffs of the Great Depression represented by George and Lennie are but pawns of fate.  They are the disenfranchised who have had to leave home in search of work; alienated and alone, they search for meaning in their lives through camaraderie and with a dream that becomes for them a mantra against their terrible loneliness:

With us it ain't like that.  We got a future.  We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us.  We don't have to sit in no bar room blowin' in our jack jus' because we got no place else to go....because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you....

The dream of owning a little farm provides meaning in their lives of drifting from one place to another. Steinbeck himself stated that his character of Lennie 

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

All men wish to have "a winter's nest" as does the little mouse of the poem; they yearn for fraternity, the only bulwark against the terrible loneliness of being without home and family.

A Socialist, John Steinbeck felt that only in the community of men could there be protection against the machinations of big business and capitalism. The big tractors, like the mowing tractor that causes the death of the little mouse in Burns's poem, that raze the sharecroppers shacks in The Grapes of Wrath, a novel also set in the 1920s, represent the uncaring machine of capitalism that force men and their family's out of homes and land on which they have been born and in which loved ones are buried. Thus, much like the Okies of Steinbeck's other novel, the bindle stiffs of Of Mice and Men are also victims of an uncaring system against which no single man can fight. It is only through the fraternity of men, Steinbeck suggests in his novella, that men can survive and find meaning.

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What comments about life does John Steinbeck seem to want to convey in his novella, Of Mice and Men?

The title of Steinbeck's novel comes from Robert Burns' poem "To a Mouse" (the longer version of the title being "To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough"). It is believed that Burns wrote the poem after discovering a nest of mice that his plough had disturbed. In the seventh stanza (Modern English Version), the speaker tells the mouse that he is not alone, that men's plans are also disrupted:

The best laid schemes of mice and men

Go often awry,

And leave us nothing but grief and pain,

For promised joy!

Lennie and George had the promise (dream) of one day owning their own farm. But those plans go awry for a number of reasons: Lennie's inability to conform to the social world of working on ranches, George's inability to watch Lennie at all times, and the brutal reality of working in those physical and economic conditions during the Great Depression.

In the second stanza of the poem, Burns writes, "I am truly sorry man's dominion / Has broken Nature's social union,"; in the novel, George and Lennie are like the mice. They are living/working on someone else's land: some other "man's dominion." The practical implication is that as long as they work for cash and have no stake in the land and their futures, they are destined to be like the mice: wanderers who will inevitably be disrupted, evacuated, or destroyed by those who "own" the land. Their dream of owning their own land is an escape from this wandering lifestyle that effectively has no future. The entire class of itinerant workers faces this reality. When Candy overhears George and Lennie talk about their dream, he is eager to join them, especially considering that, in his old age, he will become obsolete as a worker:

You seen what they done to my dog tonight? They says he wasn't no good to himself nor nobody else. When they can me here I wisht somebody'd shoot me. But they won't do nothing like that. I won't have no place to go, an' I can't get no more jobs. I'll have thirty dollars more comin', time you guys is ready to quit.

In this context of Social Realism, where the author presents the harsh reality of ranch life during the Great Depression, Steinbeck is not saying dreams are useless; rather, he is making a critique of social and economic realities which make such dreams difficult to achieve.

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What is Steinbeck trying to convey in the novella Of Mice and Men when he compares Lennie to various animals?

Throughout the novella, Steinbeck compares Lennie to various animals. Lennie is compared to a bear dragging its paws, a horse drinking water, a disobedient terrier, a terrified sheep, and a dog seeking comfort. Lennie's mental and physical character traits are illuminated by Steinbeck's comparisons. Mentally, Lennie is depicted as subhuman and unintelligent like animals. Similar to animals, Lennie acts on his instincts and does not process situations or thoughts the same way a normal person would. Lennie follows and listens to George like a dog. George even tells Slim that Lennie would jump into a river if he were told to. Lennie's dog-like personality also demonstrates his loyalty to George.

Similar to an animal, Lennie is also physically imposing and hard to control. His animal-like strength, tireless work ethic, and massive physique provide the reader with a visual reference point. Also, Lennie's animal-like personality portrays his innocence, and the reader does not hold him accountable for his actions. Steinbeck's references essentially convey to the reader that Lennie is both mentally and physically comparable to an animal.

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