What messages about isolation/loneliness does Steinbeck convey in Of Mice and Men?

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Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men has a lot to say about loneliness. In fact, even the town near where the men work, Soledad, means "solitude." Even though they work in the town of Solitude, they are not alone.

I think one thing Steinbeck is trying to get his readers to understand is that people need each other, even if the relationships may not fit the conventional paradigm that society might expect. George and Lennie are the obvious example here. One man is short and "street-wise", while the other man is huge and simple-minded. All the same, the two men need each other, compliment one another (one provides "the brains", the other provides "the brawn"), and share a common dream.

Another thing Steinbeck wants us to know about loneliness is that sometimes people can be together and yet still be alone. Curley and his wife are the main example here. They are husband and wife, yet their relationship is clearly damaged, even though they have only been married a very short time. Curley's wife has already "got the eye" after only a few weeks of marriage. Curley is already jealous of his wife and doesn't even seem to know where she is half the time.

Carlson said casually, “Curley been in yet?”

“No,” said Whit. “What’s eatin’ on Curley?”

Carlson squinted down the barrel of his gun. “Lookin’ for his old lady. I seen him going round and round outside.”

Whit said sarcastically, “He spends half his time lookin’ for her, and the rest of the time she’s lookin’ for him.”

Curley burst into the room excitedly. “Any you guys seen my wife?” he demanded.

 

Thus, in Steinbeck's novel, we are presented with a number of characters who experience lonliness in a variety of ways. In the end, though, I think Steinbeck realizes that people need each other, despite their feelings that sometimes they want to be alone:

George looked quickly and searchingly at him. “I been mean, ain’t I?”

“If you don’ want me I can go off in the hills an’ find a cave. I can go away any time.”

“No—look! I was jus’ foolin’, Lennie. ‘Cause I want you to stay with me."

 

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John Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men speaks directly to both isolation and loneliness.

Curley's wife, who remains unnamed, feels both isolated and lonely. She is the only woman on the ranch, and the men constantly remind her that she is unwanted. She, essentially, is isolated because of her gender. Given this isolation, she feels no sympathy from any of the other people at the ranch. Therefore, her loneliness is obvious. She has no one to talk to or who relates to her.

Candy is another character who feels isolated and lonely. As one of the older men on the ranch, the younger men do not seem to see his worth any longer. His only "friend" is his beloved dog. Unfortunately for him, Carlson complains so much about the aging dog that Candy allows Carlson to put the dog down. At this moment, Candy feels as though he has lost his only friend. Because of his age, Candy feels both isolated and lonely.

In the end, Steinbeck is stating that most people, at some point in their lives, will feel either isolated or lonely—perhaps both; it seems to be a reality in the lives of human beings. His novella shows the realities of human nature, regardless of age or gender. It seems to be a story on the one thing which unites mankind: emotion.

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Of Mice and Men is a critique of how capitalism grinds people up, treating them as profit-making production units rather than full human beings. Part of what keeps the migrant workers down and unable to get ahead in society is their inability, because of the wandering nature of their work, to build relationships and community. Capitalism likes this dehumanizing system, Steinbeck implies, because it ensures a permanent underclass of low-paid workers.

Steinbeck explores the themes of isolation and loneliness by showing the importance of the friendship between George and Lennie. The other men in the ranch bunkhouse wish they had such a friendship. The friendship makes possible the dream of economic independence through pooling savings and buying a small farm. Most of the other men are enthusiastic about the idea of participating in owning a farm that would give them some rootedness and genuine community, as well as dignity and security.

Most of the ranch hands feel lonely and blow their wages on drinking and prostitutes to dull the pain of their isolation. Steinbeck suggests this emerges from a cruel system that leads to unfulfilled lives.

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In John Steinbeck's novel Of Mice and Men, which is set in Depression era America, loneliness is a central theme around which many characters revolve:

  • Curley's wife: Despite the fact that she is married, Curley's wife feels neglected and lonely. She tries to combat this by flirting with the men and introducing drama into her life. Her loneliness is emphasized by the fact that no one knows her name (she is only ever referred to as Curley's wife), making her figuratively completely anonymous and alone. 
  • Candy and his dog: Candy agrees to have his dog, which is old, sick, and in the process of dying, put down by other men at the ranch. Candy's hesitance, up to this point, has been rooted in loyalty, love, and the fear of loneliness. Candy, the only black man on the ranch, is also isolated; although he is surrounded by other ranch hands, he has no close friends, hopes, or dreams until George and Lennie arrive. 

These two examples, and there are many more in the text, prove that loneliness is not the result of being alone, but it is the result of having no close personal connections or experiences of empathy. Solitude does not have to be lonely, and one can feel isolated in a room full of people. 

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Throughout the course of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, the author examines the concepts of lonliness and isolation. The two main characters, George and Lennie, do not have wives, but they do have each other. They travel around together, they work together, and they share a common dream of buying a little house and running a small farm.

Besides George and Lennie, Steinbeck's audience also meets characters like Candy, whose best companion is an old dog that Carlson shoots to put out of its misery. Once Candy becomes isolated, he tries to buy in (literally) to George and Lennie's dream house to avoid experiencing further isolation and lonliness.

Steinbeck also present us with a character named Slim. Slim has been married for two weeks, but already his wife has eyes for other men. So, even though, she is married, she seems to be quite lonely.

Thus, in the course of his novel, Steinbeck seems to be saying that people need each other. They need the society of other people. They need to feel valuable and needed. Furthermore, conventional relationships, such as husband and wife, provide no guarantee that a person will not be lonely. On the other hand, unconventional relationships, such as the one between George and Lennie, the latter of whom is mentally challenged, can be deep and meaningful.

George said, “Guys like us got no fambly. They make a little stake an’ then they blow it in. They ain’t got nobody in the worl’ that gives a hoot in hell about ‘em—”

“But not us,” Lennie cried happily. “Tell about us now.”

George was quiet for a moment. “But not us,” he said.

“Because—”

“Because I got you an’—”

“An’ I got you. We got each other, that’s what, that gives a hoot in hell about us,” Lennie cried in triumph.

 

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Why are the themes of loneliness and isolation important in the novel Of Mice and Men?

The themes of loneliness and isolation in John Steinbeck's novella 'Of Mice and Men' are important because they are universal themes (that it is they are timeless in terms of mankind's life on earth from the beginning,now and maybe into the future.) In other words, since time began, man has been a sociable being - and as time went on he was able to make huge strides in comparison with other species due to his ability to communicate and above all to co-operate, to share skills and get things done for the benefit of all. Sadly, many of the characters in the noverlla have communication challenges, and are isolated -both in terms of geography and personality. The most obvious symbol of this is Lenny's learning disability, yet every character has a relationship challenge of his own.

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Why is the theme loneliness in Of Mice and Men?

The life of an itinerant rancher during the Great Depression was a lonely one. Often, these men would move from job to job, never having a stable place to live nor having the ability to enjoy a permanent family. George explains this all to Lennie: 

Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no fambly. They don’t belong no place. They come to a ranch an’ work up a stake and then they go into town and blow their stake, and the first thing you know they’re poundin’ their tail on some other ranch. They ain’t got nothing to look ahead to. 

George goes on to explain that he and Lennie can combat this plight. Instead of accepting this lonely lifestyle, they are determined to stay together. Their friendship and their dream of owning a farm help them get through such a lonely existence. Their story is, in part, a strategy of avoiding loneliness. 

Crooks is also a lonely character. He is ostracized from the other ranchers because he is black. He has his own separate bunk in the harness room. Because the other workers shun him, Crooks closely guards his own space. When Lennie comes in to talk with him, Crooks is initially overprotective of his space and wants to be left alone. But over the course of their conversation with Lennie and Candy, Crooks warms to them because he sees them as kindred, lonely spirits. Candy fears that, in his old age, he will eventually been deemed useless and thus will face a lonely time in finding a new job. Crooks and Candy warm to Lennie's dream of owning a farm because they think they would have a place there. They would be accepted. However, Curley's wife puts a stop to this conversation and scares Crooks into returning to his ostracized state. 

Curley's wife is also a lonely figure. She is is only woman on the ranch. She may have felt pressured into marrying Curley for financial security. But she is lonely and therefore she constantly seeks out companionship with the other men. She also laments her missed opportunity. She had a dream of being an actress. Lennie, Crooks, Candy, and Curley's wife all experience loneliness for different reasons. This is why it is such a significant theme in the book. 

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Why is it significant that there are so many lonely characters in Of Mice and Men?

By using so many lonely characters in Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck reflects life of real migrant workers during the period following the Great Depression and during the Dust Bowl.  Many people went to search for employment out west, such as in California, the setting of many of Steinbeck's novels.  Drought and poor farming techniques had led to much of the lack of available work and people were in search of ways to survive.  The migrants set up "camps" wherever they could and would search for work in the local area until there was none.  Then, they would move on to another location to begin a new search.  Because of this frequent movement, few people had ties to others.  Relationships could not be very meaningful because those with whom one worked were also in the same habit of picking up and moving at a minute's notice.  The motivation for these frequent moves and short periods of employment at one farm was survival.  As a result, loneliness is an appropriate theme for the novel considering the context.  Steinbeck's reflection of the theme in Curley's wife, George and Lennie, Candy, Crooks, Slim, etc. merely mirrors Americans during this time.

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Why is it significant that there are so many lonely characters in Of Mice and Men?

I think that Steinbeck's construction of so many lonely characters helps to bring out how special the relationship between George and Lennie actually is.  On one hand, the relationship is so significance precisely because in a world where there are so many lonely people, two people have found the loyalty to stand by one another.  Another reason why the loneliness present in the outside world is significant is because George and Lennie have found a way to be fundamentally different than the world around them, transcending what is into what should be.  I think that Steinbeck's inclusion of so many people who are lonely also helps to illuminate the despair and agonizing isolation brought on by the Great Depression and intrinsic to the plight of the migrant worker.  Steinbeck is socially astute enough to suggest that while there is an economic reality being deprived in such a condition, its real pain is the emotional severance of bonds or connections to other human beings.  In this respect, Steinbeck's depiction of so many lonely people helps to illuminate how the aspect of isolation and despair is something that human beings must actively resist, preventing themselves from becoming like the hopelessness and loneliness found in the characters that work and live on the ranch.

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In Of Mice and Men, why is loneliness the other theme aside from friendship?

John Steinbeck's novella, Of Mice and Men, has many different themes highlighted within the text. That said, one theme (set in contrast with another) is the idea of friendship and loneliness. While it may seem that each are far too contrasting to be aligned, the ideas presented with each tie together through the contrast. 

Essentially, the idea of loneliness is paired with the idea of friendship based upon the relationships depicted within the novella. While the only true friendship seen is the one between Lennie and George, both are essentially lonely. George is lonely because he is contrastingly different from Lennie. While the friendship exists, it is only based upon necessity (a promise made to Lennie's aunt). That said, Lennie is also lonely in the text. His search for friendship is constant (he is always seeking out things to bring him companionship).

As for the other men in the novella, none of them have a true relationship with the others. While each may look up to another, the men on the ranch are all about the individual. For example, Carlson wants Candy's dog put down because it annoys him. If he were really friends with Candy, he would not push for the dog's death. Instead, he would embrace his friend and understand Candy's need for his dog.

Essentially, the theme of loneliness exists as a contrast to friendship. By highlighting one, readers are able to see the highlighting of the other. Therefore, one can readily identify friendship given they can also identify loneliness. Each need to be a part of the novella in order for the other to be apparent.

"Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world...With us it ain't like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us."

The contrast must be set up for the novella to progress as it does, for the conclusion to make sense, and for the relationship between George and Lennie to be understood by the readers and the ranchers alike.

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