Last Updated on May 22, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1422
Essential Passage 1: Chapter 1
Lennie hesitated, backed away, looked wildly at the brush line as though he contemplated running for his freedom. George said coldly, “You gonna give me that mouse or do I have to sock you?”
“Give you what, George?”
“You know God damn well what. I want that mouse.”
Lennie reluctantly reached into his pocket. His voice broke a little. “I don’t know why I can’t keep it. It ain’t nobody’s mouse. I didn’t steal it. I found it lyin’ right beside the road.”
George’s hand remained outstretched imperiously. Slowly, like a terrier who doesn’t want to bring a ball to its master, Lennie approached, drew back, approached again. George snapped his fingers sharply, and at the sound Lennie laid the mouse in his hand.
George and Lennie have stopped for the night at a shady spot beside a river, traveling on their way to a job on a nearby ranch. Having been let off four miles from the ranch by a bus driver who did not want to take the trouble to take two migrant workers that far out of his way, George and Lennie find a place to rest. Lennie, fascinated by soft things, has found a dead mouse beside the road. He is hiding it in his pocket, knowing that George will make him throw it away. Lennie often had mice as pets as a child, given to him by his Aunt Clara, but he always killed them by petting them too hard. Now under George’s protection, Lennie follows him closely, with dog-like devotion. And it is in this way that George occasionally treats him.
Essential Passage 2: Chapter 2
Lennie cried out suddenly—“I don’t like this place, George. This ain’t no good place. I wanna get outta here.”
“We gotta keep it till we get a stake. We can’t help it, Lennie. We’ll get out jus’ as soon as we can. I don’t like it no better than you do.” He went back to the table and set out a new solitaire hand. “No, I don’t like it,” he said. “For two bits I’d shove out of here. If we can get jus’ a few dollars I the poke we’ll shove off and go up the American River and pan gold. We can make maybe a couple of dollars a day there, and we might hit a pocket.”
Lennie leaned eagerly toward him. “Le’s go, George. Le’s get outta here. It’s mean here.”
George and Lennie, having arrived late to the ranch where they have secured a job, sit in the bunk house, meeting their new companions. Curley, the boss’s surly son, has already developed a dislike for Lennie, which is not unusual since Curley dislikes and distrusts everyone. His wife, however, enjoys hanging around the bunkhouse, pretending to be in search of her husband. At Lennie’s first introduction to Curley’s wife, he is enthralled by her prettiness. George, however, recognizes trouble when he sees it, and he warns Lennie to stay away from her. Lennie had found himself in serious trouble on their last job when he tried to touch a girl’s dress, panicking and unable to let go when she screamed. Accused of rape, Lennie and George had to escape by hiding in a ditch. George is beginning to see signs that a similar situation might occur. Suddenly, Lennie sees the danger and wants to leave the ranch. “This ain’t no good place,” he says, detecting the underlying tension among the ranch inhabitants and sensing trouble. George, however, tells him they have to stay, since they are trying to earn money, not just to survive, but to buy a place of their own so they can give up the migrant work.
Essential Passage 3: Chapter 6
George came quietly out of the brush and the rabbit scuttled back into Lennie’s brain.
George said quietly, “What the hell you yellin’ about?”
Lennie got up on his knees. “You ain’t gonna leave me, are ya, George? I know you ain’t.”
George came stiffly near and sat down beside him. “No.”
“I knowed it,” Lennie cried. “You ain’t that kind.”
George was silent.
Lennie said, “George.”
“I done another bad thing.”
“It don’t make no difference,” George said, and he fell silent again.
Lennie, after accidentally breaking the neck of Curley’s wife, has escaped to the clearing by the river where the story began. This is where George, anticipating the possibility of trouble, had told Lennie to run to and hide if need be. In a quiet panic, Lennie sits by the river and waits, for what he does not know. He has a vision of his Aunt Clara, berating him for doing another bad thing, when he should have been doing what George told him to. Suddenly, a giant rabbit appears and tells him he is worthless, unable to actually care for the rabbits he has so long been wanting. The rabbit tells Lennie how tired George is of him, and how much better George would be without him. At this point, George finds Lennie and the rabbit disappears. Calmly, George approaches Lennie, knowing what he must do. Lennie admits he is done “another bad thing.” George, looking at the meaningless of life, says makes no difference.
Analysis of Essential Passages
In the setting of the Great Depression of the 1930s, Lennie is a misfit, an outcast who cannot exist on his own without the guidance and protection of the more worldly-wise, though cynical, George. It is a time when the American Dream has evaporated. Poverty and meanness are the standard order of the day for many. Trapped in this world, Lennie personifies the loss of the American Dream and innocence.
Lennie is enchanted by the sensuous touch of soft things. Whether it is puppies, mice, a dress, or a woman’s hair, Lennie abandons himself to the physical comfort he derives from these things. Not meaning anything of a lecherous or destructive nature, Lennie nevertheless finds himself harming that which he loves. In the same way, the American Dream is presented by Steinbeck as a lovely idea of innocence and comfort, but one that has led to economic disaster and despair. Like the dead mouse, that innocence has “broken” the people.
Yet in that innocence, Lennie does have a sense of the evil that is in the world, especially an evil that may be brought on by himself. He describes the ranch as “mean,” as unaccepting of the innocence of one such as himself. He has a premonition, as has George, that their time there will end in trouble, though the extent of it is unguessed by Lennie. He simply feels that it is “not a good place” and wants to leave. Yet they must stay for the sake of earning a living. Rather than heeding the warning, George and Lennie stay, seemingly resigned to the disaster that they know will overtake them. Yet they hold on to the dream, believing that, through their own efforts they can make it come true.
Yet they cannot. The innocence of Lennie brings it all to a crashing halt. Devoid of evil, Lennie nevertheless kills. In the same way, the lifestyle that was pursued in the 1920s, not necessarily bad, still brought on hard times for all. But destruction brought on through innocence is destruction nonetheless. Fatalistically, Steinbeck presents the ineffectiveness of the value system that has stabilized the American culture from its beginning. The delusion of meaning in life has brought the people, and the world, to this present crisis. It does not matter whether one is good or bad. All that matters is that one realizes that nothing matters. People are the victims of the fate in which they find themselves. Hopes and dreams of a better, more comfortable life only lead to destruction, both of the dream and the dreamers.
George, knowing that the other men will kill Lennie, decides that he must do it himself. Like Lennie, the dream must die. It does not make a difference anymore. There is no good or bad, in the sense that good will be rewarded and bad punished. This belief is what brought America to its knees, Steinbeck seems to be saying. The innocence of the American Dream brought on the American Nightmare. Thus, the American Dream must die, hopefully by a loving hand.
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