The American Dream In Stark Reality: Of Mice and Men explores the extent to which individuals can achieve their dreams when forced to survive challenging circumstances. For the working men on the farm, George and Lennie’s dream echoes the popular “American Dream” of the 20th century: to own one’s own land, to be the keeper of one’s own time, and to be free from the uncertainty of a transient lifestyle. Meanwhile, Curley, the boss’s son, feels insecure and wants to assert himself over all others. His unnamed wife wants only to be seen, heard, and understood. Crooks, the stable buck who is ostracized, abused, and maligned because of his race, wants the same. Of Mice and Men paints a complicated portrait of the American experience, offering a grim answer to the popular rhetoric touting the United States as a land of exceptional opportunity where hard work unilaterally yields success. Instead, Steinbeck suggests that Americans are, like all other humans, as likely to harm each other in their own self-interest as they are to band together in times of need.
- For discussion: Compare and contrast each character’s goals in the text. What do they want? What stands in their way? How do they either help or hinder their cause?
- For discussion: What does Lennie and George’s dream reveal about their characters? How does it develop their characters? Does it symbolize the same thing for both of them? Or does it have a unique meaning for each character?
- For discussion: Does anyone in the novella achieve their dreams? Who? How so?
- For discussion: Are the themes in Of Mice and Men particular to California during the Great Depression? To what extent are the relationships in the text applicable across space and time?
Life During the Great Depression: Of Mice and Men is an example of realism, a literary genre that seeks to elevate the plight of the everyday person, as opposed to focusing on the extraordinary experience of an exceptional individual. Moreover, some place the novella within a particular type of realism known as naturalism, a literary mode that considers the behavior of characters through a removed, scientific, critical lens. As a journalist, Steinbeck produced writing that exists as an artifact and attests to life in California during the Great Depression. The characters in the text are constructed so that they embody the challenges faced by different demographic groups in California during the 1930s. As it develops themes, the novella illustrates the social barriers that prevent cooperation, revealing how willing the disempowered can be to weaponize the weaknesses of others for their own gain.
- For discussion: Which privileges or prejudices empower or disempower characters in the text? Is there anything the characters could have done to change their social standing?
- For discussion: Compare and contrast Lennie and George’s interactions when they are near the river and when they are in the bunkhouse with the other men. How does the presence of others affect their behavior?
- For discussion: Read chapter 4 together as a class. How is each participant in the scene disenfranchised? How do they empower themselves? To what extent to they ultimately hold authority over others in the scene?
- For discussion: When do marginalized characters cooperate, and when do they work against each other? In the context of the story, is it better to work with others or to be independent?
Considering Euthanasia in Tragic Circumstances: As the novella reaches its climax , Lennie’s defining characteristics—his naïveté and his love of soft textures—bring about his downfall. Considering the brutal consequences Lennie will suffer at the hands of both Curley and a social system insensitive to the mentally disabled, George makes the difficult choice to end Lennie’s life himself. A parallel structure can be seen in Candy’s relationship with his old herding dog. Candy considers his dog a central and constant part of his life, much like how George has almost always...
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