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Of Mice and Men

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"The best laid schemes o'mice and men

Often go awry

And leave us nought but grief and pain

For promised joy!"-Robert Burns

Writers throughout history have often written about the plight in which the American people have had to endure. John Steinbeck, an influential author during the 1940's and 1930's, focused primarily on the lives and problems of migrant workers. His novels hit close to home, not only for himself, but for thousands across the nation. Steinbeck received inspiration, as well as the title, for his novel Of Mice and Men from a Robert Burn's poem. This poem is the underlying frame of his book. In his novel, Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck champions the underdog who, though denied access to the American dream, develops his own coping mechanisms for survival.

Of Mice and Men centers around the nomadic lifestyle of two Californian migrant workers; Lennie, who is mentally retarded, and George, who serves as Lennie's protector and provider. Lennie's condition seems to be a constant threat to the pair's jobs. The book opens with George and Lennie walking to a new ranch. The reader finds out later that Lennie's love to touch soft things lost them their last jobs. They finally arrive to the ranch to find friendly, and then not-so-friendly faces.

One of Steinbeck's purposes for writing Of Mice and Men is to illustrate the trials and tribulations certain individuals must overcome. For Crooks, the African-American stable buck, it is the oppression he faces because of the color of his skin. Steinbeck quite frequently states the harsh conditions under which Crooks must live. "Little skinner name of Smitty took after the ni**er. Done pretty good, too. The guys wouldn't let him use his feet....If he could used his feet, Smitty says he woulda killed the ni**er." (20) This quote is a prime example of how African-Americans were viewed. However, Crooks holds to some dignity. "I ain't sure I want you in here no more. A colored man got to have some rights even if he don't like 'em." (82)

Lennie, a main focus of the novel, is a main character for a reason. Steinbeck uses Lennie's character in order to show how American society attempted to ignore mental retardation and continued to live in ignorance about the disability. Steinbeck portrays Lennie as a constant burden on George. He is the cause of their having to switch jobs. George feels he must speak to bosses for Lennie, because Lennie is not able to speak intelligently for himself. This causes suspicion in the boss, and anger in Curley, the bosses son. He mistreats anyone that does not fit his view of the model American, which would include Crooks and Lennie. Curley acts as the instigator throughout the entirety of the story. The reader sees this when Curley finally attacks Lennie. However, Lennie breaks Curley's hand, only after George must tell him too.

In keeping with Burn's poem, Steinbeck concentrates on the American dream, which is so carefully planned but always out of reach. Every character suffers from this disease, this inability to achieve his/her dream. Curley's wife misses her chance to fulfill her dream as an actress, resulting in her miserable life on the ranch. Crooks is unable to achieve his equal status among the men of the ranch. Even Slim, the well respected skinner, does not have anything to call his own and most likely will remain a ranch worker until his death. However, Slim, unlike the other characters, does not set a dream for himself. He has already come to the conclusion that scheming for a better life only leads to disappointment.

George and Lennie, too, have a dream. "All kin's a vegetables in the garden, and if we want a little whiskey we can sell a few eggs or something, or some milk. We'd jus' live there. We'd belong there. There wouldn't be no more runnin' round the country and gettin' fed by a Jap cook. No, sir, we'd have our own place where we belonged and not sleep in no bunk house." (57) This is how George describes his dream. Lennie's only dream is to stay with George and be able to tend to rabbits, which

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