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Hope and Futility in Of Mice and Men

Everyone has a dream they hope to achieve, but dreams are not always possible to attain. In John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, two ranch hands, George and Lennie, find work in Salinas Valley. Lennie, constantly getting into trouble, inadvertently causes the two of them to be run out of town and thus have to find new work regularly. George and Lennie’s search for work in the hope of accomplishing their dream of a small farm of their own displays how futile realizing dreams can be. The major themes identified by commentators in Of Mice and Men are friendship and isolation, hope and futility(Votteler 334).

Through George and Lennie’s friendship, the hope to achieve their dream is kept alive. “George, little and clever, feels that Lennie has been given into his keeping”(Moore 341). “Simpleminded and gentle, Lennie possesses great physical strength and becomes unwittingly destructive when startled”(Votteler 334). Although Lennie is very strong, he is also very timid and has trouble remembering things, but under George’s control, Lennie is calm and docile since he just does what George tells him to(Moore 341).

According to Moore, “Of Mice and Men tells the story of two drifting ranch hands, George and Lennie, who dream, as rootless men do, of a piece of land of their own, where they will ‘belong'”(341). George tells Lennie that the loneliest guys in the world are like them working on ranches, have no family, no place to belong for continually moving on to a new ranch, and have nothing to look forward to(Steinbeck 13). With them, it is not like that because they have a future, somebody to talk to, and are working toward getting their own farm with a couple acres of land(Steinbeck 14).

Lennie enjoys the idea of having a farm and tending to the rabbits so much that he begs George to tell the story over and over again(Rascoe 337). George holds Lennie in check by telling him about the farm and the condition that if he is good he will be allowed to tend the rabbits on the farm. The dream was originally designed by George as a way to try to get Lennie to be good, but after many times of repeating it, he begins to believe it himself(Moore 341).

George ‘uses’ Lennie to sustain his own dream of the farm, that if he didn’t believe that Lennie needed him for protection his illusion would dissipate under the pressures of the workday world”(Marks 354). George and Lennie come to work in the Salinas Valley where they are on the brink of achieving their dream or doom(Moore 341). The itinerant workers hope to get the farm they dream of with the money earned from working on the ranch(Doren 335). Curley’s wife’s dream of becoming a famous movie star in Hollywood is as real to her as Lennie’s dream of tending the rabbits is to him(Beatty 362).

George and Lennie are not like the other ranch hands in their friendship for each other and proves to be so unusual that it brings hope to the bunkhouse keeper, Candy, and Crooks, for the possibility that the dream of a home on their own farm could be fulfilled(Dusenbury 346). The unexpected offer of three hundred dollars by Candy suddenly convinces George that their dream may finally be attained(Shurgot 365). Crooks wants this dream, that is unattainable by himself, so bad that he offers to work for free in the dream just to be able to go along.

Hope brings life to the world of ranch hands and inspires them to think that all things are possible(Dusenbury 346). George and Lennie need each other to keep their dream of buying their own land alive(Marks 354). In Weed, Lennie wanted to just feel the material of a girl’s dress like a mouse, she got scared and jerked back and he held on like it was a mouse, she screamed and George and Lennie had to run out of town to find a new job(Steinbeck 11).

Since Lennie keeps getting into trouble, they have not been able to accumulate a stake large enough to realize their dreams(Moore 341). Lennie is a half-witted giant with a passion for petting mice – or rabbits, or pups, or girls” and accidently killing them when they get frightened. Lennie can’t help breaking small helpless creature’s necks for shaking them too hard, just as George can not let go of his dream(Doren 335). Lennie tries to be gentle with puppies, mice, and other soft things, but always forgets and accidently kills them by squeezing them too hard or shaking them too much(Moore 341).

Lennie would play with mice his Aunt Clara gave him, but the mice would start to bite his fingers and he would pinch their head and then it would be dead(Steinbeck 10). George offers to get Lennie a dog because it would not be killed as easily as a mouse(Steinbeck 13). Foreshadowing that Lennie will get into some kind of trouble, George says, “Lennie – if you just happen to get in trouble like you always done before, I want you to come right here and hide in the brush”(Steinbeck 15). From the beginning it is obvious to the reader that it won’t be long before Lennie gets into trouble again.

From the beginning, Lennie is doomed to kill Curley’s wife(Doren 335). “The never-quite-realized, too often shattered dreams of men toward an ideal future of security, tranquility, ease, and contentment runs like a Greek choral chant throughout the novel and the play, infecting, enlivening, and ennobling not only George and Lennie, but the crippled, broken down ranch hand, Candy, and the twisted back Negro stable buck, Crooks, who begs to come in on the plan George has to buy a little farm”(Rascoe 337).

Crooks also had the dream and when he saw that Candy, George, and Lennie actually had money to do it, he offered to work for them for nothing, just for independence, until the futility of his wish was shown to him by Curley’s wife(Fontenrose 350). Crooks says, “Nobody never gets to heaven and nobody gets no land. It’s just in their head. They’re all the time talking about it, but it’s jus’ in their head”(Steinbeck 74).

Curley’s wife had a naive, yet genuine pursuit of a life-long dream(Beatty 361). It is sadly ironic that Curley’s wife’s understanding of Lennie’s passion for touching soft things and her final gesture of allowing him the pleasure of stroking her hair, leads to the simultaneous destruction of both their dreams”(Beatty 362). Lisca proposes, “It is while Lennie is caught up in this dream vision that George shoots him, so that on one level the vision is accomplished — the dream never interrupted, the rabbits never crushed”(343).

After the accidental death of Curley’s wife, George cancels the partnership with Candy that could have made the dream a reality, because George needed Lennie as a rationalization for his failure(Lisca 345). George’s warnings and hope for Lennie to stay away from Curley and his wife are rooted in good, but Lennie’s inevitable circumstances proves the warnings to be futile. Friendship provokes Curley’s hate and puts an end to the ill-fated relationship thus also to the dream that was destined to fail(Dusenbury 346).

The dream of the farm originates with Lennie; and it is only through Lennie, who also makes it impossible, that the dream has any meaning for George”(Lisca 345). The plan has no meaning for George without Lennie(Fontenrose 351). “In Of Mice and Men a home remains forever a dream which only temporarily assuages the lonesomeness of the dreamers”(Dusenbury 347).

Marks believes, “Slim is the only one who is capable of seeing George’s tragic loss when George is forced to kill Lennie to save him from the mob. George kills a part of himself, the part that was his dream”(355). When George shoots Lennie, he is not destroying only the shared dream. He is also destroying the thing that makes him different and reducing himself to the status of an ordinary guy”(French 349). George and Lennie are just like all the other ranch hands in that they have a hopeless dream of owning their own farm on their own land(Dusenbury 346). Even though George needs and wants Lennie to fulfill their dream, his wish to be alone and free of caring for Lennie is ironically foreshadowed in the first half of the book through his frequent games of solitaire(Shurgot 364).

George’s plans can never take form because the probabilities at work against them is complex system, encapsulating more variables than Nature itself(Marks 355). “Steinbeck said that Lennie represents ‘the inarticulate and powerful yearning of all men,’ and referred to its scene as a microcosm, making it plain that this novel was meant to express the inevitable defeat and futility of all men’s plans. ” Fontenrose concludes, “A dream of independence, usually remains a dream; and when it becomes a real plan, the plan is defeated”(350).

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