Steinbeck: Diverse Cultures Essay
Steinbeck: Diverse Cultures
The novel, ‘Of Mice and Men’ written by John Steinbeck refers back to The American Dream as ‘heaven’.
Steinbeck is trying to point out that the American Dream is unrealistic. This novel looks back at the dreams of American individuals in the 1930’s. It is set in California at the time of the Great Depression during which the American stock market collapsed leaving the nation in a state of economical disarray.
The disease, hunger and poverty in England were high during this period. Landowners were very wealthy but the rest of the people had to struggle and work very hard for survival. Not only did they have to feed themselves but they also had to pay off the heavy taxes, which went to the landowners. It also was a country where Roman Catholics were unacceptable. These Catholics who wanted to get away from the position of being unwanted in England immigrated to America along with the rest of the people who wanted to be free from England’s heavy taxes. They were known as the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’- Their ship was called ‘Mayflower’. One of the first states a lot of the people settled in was Philadelphia, Latin for ‘City of Brotherly Love’.
The introduction of the novel includes an image of this new Eden, the ‘willows fresh and green with every spring’. Unfortunately we find out it is autumn when he describes the crispy, dead leaves. Some of the religious individuals thought America was like a new paradise, just like the one in the holy bible – It was at first so green and beautiful but then Adam and Eve spoilt it by going against God’s commands so God made men live on Earth and as individuals they have to work for survival. Steinbeck is trying to express that men spoilt America, just like Adam and Eve. He is trying point out that men spoilt this new paradise and now they have to work hard, on ranches, to belong somewhere and be successful in life.
The Americans preferred to be controlled by a Government instead of being a colony that belonged to the English so they fought for their independence. The war ended in 1776. The English lost and America became an independent nation. Being a good leader during the War of Independence, George Washington was voted to be the first president. He didn’t believe a king or queen should rule America. He proposed that the American citizens should govern the nation. People soon agreed with him.
The ‘Declaration of Independence’ was a document that included a promise from the Government to all Americans. Firstly it declares that ‘all men are created equal’. Steinbeck uses this novel to question this rule so he writes about Crooks’ situation to express the reality.
Crooks is a ‘Negro stable buck’. Being a black American, he has to face the racism. He’s treated very badly because of he colour. No one takes any notice of him. Curley’s wife refers to him as the ‘weak one’.
It says America is to be ruled by a Government so that the citizens would get a say but this novel points out that in reality the individuals have very little power to share their feelings and emotions. They were trapped in the life of work, just like the horses trapped in the ‘halter chains’.
There was no such thing as ‘Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness’ to own land and live a happy life for the majority of the Americans. Again Steinbeck shows that owning land is just a dream to many individuals in this book.
George and Lennie dream of owning little land. The two men, and others on the ranch who share similar dreams, represent the hunger for land of many millions of people, and their dream of being able to settle down.
The 1920’s were a ‘boom time’ in America and there was employment and riches to be made but the 1930’s were known as the ‘Dust Bowl’ because the decade was full of blizzards, tornadoes, floods, droughts and dirt storms causing the soil to become dry and infertile. Farmers couldn’t grow any crops and the sales were very low so they couldn’t afford to repay to the bank loans. They were forced to sell off their land in order to cover various costs and pay back to the bank. The unemployment and poverty rates increased and people were slowly starving because neither – county or private funds were adequate enough.
Some farmers moved west to California where the soil was supposed to be decent and there was plenty of land but eventually they were driven away by the Californians who feared that they would be over-run.
Alongside the ‘Dust Bowl’ was the ‘Wall Street Crash’. It was another factor that affected the unemployment rate. In 1929 America had to the face the worst trade recession ever. Share prices on the New York stock market fell dramatically. Companies found it very difficult to raise their business. People stopped spending and many banks collapsed so the people had to withdraw their money and keep it safe somewhere else. The ‘Wall Street Crash’ led to the Depression. The President of America at first thought the Depression would only last, at the most, a few months but he was wrong. Gradually people had to beg. Men who thought they would be able to find a job within a week or a month had lost their self-assurance. Twelve to fifteen million people were without a job in the United States alone.
It was so bad that people lost faith in The American Dream. They were simply trapped working but not making any progress. An example is Candy, who has just about enough money to buy land but being an old man, he is left alone without a companion who would provide him with a helping hand so he has nowhere to go.
In ‘Of Mice and Men’ the two main characters are George and Lennie. They are both migrant workers who travel together from one farm to another seeking for employment during the awful time of the Depression. George a is very small but independent person with a very strong personality. He is generous to everyone and especially Lennie. Lennie is very much different compared to George. He is a tall, physically strong man but he is mentally disabled. Steinbeck often refers him to animals. In the first chapter his hands are described as ‘paws and he ‘snorts’ like a horse. He finds it joyful touching soft things but at times it can put him into trouble. Being strong and mentally disabled, Lennie is capable of great violence although he doesn’t mean to. He cannot make up his own decisions and relies on George for all actions.
George and Lennie both have a dream of owning little land. George feels it will give him more control over his life so that he can do something worthwhile and be free from trouble. He thinks it would provide him with a way of fulfilling the ‘National Dream of Freedom and Independence’. If there was no Lennie, he would be living and feeding himself but then again he would be left alone without a companion.
At the beginning, George reckons The American Dream is unrealistic. At one point he calls it ‘nuts’, but later he has a little hope in it after he learns that if he joins up with Candy, they could earn enough money to buy land off an old woman who desperately needs money in order to pay her hospital for an operation. But Lennie spoils their dream by accidentally killing Curley’s wife and the dream is ruined.
Steinbeck is trying to point out people can corrupt their surroundings’ dreams at times. They are too scared of each other. Being greedy individuals, they don’t want to work together to make the dream come true.
Lennie too wants to own land but for a different reason. His dream is to ‘tend the rabbits’. It is the only thing he can remember. His understanding of The American Dream is more childish and unrealistic.
Candy is an ‘old swamper’. He shares the same dream as the other two men but again it is for another reason. He wants to belong somewhere. Being an old man, he fears he may become unwanted so he could be fired from his job, just like his old dog. He has a little hope when George and him get together in order to make plans for the future land but it only turns out to be a plan because Lennie accidentally spoils it by killing Curley’s wife. Candy blames Curley’s wife for spoiling his dream.
Crooks is a ‘crippled’ man. He was kicked on the back by a horse one day whilst working on the farm. He also dreams of belonging somewhere and being treated equally. Due to his injury, he has been working at the ranch for a long time. Out of all the men, he owns the most possessions. Crooks is trapped in his own hell, a hell where he’s excluded from any friendship or communication because of his colour. He uses his despicable manner to prevent others from distracting and insulting him, but the night Lennie comes to visit him, his defensive attitude fades and he behaves generously with Lennie. Lennie is the only person who is kind to Crooks, ironically because he is too dopey to understand the racism. Crooks also believes that The American Dream is just like ‘Heaven’. He thinks that The American Dream is unrealistic and is just a way of coping with a hard life.
Curley’s wife has a slightly different dream. It is not to own land or belong somewhere. Her dream is to become an actress but because it isn’t realistic, it fails. This dream is common. It is promoted by Hollywood. Steinbeck doesn’t mention her name in his novel. By doing this, he is trying to express to the reader that during the Great Depression a lot of the people in the world appeared to be anonymous. She talks about her dream often in this novel because in the 1930’s conversations based on Hollywood, actors and actresses were very common. Curley’s wife is surrounded by men and has no family or friends; she is just as lonely as Crooks and Candy. At some moments she is seen as a ‘tart’.
By writing about Candy, Crooks, Curley’s Wife and Lennie often in this novel, Steinbeck is trying to point out that the ‘weak ones’ are treated the worst and that not everyone is ‘equal’.
The entire novel has a circular structure. It starts off at the pool and it ends at the exact same place. Near the start there is an incident involving Lennie and Curley’s wife, and there is also an incident involving both of them near the end of the novel also. The beginning of Chapter Four involves Crooks rubbing liniment on his back and it ends with Crooks doing the exact same thing. This shows that no progress has been made; life is still the same for him and the rest of population.
Lennie declares ‘both ends are the same’ on the playing cards. This is another image that shows no progress can be made. Whichever side you choose, you will end up in the same position. Steinbeck includes the game, Solitaire in his novel because it can only be played alone. The setting of the book also shows loneliness, as it is set in Soledad, which means ‘alone’ in Spanish.
At the beginning there is an image of a pool, ‘before reaching the narrow pool’. The water from the river isn’t getting anywhere; it flows and comes to an end. Steinbeck relates this idea to The American Dream. He’s trying to express that the dream doesn’t move forward, it doesn’t get anywhere because of the corruption.
In this novel, America was meant to be like a new country. To most of the people, it was known as a new Eden.
At first ‘The Declaration of Independence’ stated all people were to be treated ‘equal’. Everyone has the rights to ‘Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness’. The Americans were very happy at first but when the Depression and drought came in the nation, it destroyed this dream of freedom and equality.
Steinbeck is trying to state that The American Dream won’t ever work again because of the society’s manner.
He is also trying to point out that life is harder for the ‘weak ones’; the females, black raced, crippled, disabled and elderly.
He reckoned there was only one hope. If the American society stopped being afraid and became slightly more confident, then they could have been able to reform a community in order to achieve The American Dream.
To express his thoughts to the reader, he has included a moment where George, Lennie, Candy and Crooks get together and start to plan for the future in order to make dreams to come true.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 28 October 2017
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