Of Mice and Men” is a book depicting the effects of the 1930 Great Depression. Unemployment rates were at their height. Workers were constantly travelling around the country, moving from job to job, which left them no time to bond or build relationships with their fellow workers. A key theme running through the book is loneliness, symbolised by the place where the novella is set, the town of Soledad, which means “solitude”. The theme of loneliness is explored in a variety of different ways and in a highly sophisticated and nuanced fashion.
Loneliness is shown as occurring in people for a number of different reasons, for example racism, social rejection, etc. This essay will discuss how Steinbeck presents loneliness within the first 3 sections of this novella. One character who is very lonely is Candy. Candy’s only friend is his dog who Candy is persuaded to have put down. George and Lenny escape isolation by having each other and are therefore happy to live alienated from the rest of the world. Candy had his dog and yet this does not compensate for his loneliness.
When his dog is killed, he is left with no-one. He therefore wants to be part of their dream, and tries to persuade them by making a will and; “leave my share to guys in case I kick off”. This shows his wish not to be alone. In addition we see Candy’s loneliness when he says: “A guy on a ranch don’t never listen nor don’t he ask no questions”. The use of the phrase “guy on a ranch” suggests that ranch workers, as a collective unit, are lonely. This attitude is brought out earlier in the book when George says: “Guys like us are the loneliest guys in the world”.
Steinbeck conveys the idea that all ranch workers are lonely, and for a man to keep to himself is the social norm. Another character who is portrayed as very lonely is Curly’s wife but for very different reasons. Curly’s wife seeks the attention of any man she meets. She is the only women on the ranch and feels mistreated by her husband. She tries to flirt with the other men perhaps to make Curly feel small and neglected, or maybe because she feels lonely and isolated on the ranch.
Firstly, in section 3 she says; “Why can’t I talk to you? I never get to talk to nobody. I get awful lonely”. This immediately gives us the impression that she is lonely. She feels isolated and she lacks human interaction. Furthermore, the fact that she married Curly makes her even more isolated as he gives her little freedom and controls every aspect of her life. This is shown by the fact that she is given no name, rather named “ Curly’s wife” suggesting she belongs to him, thus highlighting his control over her life.
In contrast to these characters we see a friendship between George and Lenny built on necessity and genuine affection. Although George becomes angry at Lenny in section 1: “I got you! You can’t keep a job and you lose me every job I get”, his care for Lennie is highlighted by his adamant request for Lennie to stay with him when he threatens to leave him; “ no look I was just fooling! ” – the imperative shows the urgency and plea and the punctuation emphasises this.
This desperate plea for Lenny to stay with suggests that they George does really want to be with him, regardless of what he says. However their relationship is ambiguous. Although George shows affection towards Lennie, he often talks about wanting to be alone. In portraying George’s desire for solitude, Steinbeck shows that solitude and loneliness are different things. Solitude is not necessarily always a bad thing yet loneliness is. In conclusion, I believe that not all of the characters in “ Of Mice and Men” are lonely although loneliness is a major theme in the novella.