...and then by her unfortunate marriage to Curley, whom... she does not even like." (Attell) All of her attempts to talk to the other characters, disastrous as they potentially might be, can be seen as attempts to make any kind of human contact. The solution for the farmhands in their loneliness is more simple -- they need to learn to reach out and make friends, and commit to each other as people in their journey. Curley's wife has a more difficult quest before her, because she has already tried to take that first step (marrying Curley was no doubt an attempt to break out of her loneliness), and now any further steps are being restricted by him. On can definitely see why she asks, "Wha's the matter with me? Ain't I got a right to talk to nobody? Whatta they think I am, anyways? You're a nice guy. I don't know why I can't talk to you... I ain't used to living like this." (Steinbeck, 862) Yet she too is not totally helpless. She could originally have made different decisions, and not married someone with whom she had nothing truly in common. Even at this moment, she could choose to leave Curley and seek out a form of life that would allow her to communicate and share with others. Regardless of these things, one also senses that her eventually death is somehow directly related to her cruel words to Crook and her refusal to give Lennie the space he needs -- in this, she, like the others, is very much the master of her fate.
George and Lennie of course are the ultimate example of the balance between love and loneliness, and George typifies the way in which all of these characters inexplicably choose to be lonely rather than do the extra work to bring love into their life. He is well aware of the deep, soul crushing loneliness that can follow his profession. To understand the dynamic of what happens with George and Lennie, one must start by listening to George's reasons why the two have been traveling together. It turns out that combatting loneliness is the very reason why they are together: "Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don't belong no place. ... We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don't have to sit in no bar room blowin' in our jack jus' because we got nobody ..." (Steinbeck, 806) It is because of this that they believe "We got a future." (Steinbeck, 806) This togetherness lets them dream. " Against the exposition of the itinerant laborer's lonely life of moving and working, Steinbeck counterposes the dream that George and Lennie share. As mentioned above, it is not just any dream, or even simply the dream of a better life. In the opening chapter, when George repeats (as he often does) the story for Lennie he begins not by talking about their own individual plans but rather about the state of many men like them." (Attell) However, despite the fact that having Lennie present allows George to access dreams and company he otherwise could not, Lennie is also something of a burden. It was because of him that they had been chased from the last town, and of course Lennie continues to cause problems here with Curley. Most readers see this burdensomeness as having little to do with the final results of the story. Yet it sees perfectly logical to think that the fact that Lennie was a burden -- even a life threatening one --she have something to do with the fact that he does pose something of a burden to those around him. This is why, at the novel's end, before telling the story of the rabbits, George tells the story of how without George "when the end of the month come I could take my fifty buck an' go to a . . . .cat house. . . ." (875) When a few pages later George shoots Lennie, execution style, on wonders to what was truly influencing him -- was it that has is being merciful to Lennie, or was he secretly participating. At the story's end when Slim is reassuring George about having killed Lennie, he keeps repeating "You hadda, George... I swear you hadda." (Steinbeck p. 878) This creates for the reader "a sense of completeness, of both defeat and satisfaction," (Scarseth, 94) to such a degree that even critics say "George kills him mercifully. It's a horrible thing to do, and George knows that. And we know that. But in this limited world in this limited way it is all that George can do for his friend." (Scarseth, 94) Of course, this is also nonsense. He didn't have to shoot his friend in the back of the head. There were plenty of other options, including having worked harder to stop the mob, to make arrangements with the sheriff, or even to have misled the mob long enough to sneak back and take Lennie on the run. Law enforcement in those days was not so perfect that a pair of migrant workers could not vanish easily. If George had been the one in danger of being killed by a mob, one doubts he would have shot himself! George will become yet another lonely drifter because he, like all the other drifters, in the final analysis prefers the easy road of destroying or ignoring love and friendship for the sake of quick cash, gambling, whores and isolation.
This book is not all about despair, though it does seem to suggest that life is an eternal battle which cannot be won and can only be fought until it kills us. Nobody gets to go to heaven, the book suggests, either in life or in death. What then makes life worth living? Love, and the experience of soft things which no matter how many times we fail always seem apparent somewhere else. Paul McCarthy says, "Steinbeck's best works brilliantly expose mankind's grievous faults and failures, alert us to social and economic dangers, and remind us of our forgotten commitments and dreams. Steinbeck's strongest convictions and passions appear in his fundamental belief in humanity, in his expectation that man will endure, and that the creative forces of the human spirit will prevail." (McCarthy, p. 143) Indeed, this book to suggests that the creative forces of the human spirit can prevail, only if they both to do so, and to see past the easy way into the best way.
Attell, Kevin. "An Overview of Mice and Men." Exploring Novels. Literature Resource Center. Gale, 1998. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/LitRC?vrsn=3& dcoll=gale& locID=d0_mlpbcls& c=13& ste=47& DT=Criticism& n=10& frmknp=1& docNum=H1420006089
French, Warren. "John Steinbeck." Twayne's United States Authors Series. New York: G.K. Hall & Co., 1999.
McCarthy, Paul. John Steinbeck. New York: Ungar Publishing Co, 1980.
Scarseth, Thomas. "A Teachable Good Book: Of Mice and Men." Censored Books: Critical Viewpoints. Ed. Burress, Lee; Karolides, Nicholas; and Kean, John. New York: Scarecrow Press,…