- I'm studying CCEA English Literature and have a controlled assessment coming up. Could you read the essay I've prepared and give some guidance on it? I'd appreciate it immensely.
The question is "With reference to the ways Steinbeck presents hopes for a better life, show that they are unrealistic but necessary."
In the 1930s, America was shaken to its very core; first by the Wall Street Crash, and, consequently, by the Great Depression. As a result of this, many were left homeless and destitute, and of these, many became itinerant farm workers. John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men focuses on a group of such farm workers. Hope is a constant theme throughout the novella. Steinbeck presents these hopes- or lack thereof, as a huge factor in the lives of these men. He shows them as a great motivator, the catalyst for many relationships, and often the sole light in the darkness for men living in such troubled times. However, he also shows the unrealistic nature of these dreams; it is by unrealised hopes and dreams that many have been ruined.
Steinbeck places two major hints towards the inevitable failure of the hopes of these men. The book is named after Roberts Burns’ Ode to a Mouse, which states that ‘The best laid plans o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley’, meaning ‘The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry’, foreshadowing the fruitless outcome of these hopes. In addition, the novella takes place near the town of Soledad, which is Spanish for ‘solitude’. This helps us to understand the necessity of hope- without it, these lonely men would become cynical and embittered. This is supported by George’s quotation from chapter 3 “I seen the guys that go around on ranches alone… after a long time, they get mean.” This hints at the fate that awaits George following Lennie’s death.
In chapter 1, we learn that George and Lennie’s shared hope is to own their own farm and ‘live off the fatta the lan’’. We learn of this when Steinbeck says ‘Lennie pleaded “Come on George. Tell me.”’ In response George speaks “rhythmically, as though he had said it many time before.” The verb ‘pleaded’ shows Lennie’s desperation to hear of this, his sole motivation, once more. However, the verb ‘rhythmically’ shows that George doesn’t truly share in the belief that this hope will come to fruition, as he recognises that it is unrealistic- it is as though he is rehearsing a performance, rather than speaking of his true beliefs.
In chapter 2, Steinbeck refers to “Those Western magazines ranch men love to read and scoff at and secretly believe.” This quotation shows that everyone needs hopes to provide motivation, such as being a hero, as in one of the aforementioned magazines. The verb ‘scoff’, however, shows that even they are willing to admit that their hope is unrealistic, emphasised by the adverb ‘secretly’. This shows that their hopes are unrealistic but necessary.
Later in the chapter, we meet Candy, who says “I think Curley’s married… a tart.” This, our first introduction to Curley’s wife, shows why her hopes are unrealistic but necessary. The invective ‘tart’ is indicative of the sexism faced by women of the time, which made any kind of advancement, making most hopes and aspirations unrealistic. However, it is these same attitudes which necessitate hope- to provide motivation in the midst of such harsh conditions.
In chapter 3, Carlson says “I wisht somebody’d shoot me if I got old an’ a cripple.” Soon after, Steinbeck says “It was quite dark outside by now.” Carlson’s quote shows the necessity of hope for an elderly person such as Candy- it was society’s attitude that the old were weak and thus should be cast off, as they were considered useless. Dealing with such treatment necessitates hope to provide motivation. However, it also shows that these hopes are unrealistic- it was these same attitudes which forbade social advancement. The death of Candy’s dog foreshadows the fates of both Candy and Lennie- as they were considered useless, they will be cast out or killed. The use of pathetic fallacy in the latter quotation reflects the gathering darkness facing the characters.
The characters, even naïve Lennie are shown to have never truly believed that their hopes of owning a farm could ever come to fruition, as evidenced by the chapter 3 quote “This thing they had never really believed in was coming true. George said reverently…”. The adverb reverently shows the necessity of the hope- it clearly motivates George greatly for him to be portrayed holding such respect for the dream.
In chapter 4, Crooks says “I seen hundreds of men come down that road… no one gets no land.” This quotation portrays the harsh reality of life during the Great Depression. It is also a sad portrayal of a life without hope. Without hope, Crooks has become bitter and cynical. Thus this quotation shows both the necessity and the unrealistic nature of hope. This portrayal of Crooks is lent credence by the quotation “Crooks’ face lighted with pleasure in his torture.” This use of metaphor drives home the point that hopeless people become bitter.
Soon after, Curley’s Wife says “A guy tol’ me he could put me in pitchers. Shortly afterwards, she says “Talkin’ to a bunch of bindle stiffs- a nigger…” The former quote shows the necessity of hope. It is, by this point, the sole motivator in her life, as she struggles to deal with the abuse heaped on her by others, and the neglect which she suffers from her ostensibly uxorious husband. However, the latter quotation shows the unrealistic nature of hope. It shows that she is arrogant and egotistical. She even insults others as a result of this, going as far as to use the invective ‘nigger’. This shows that her hope has resulted in an almost delusional world view.
In the same chapter, Crooks says “If you guys… want a hand… I ain’t scared to work like a son-of-a-*****,” and thus buys into the shared dream. However, by the end of the chapter, he says “Jus’ forget it. [I was] Jus’ foolin’.” This quotation shows how unrealistic their hope is. Being cynical and jaded, Crooks very quickly sees that the plan of the others is little more than a fantasy. However, Crooks shows the necessity of hope, as he desperately tries to join them in their hope, using simile ‘Like a son-of-a-*****’ to show this.
In chapter 5, Curley’s Wife says ‘“I coulda made something of myself,” she said darkly “maybe I will yet.”’ This quotation shows that despite her harsh conditions, she has managed to endure, thanks almost entirely to her hope. However, the adverb ‘darkly’ build a sense of foreboding, leading ultimately to her death at the climax of the novella. This shows the unrealistic and futile nature of her hope, as it does nothing to prevent her death.
Finally, Steinbeck says ‘George said softly “I think I knowed we’d never do her.”’ This shows us the unrealistic nature of hope- one which George now recognises. Contrarily, however, the adverb ‘softly’ shows us his misery at this fact. While he has embraced the truth, it has brought only misery.
Of Mice and Men is a novella about hope in the midst of uncertain circumstances and hardship. While hope is arguably futile, it’s effect is undeniable. Throughout the novella, characters are generally united in one dream- the American Dream. Thanks to the harsh conditions in which they live, the character (With the notable exception of Curley’s Wife) do not have lofty aspirations, they want only a simple, easy life,in which they are free to do as they please. However, for the vast majority in this period, the American Dream is just that- a dream. Thus, Steinbeck shows too that, in such times, hope is ultimately futile.
There's my essay. As well as general pointers, could you suggest one paragraph to cut or shorten? I want to make space for another about the end of the book. Thanks so much!
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Last edited by Hilfe!; 12-11-2016 at 18:21.
- 12-11-2016 15:48