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Of mice and Men essay

Essay on the theme of isolation:
Grade 9 response

Throughout the novella Of Mice and Men, the theme of isolation remains highly prevalent and discussed by Steinbeck in a nuanced manner. He was greatly inspired by the era of solitude that followed the economic strife of The Great Depression; where migrant workers struggled living in poverty, unable to find time for friendship as they worked tirelessly in the subsistence society. Indeed, Steinbeck’s intentional setting of Soledad, Spanish for “lonely”, is purposeful in conveying the atmosphere of isolation and abandonment that was ubiquitous. The setting in California also provides the additional context of the dust bowl, hence illustrating how the agricultural field was greatly damaged by the severe storms. This explains why many ranch workers found it difficult to support themselves since their profession was at great risk. Steinbeck depicts the isolation felt through the characters of Curley’s wife and the relationship between George and Lennie.

Interestingly, Steinbeck displays a paradoxical relationship of isolation with George and Lennie. Despite having a symbiotic relationship, it can be argued that George feels a sense of loneliness within the friendship as he takes on a more paternal role, rather than the role of a friend. George exclaims “God Almighty! I could get along so easy if I didn’t have you on my back”. This quote suggests that George does not entirely enjoy Lennie’s companionship and that it sometimes feels like a burden. Even though friendship was longed for in this time of great isolation, the fact that George is willing to give it up proves that the friendship he feels with Lennie might not be sincere or positive. Here, George is following the capitalist ways of 1930s America in giving up all relationships in order to strive for wealth and success, as outlined by the American Dream. The exclamatory within his statement proves that this is something he feels passionately about, and that he has thought about his isolation a lot. However, the opposite argument can be made of the fact that George does deeply care for Lennie, seen through “I was just fooling, Lennie. Course I want you to stay with me”. The use of “course” proves that, to George, there is no ambiguity surrounding his friendship with Lennie. George values Lennie greatly and is aware of that, and so reassures that he was only joking and that he would feel much lonelier without him. Despite having differing levels of mental capacity, George strays away from the greatly stigmatised 1930s view on mental disabilities as he is more than ready to act as a paternal figure to Lennie and look after him. This shows that these two characters do not feel the same isolation and loneliness that was prevalent in society as they are able to support each other and provide themselves with comfort and friendship. This is materialised through the shared dream to “live off the fatta the land”. Most people in society had individual dreams and only looked after themselves, but George and Lennie shared this, proving how the novella does explore themes of friendship without isolation.

Another character who feels a great sense of isolation is Curley’s wife, who shares a very unhappy marriage with her husband. Curley’s wife carries a matronymic name, meaning she is named in relation to her husband, rather than being an individual herself. This proves how Curley is also isolated from her own identity and individuality as she is never seen as her own being. It also objectifies her as she is branded as a possession of Curley, unable to free herself from the loneliness of her marriage. Throughout the novella, Curley’s wife attempts to seek companionship in the other ranchmen, though they all avoid her in an attempt to stay away from trouble, thus furthering the isolation she feels. She details how “Curley can talk to everybody and I don’t get to talk to nobody”. Communication is vital to human existence, and thus, in not being able to have friendship with others, Curley’s wife feels truly lonely and empty. She also explains the dissatisfaction she feels in her marriage since “I don’t even like Curley. He ain’t a nice fella”. This quote encompasses the element of force within her marriage; as a woman in the 1930s, Curley’s wife had no economic autonomy of her own. Thus, she had to marry in order to ensure a life of comfortability for herself. Where marriage typically stands as a symbol of love, friendship and companionship, Curley’s wife's marriage instead locks her in this state of isolation, therefore juxtaposing the idea of the holy union.

Arguably the character who faces the greatest isolation of all is Crooks. Due to the social hierarchy that beset society, as a black disabled man, Crooks is ostracised by the ranch workers and is thus the loneliest character of all. His room even stands separated from the communal room as he rests among the horses, proving how his low status segregates him from ever building bonds with the other men on the ranch. During the 1930s, racism was highly prevalent, enforced by the Jim Crow laws that ensured the segregation of the races, leading to a mass feeling of loneliness within the African American community. Steinbeck provides criticism for these laws through the character of Crooks, arguing that no one deserves to feel isolation on the basis of their race. As Lennie enters Crooks’ room, readers can observe his desire for friendship, “come on in and set a while” and “a guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody”. Crooks’ invitation to Lennie proves how he longs for friendship as he is willing to converse with a character who has proven to not have significant mental intelligence. The ambiguous temporal indicator of “a while” proves that Crooks’ hopes for this company to last a long time, mirroring the lengthy amount of time he has felt isolated for. Steinbeck, through “nuts” explores the craziness associated with isolation and the lack of companionship, an insanity that Crooks has likely felt. No matter how one-sided the conversation is, Crooks is grateful for Lennie’s presence as he can now also enjoy “the talking” that he is aware other ranchmen enjoy. He emphasises the importance of friendship in escaping isolation through “it don’t make no difference… it’s just the talking”. Here, Steinbeck highlights how vital communication is to ensure isolation is not felt, as that loneliness is all encompassing, especially with the fall of the American Dream following The Great Depression.

In conclusion, Steinbeck explores the theme of isolation in many ways, mainly the isolation felt by Curley’s wife, the complicated relationship between George and Lennie that both cures loneliness, but also causes it, and the importance of friendship as highlighted by Crooks. Arguably, through the novel, Steinbeck indicates that this friendship is more important than any economic prosperity as at the end of the novel, it is not the loss of the American Dream that George is sad about, but rather the loss of his friendship with Lennie.
(edited 2 months ago)

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