OF MICE AND MEN
The Great Depression, a worldwide economic recession, occurred during the decade preceding World War II. In John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men, the characters of George and Lennie are trying to improve their lives during that period of time. This story appears to be a metaphor for people’s pursuit of happiness during the Great Depression. Consequently, the lack of jobs in the cities, the life on the road, the individual struggle for survival as well as the unreachable dreams are the themes that are brought up in the aforementioned novel.
First of all, George and Lennie work on ranches rather than in the cities. This is due to the fact that, because of the economic crisis, the city-dwellers are forced to leave their jobs. In fact, this crisis was stimulated by overproduction, meaning that people do not have enough money to consume everything that was produced then. Therefore, the economy slowed down and by doing so, people started losing their employment. Their only way to survive was to head to the countryside and live from agriculture and at least be able to feed themselves. This scenario is similar to Of Mice and Men’s where the characters are in the identical situation. For instance, George and Lennie never consider leaving the rural regions and try to find a job where they can get something to eat, a place to stay in and a salary on top of that, something that they would not necessary get elsewhere. Throughout the story, George insists that Lennie does not get himself in trouble, so that they don’t lose their only source of income. Moreover, they had to work hard because they knew that they could lose their place anytime. To sum up, because of the precariousness of the only jobs left in the countryside, keeping it is a necessity in order to be happy.
Secondly, in the 1930s, people are leaving their homes and head towards a new place, hoping to improve their lives. This is what we call the life on the road. This period of time coincides with Dust Bowl, a period of severe dust storms causing the American Great plains to be infertile. This phenomenon was caused by drought and decades of intense farming. As a consequence, the Great plains’ farmers are forced to migrate and most of them head to California, a state that is perceived as a promised land because of its long growing season. In addition, let us be reminded that the city-dwellers also choose the countryside as their destination, meaning there are twice as much people on the road. As a matter of fact, George and Lennie are as well a part of this migrating movement. However, their motives are not the same as the others’. They are forced to travel from a farm to another since Lennie has a mental condition that makes him do bad actions. These mischiefs are the main reason why these two men always end up being chased from where they work. For example, in Weed, the farm they previously worked at, Lennie tried to feel the softness a little girl’s dress by touching it. Nevertheless, this little girl screamed and claimed that she had been raped. When this event is described, George says: "The guys in Weed start a party out to lynch Lennie. [...] An’ that night we scrammed outa there.” In brief, just like the migrant workers, the two protagonists live on the road, running after a better life.
Then, during that period of time, it is so difficult to survive, that people cannot afford caring for the other ones too; it is everyone for themselves. Like mentioned before, everyone’s main concern is trying to get through these hard times. Therefore, friendship is not one of people’s priorities. Their every parcel of energy is needed in order to survive. Even in Of Mice and Men, it is suspicious for two men to travel together. As an example, when they see them arrive, the people who are already working at the ranch immediately assume that George is taking advantage of Lennie. It shows that it is an uncommon thing for migrant farmers to care about each other. Geroge proves it when he says: “Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world.” Another symbol of that is the fact that the town that they come working in is named Soledad, which means solitude in Spanish. To conclude, this story says that whenever there is an economic crisis, working and trying to survive is everyone’s main concern.
Finally, in Of Mice and Men and during the Great Depression, the only things that people can hold on to are their dreams. In fact, the aforesaid Great plains’ farmers traveled to California with ideas of prosperity and opportunity in mind. These thoughts gave them hope and kept them going. On the other hand, George and Lennie, dream of having their own farm and “live off the fatta the lan’”, and when they cannot eat anything, they can at least feed upon it. It is especially important for Lennie who says: “Go on, George! Tell about what we’re gonna have in the garden and about the rabbits in the cages and about the rain in the winter and the stove, and how thick the cream is on the milk like you can hardly cut it.” The characters are seduced by the idealistic life it would offer them, just like the American dream. Yet, their dream is unreachable as well as the Great plains’ farmers’. Indeed, California does not appear to be the land they thought it was and the two main characters will never be able to find enough money to achieve their plan. Crooks even cruelly tells it in the following quote: “You won’t get no land. I seen too many guys with land in their head. They never get none under their hand.” In summary, hope could only be found in people’s aspirations, even though they can never be fulfilled.
In conclusion, people’s struggles during their pursuit of happiness is metaphorically shown in Of Mice and Men by the means of the characters who are perpetually searching for a job, living on the road, self-centered and trying to achieve the impossible American dream. Unfortunately, the people of America had to wait until the Second World War to see the economy getting back from where it fell from.