1. A touching novel of dreams and reality. Steinbeck’s novel presents a cruel dichotomy between dreams and reality. Many of the novel’s character are desirous of achieving their aims and aspirations: with George looking to break free from the mundane and unproductive cycle of moving from ranch to ranch, getting barely along from one pay-check to the other, by perhaps becoming his own boss and having his own home; Lennie looking to live happily with George, tending to rabbits and satisfying his fixation on soft stuff; Curley’s wife’s dreams of becoming a famous actress et cetera. Unfortunately, because of circumstances and events beyond their control, the characters are often presented to be powerless and helpless; and many eventually succumb to the status quo. Even though the present scheme of things might be a far cry from their dreams, the reality of the present – at the very least – provides some form of stability, be it in terms of companionship, financial security, or simply having food and shelter.
2. Lennie Small. Lennie is a character of curious contradictions. Even though his last name is “Small”, his physical physique and exceptional bodily strength proves otherwise. Even though his physical abilities and traits would typically yield respect and admiration given his occupation as a ranch hand, his intellectual deficiencies are a considerable bane (as his fetish for soft things eventually proves to be his undoing). In the larger context of the novel, even though his simplicity seems to render his personality flat and monotonous; not only does he provide some light-hearted relief with his quirky and spontaneous remarks, Lennie also creates this huge sense of sympathy of the reader. His encounters with Curley and his wife reveals how defenceless he actually is; with his innocence and unawareness being taken advantage of in the end.
3. Lennie as the bedrock of innocence and the collective dream. “I think I knowed from the very first. I think I knowed we’d never do her. He usta like to hear about it so much I got to thinking maybe we would”. With Lennie’s death, George’s dream of a better life and a collective home no longer seems realistic anymore.
4. George and Lennie’s unwavering relationship and friendship. Their friendship has rarely been in question, and they are united in a dream of owning a house together. As they explain, “With us it ain’t like that. We got a future … Because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why”. Even though George does show signs of frustration and subtle anger at Lennie’s inability to comprehend and remember events or people, his affectionate responses – and his giving in to Lennie’s emotional blackmail of going off and living by himself – show him to be faithful and devoted. George is extremely protective of Lennie – cognisant of the fact that he is unable to defend or speak up for himself – and is Lennie’s guardian and bridge of communication with the outside world. George’s conversations with Candy and Slim about Lennie show George to be a man of integrity; and hence we feel for his loss of Lennie.
5. Can a true relationship be premised on love and concern? Many characters in the novel do not comprehend the extent of the relationship between George and Lennie; with some even expressing doubts over George’s intention. The ranch boss initially questioned, “Well, I never seen one guy take so much trouble for another guy. I just like to know what your interest is”; and in the concluding sentence, Carlson said “now what the hell ya suppose is eatin’ them two guys”, as Slim brought George away for a drink, for he comprehended the emotional pain that had been inflicted upon the latter. Steinbeck puts this into perspective perfectly: “Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love”.
6. The cruel sense of anticipation and foretelling. This is most clearly exemplified in Lennie’s accidental murder of Curley’s wife. Right from the get-go, Lennie’s physical strength and potential to hurt is reflected in the relative ease of breaking a mice’s or a puppy’s beck; and further emphasised when he crushes Curley’s hand during the scuffle. The reader also gets to know why George and Lennie had to leave their previous ranch; and gradually comes to know of Lennie’s love of soft things. So when Lennie is left alone with Curley’s wife – a lady desirous of companionship and unabashed with her attempts at flirtations – the readers is prepared for the consequences as Lennie begins to get agitated after grabbing her hair, and things begin to go awry.
7. Expression and the lack of communication. Communication in the novel is not exactly straightforward. For instance, George’s affection towards Lennie is not expounded in the form of words or conversations; but indirectly through his constant actions and protection of the big man. Similarly, Curley’s wife does not directly reveal her frustrations with her husbands, but indirectly circles the ranch to seek some credible form of company to ease her solitude and lack of engagement.
8. Candy and his dog. Carlson’s insistence that the dog would die a painless death is besides the question; Candy internalises the episode and begins to understand the maxim of the “survival of the fittest”. Just as his dog was disposed off when it was proven to be old and useless, Candy fears that his time may be up as he is partially handicapped, and hence seeks to find a sustainable plan and dream for himself.
9. My favourite quote from the book; great example of Steinbeck’s writing abilities. (As Curley’s wife lay motionless with a half-covering of yellow hay) “As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment”.
10. Crooks. Crooks is the perfect representation as a cruel victim of circumstances; for his skin colour and physical disability renders him disempowered, and makes him constantly looking inwards since he does not enjoy the sense of partnership and companionship with any individual on the ranch. His loneliness does invoke degrees of sympathy – especially when it is contrasted with the friendship that George and Lennie share – and perhaps this is what leads him to spite Lennie when the latter talks about the dreams that he shares with George. However, this desire for a sense of belonging does lead him to ask whether he could hoe in the garden; though eventually his perceived inferiority and fear of a detachment from the status quo lead him to withdraw his proposal.