An analytical essay examining how the book “Of Mice and Men” by J.S. Steinebeck relates the social issues facing America in the 1930s.
Of Mice and Men
To what extent does ‘Of Mice and Men’ reflect social concerns of America in the 1930s?
The book ‘Of Mice and Men’ was written just after the time it is set, in the 1930s. During this time there was a lot of economic downturn and social issues to do with racism and sexism due to mass migration to America during this time period. Steinbeck relates this to the book very well and is very clear in the book, and in the reader.
The two main characters of the book are called George and Lennie who have been hit by the Wall Street Crash. You can see this here: “George unslung his bindle and dropped it gently on the bank.” This shows that George and Lennie have nowhere to stay and all that they have they carry on their back. This relates well with this period of economic downturn for America. Many workers had lost their crops and farmland due to the dust bowl at the centre of the US and were forced to move northwards to California to find work and to survive. Steinbeck gives the impression that his two main characters have been travelling for a long time and had got tired of it – as if it was normal for them.
The people in America were very racist around this era which is shown here: “You go on get outta my room. I ain’t wanted in the bunk house, and you ain’t wanted in my room.”” This is a quote from Crooks, the stable buck, talking to Lennie. He seems to feel very hard done by and discriminated quite badly by the other men on the ranch. This is likely to be because he is a black immigrant. It is likely that his parents were taken from Africa during the period of slavery and he has never moved back. During this time, many of the non-white Americans were heavily abused by racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. Another reference to Crook’s discrimination that Steinbeck made was that of his name. ‘Crooks’ could be seen as a nickname, and because he is disabled, it is as if the other guys working on the ranch are making fun of him. This reference to disability links back to racism in the 1930s well, because disability, like a different colour skin, was seen as a lower class – different; not as important.
Another type of exclusion around in the early 1900s was the problem of different sexes. This can be seen here: ““He got his han’ caught in a machine,” he said. Curley’s wife laughed. “O.K., Machine.” This shows that, the plan the guys had thought out to fool Curley’s wife had failed. This shows that the men probably thought that Curley’s wife was lower than them and therefore less of intelligence. Steinbeck uses the word “Baloney” in Curley’s wife’s response which gives the idea that she doesn’t really believe them. She gives the impression that she’s thinking: “He didn’t really did he? Come on, he’s not that stupid!” Almost as if the word “Baloney” was a question. Around this epoch, America was still very based on the housewife. Women were there to be enjoyed by men, to keep the house clean, to feed their families and to look after the children. It was very rare to see a woman get a ‘real’ job – and if they did, it was liable that the pay would be less than is a man was doing the task because women were seen to be less efficient.
The American Dream was a highly popular story which floated around the world in the early 1900s and round about the thirties it was in full flow. This caused mass migration from other continents, especially Africa and Asia because people saw America as ‘The Land of Opportunity’ This dream is probably the most clear social aspect portrayed by Steinbeck because it pops up throughout the book. It is, of course, George and Lennie’s dream. “Someday—we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and—”
“An’ live off the fatta the lan’,” Lennie shouted. “An’ have rabbits. 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. Tell about that, George.”
“Why’n’t you do it yourself? You know all of it.”
“No . . . . you tell it. It ain’t the same if I tell it. Go on . . . . George. How I get to tend the rabbits.”
“Well,” said George, “we’ll have a big vegetable patch and a rabbit hutch and chickens. And when it rains in the winter, we’ll just say the hell with goin’ to work, and we’ll build up a fire in the stove and set around it an’ listen to the rain comin’ down on the roof—Nuts!” He took out his pocket knife. “I ain’t got time for no more.” He drove his knife through the top of one of the bean cans, sawed out the top and passed the can to Lennie. Then he opened a second can. From his side pocket he brought out two spoons and passed one of them to Lennie.” This story, first told at the very beginning of the book at the camp is regenerated throughout the book. This reinforcement helps show that the three characters – George, Lennie and their new friend Candy; really want it for themselves, they feel that they deserve it and have real desperation for a new life that they crave. This story was very common throughout America but unfortunately, like George and Lennie’s story – few of them ended happily.
I conclude to say that I think that Of Mice and Men does reflect the social concerns of The United States of America during the 1930s very well. Although, some more than others, the book is a great book for not only entertainment, but also a teleport back in time, to experience a different but harsh way of life.