In the opening of John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’. This is focussed on the two random migrant workers, George and Lennie. There goal is to achieve the American dream, they want to get a house, with a few animals. It deals with the plight of migrant labour workers in California during the Great Depression. The themes in the book deal with loneliness isolation, aspiration and escape.
One of the themes in the book is the relationship between man and nature, they were forced to their agonised lives by inhospitable nature in the dustbowl, and whilst they are simultaneously reliant upon the land for the pittance they do mange to earn. The land keeps them both servile and alive. Nature is an integral part of the novel. In this essay I will be looking at its roles in the first two chapters. In the opening sequence of the book Steinbeck uses descriptive of the Harmony at night and the language.
Words are used like ‘Soledad’ which means peace. When ‘deep and green’ is used it is a sense of peacefulness and calmness in the background. Animal represent the harmony as well like “Rabbits come out of the brush to sit on the sand in the evening” this shows that they have come out to relax and that they are free from man. Nature provided a sanctuary for George and Lennie and they are happy now, but later on they are not happy together so this is the only time that they are happy because something is always happening to one of them. Hide in the brush till I come for you. ”
George tells this to Lennie to return there and hide if he gets into trouble. This is a place for protection, because it is somewhere for him to hide were know one know apart from George. It can be tranquil and peaceful throughout Chapter 1 but at night, but sometimes it is not peaceful they day dream and talk to each other about it. The nature is full of strange movements at night this might be because know one else is out, so the animals come out from hiding because know one else will disturb them at night.
For example the reeds “jerked slightly” when water snakes swim past. Then men soon come to disturb nature and leave his marks from when they are “coming down from the ranches to swim in the deep pool”. Throughout Chapter 1 there are descriptions of the evening settling in “the shade climbed up the hills” and “a little wind that dies immediately” this creates a sense of something passing or something this going to end forever, this symbolises their dreams and friendship that are about to end.
Animals are used throughout the book to symbolise themes and provide parallels to key events and characters. The books title signifies a parallel of defenceless small mouse and Lennie which symbolises of being bigger that the mouse and Lennie who is not defenceless. When we find out that Lennie has killed the mouse, we wonder if Lennie is confused with violence and gets mad easily over this or it is just a one off the he flipped, later on George says “you broke that mouse by pettin it”.
This foreshadows what is to come with Curley’s wife. Lennie dabbled his big paw into the water” this is a barely movement, Lennie is described as a giant but in to the innocence of a child like adult, but he can become powerful and dangerous without knowing it. Lennie is also described as an animal in these paragraphs (a bear and a horse), “Lennie dipped his whole head, hat and all”, and it is like and animal fulfilling his needs. The way ‘George’s’ described is more shrew or mouse like “The fisherman, small and …. A thin bony nose” this shows that he is intelligent, sharp and shrewd.
George and Lennie are both described as animals, George is described as a fox which represents slyness and Lennie is described as a bear which represents powerfulness and strength. They seem to be in with there natural surroundings. However, when they are in man-made surroundings such as the ranch “wall were white washed and floor unpainted” which is horrible and nature is superior to the ranch, they will also encounter problems not in harmony but nature is preferable. Lennie and George have an American dream, about what they are going to do when they get the money, and who will do what.
They talk about getting a couple of acres, a house etc, “Gonna have a house, couple of acres, a cow… etc”, they rely upon nature the crops, animals etc “the fatta the lan”. The key part of Lennie’s dream is the rabbits, however when they arrive by the pool the rabbits hurried noiselessly for cover. This signifies that there dream is always set for failure, the rabbits remain elusive and out of their reach, Lennie will never come close to tending those rabbits, and I think George knows that.
Candy is old and useless and so is his dog, but at least they have each others companionship at the start of the novel, this parallel to George and Lennie’s relationship, Lennie is a millstone around George’s neck, yet he loves him and if fiercely loyal to him. George shoots him later on, just as Candy wanted too shoot his dog instead of a stranger doing it. Chapter 2 is mostly concentrated with George and Lennie leaving the sanctity they found in nature and going to live amongst men in a man-made environment.
When they get to the ranch and meet the men, they automatically hostile and suspicious, this happens because of the way they are treated from the start so they just keep themselves to themselves, they have learnt not to trust each other. The description of the bunk house creates a powerful contrast with description of the pool it is man-made materials against nature. In the bunkhouse it is lifeless, with no comfort, light, colour. It is like being trapped in a room or being locked up; it is like a prison cell compared with the openness and endless possibilities of nature.
The relationship between man and nature is complex and often ambiguous. Nature can be a place of safety but there is an underlying sinister and hostile side to nature because it does not protect Lennie when he is told to hide in the brush. The men were certainly happy there before going to the ranch and they saw it as a place of protection and safety to some extent, which is the cave for example he says he will live there, and he must go their, he will be fine without George.
It also seems to be tranquil and awards the freedom, they don’t need to answer too anyone. Their dream is to harness nature and live harmoniously within it. However, there is a sense of underlying threat, the strange noises the animals make, the heron eating the water snake, the ‘uncomfortable’ sounding simile of the periscope used to describe the snake, and many other dangers that are hidden just waiting to happen. When Lennie does return, George shoots-him not exactly a place of safety though, but h shoots him because he did not want the others to shoot him.
Lennie dies whilst visualising the dream and the rabbits, staring into the beautiful brush. Nature somehow comforts him at the time of his death by doing this, but in a way I think he has been conned by George, and nature. He was tricked cruelly and ridiculed him like the gigantic rabbit at the end that speak to him so ‘scornfully’, but I think it was his destiny that he was meant to die so his dreams could come true and it was George’s somehow to get Lennie to live in piece without any violence and danger.