Dreams in Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
In life, as in fiction, people dream about their future. Some people have realistic dreams and it is easy for them to attain. For others, their realistic dreams are unattainable. Still others have obtainable goals but fail to meet them due to outside circumstances. In John Steinbeck’s novella, Of Mice and Men, several characters have dreams which are unfulfilled for a variety of reasons. George and Lennie, Crooks, and Curley’s wife dream about a better life for themselves, only to see their hopes destroyed by the obstacles they cannot control.
George and Lennie share a dream to one day own their own ranch, but they are unable to achieve it due to outside circumstances. Primarily, George and Lennie are living in Weed, a small town where they were able to work for keeps during the Great Depression.. Lennie has a fixation towards soft things, and he becomes drawn to a young woman’s soft dress and tries to stroke it. She believes he is assaulting her, and gets them kicked out and back on the road. George angrily exclaims, “‘I got you! You can’t keep a job And you lose every job I get. Jus’ keep shovin’ all over the country all the time’” (11). George and Lennie both know they’ll probably never achieve their dreams of owning their ranch. Lennie is constantly messing up, as he is drawn to touching every soft thing he sees. This always ends badly, with someone dead or hurt, and usually results in them losing their jobs. Without a job back then, there were no other ways to make money, which they needed to purchase land and livestock. Next, Lennie is laughing gaily in the barn with Curley’s wife. Continuing on his monomania, she allows him to touch her recently brushed out hair. All is well as he starts out gently, and tension rises as he begins to be less and less cautious. As Curley’s wife screams for help, he shakes her violently to muffle her noises. Not knowing his own strength, her neck snaps, immediately killing her. Lennie mutters to himself, “‘I did a real bad thing... I shouldn't have done that. George’ll be mad....’” (92). This event contributes highly to the demise of their dreams, as Curley becomes angry, and wants to seek revenge on Lennie. Assuming that Curley will allow him to suffer, neither George nor Lennie will be paid adequately. To start the ranch and have a nice life, they need more money for supplies, animals, etc. In addition, Curley’s background in fighting causes him to have a short temper, and he began to hate Lennie from the start. Finally, George realizes what has to be done. Knowing that Curley will make Lennie’s life a living nightmare, or a life where he’ll hide everyday, he steals Carlson’s Luger. Lining up the pistol to the back of his head, George shoots Lennie to end his suffering. The narrator explains, “And George raised the gun and steadied it, and he brought the muzzle of it close to the back of Lennie's head. The hand shook violently, but his face set and his hand steadied. He pulled the trigger. The crash of the shot rolled up the hills and rolled down again. Lennie jarred, and then settled sole forward to the sand and he lay without quivering” (106- 107). This event was certainly shocking, and there is no single correct answer about whether it was the humane thing to do. Lennie’s death definitely donates to the demise of their dream, as George didn’t have the extra paycheck contributing to the ranch. Another issue is that George and Lennie were a team, and planned this together. Without each other, the dream may not be as exciting and happy. As aforementioned, George and Lennie share a dream, but it’s ruined by other circumstances.
Crooks dreams of being free and living the American dream, but many outside circumstances stand in his way. First, Lennie enters Crooks’ room, which is separate from the main bunkhouse. Lennie doesn’t understand why he isn’t permitted to play cards with the others and live in the bunkhouse, and he explains that it’s because of the color of his skin. Crooks tells Lennie, “‘You go on get outta my room. I ain't wanted in the bunkhouse, and you ain't wanted in my room… Cuz I'm black. They play cards there, but I can't play because I'm black. They say I stink...’” (68). This event interferes with his dream because he is racially shamed, and doesn’t get the same opportunities as the others. While everyone else plays cards and lives together, he is told he smells and isn’t allowed to stay with them. He is also extremely put down by Curley, as his anger is taken out on Crooks. Second, Crooks yearns to be accepted by his co-workers, and make acquaintances. While George and Lennie discuss their dream, he offers to work for free on their future ranch so they allow him to live there. Crooks tells them, “‘... If you... guys would want a hand to work for nothing- just his keep, why I'd come an’ lend a hand...’” (76). This proves that Crooks is an outcast because of his race, and that he tries extremely hard to be accepted. While all the other men on the ranch will be played without second thought, Crooks believes that he can hop onto their dream just to work somewhere else. Their interactions demonstrate the extreme white privilege that existed back then, and still exists now, just less severely. Last, Curley’s wife is unnecessarily aggressive towards Crooks. As the four misfits sit in his room, they make jokes that go too far. She becomes angered, and makes threats towards him because of his race. Curley’s wife declares, “‘You know what I can do to you if you open your trap?... I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain't even funny…’” (80, 81). After being presented with threats, Crooks takes back his offer. He is constantly reminded that he doesn’t fit in, and that he isn’t an equal. Curley’s wife would never offer lynching as a punishment to the white men, she gets aggressive quickly with Crooks. She doesn’t take him seriously and sees him as a lesser-than, and this is a reflection about how many people on the ranch also feel. As aforementioned, Crooks dreams of living the way he deserves, but outside circumstances affect and prevent that.
Curley’s wife dreams of becoming an actress in Hollywood, but many outside circumstances stand in her way. Initially, she meets a Hollywood scout who is interested in hiring her. She was absolutely ecstatic, and waited patiently for a letter to arrive in the mail. This letter, from the same man, would’ve told her where to go and how to get big. After a long period of patient waiting, Curley’s wife realizes the letter will never be in her hands, as she believes her mother stole it. As she tells Lennie about her soiled dreams, Curley’s wife explicates, “‘I never got that letter... I always thought my ol’ lady stole it…’” (88). This event interferes with her dream because she couldn’t get scouted without that letter that her mother took. This letter stated who she was and how she could get to the agency, and she couldn’t get anywhere without it. Heartbroken, she decided to move on, but never really forgives her mother. Subsequently, Lennie asks what happens next, and she explains that she decided to give up on her dream of getting big someday. That same night, she went to the Riverside Dance Palace, where she met Curley. Shortly after, they were married, which she sees as a huge mistake. Curley’s wife’s exact words are, “‘So I married Curley. Met him out to the Riverside Dance Palace that same night..’” (88). Almost instantly after Curley’s wife married Curley, she began to realize that he is extremely jealous and controlling, and wouldn’t allow her to be independent. Since he is constantly working, she remains alone on the ranch, and is part of the four misfits. In the end, Curley’s wife and Lennie are chatting and sharing a laugh in the barn, when she offers to let him touch her hair. Being recently brushed out, it is extremely soft. Per usual, Lennie is drawn to it, and begins to stroke it softly. As time goes on, he becomes rougher and rougher, and she begins to scream. To quiet her down, Lennie violently shakes Curley’s wife, which results in her snapping her neck and being killed. This event is foreshadowed by Lennie’s tendencies to pet soft things and kill them, and the narrator explains, “...her body flopped like a fish. And then she was still, for Lennie had broken her neck” (91). This event interferes with her dreams of going to Hollywood because she is dead, and you can’t become an actress if you die. She ends up dying for nobody, and doesn’t withhold a legacy like she had planned. As aforementioned, Curley’s wife wanted to act in Hollywood, but various instances got in her way.
In the end, George, Lennie, Crooks, and Curley’s wife’s perseverance doesn’t pay off, as their dreams are crushed. Primarily, George and Lennie yearn to own a ranch, but their ideals are torn down by Lennie’s mental illness, his addiction to soft things, and ultimately his death. Subsequently, Crooks’ vision to live freely and achieve the American Dream is demolished by the racial discrimination that existed in this time period. Ultimately, Curley’s wife intends to become an actress in Hollywood, which is broken due to her mother, Curley’s possessive traits, and her death by Lennie at the end of the novel. As it is, the midst of the Great Depression was a time period beyond full of sadness and grief, and dreams were extremely important to have. Having motivation and a reason to keep moving was extremely important then, as it still is today. During the global pandemic occurring right now, having goals for the future is exceedingly valuable, as there isn’t much to look forward to.