The Theme of Loneliness in John Steinbeck's Books


Some people believe that loneliness is unattainable in a world full of 7 billion people. Being regularly around people should make it challenging to be lonely, yet more than 60% of Americans feel lonesome. The reason for this pertains to the fact that loneliness is not simply defined by the number of people in one’s life. Loneliness is not just a physical state, it is a mental state too. Which is caused by many different constituents.  In Of Mice and Men and “Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck, both stories' settings are in California and deal with the motif of loneliness. The motif of loneliness is shown through many diverse characters. In Of Mice and Men, the loss of Candy’s dog is a foreshadowing of Lennie’s death at the end of the story. The story shows Candy’s grief for his only companion, his dog, which can be assumed that George went through a comparable experience after losing Lennie. This motif is also shown through the relationship between Curley and his Wife. Their loveless marriage and Curley’s accessorizing of his wife, lead to not only her death but Lennie’s as well. Similar to Elisa’s marriage in “Chrysanthemums” she was extremely unsatisfied. Which led to her being secluded enough to want to cheat on her husband with a tinker she was unfamiliar with. Steinbeck wants readers to experience a more comprehensive lesson about this motif along with the relevance to today.

 Of Mice And Men has a lot of loneliness relating to the story for example the many men who work and travel alone, as well as; individuals like Crooks who are bypassed due to blatant racial discrimination. Loneliness is also portrayed in Curley and his wife’s relationship. Not only was their relationship forced, but they are both extremely miserable. Curley uses his wife as an accessory and does not care for her. Rather he gets jealous not because he worries about her, but because having her around gives him status and a sense of pride. Curley’s wife is clearly unhappy in the relationship. She is having to solicit attention from other men just so she does not feel abandoned. In the text Curely’s wife states, “‘I get lonely," she said. "You can talk to people, but I can't talk to nobody but Curley. Else he gets mad. How'd you like not to talk to anybody?”’(Steinbeck 85). Due to her vulnerable state Curley’s wife confesses her distance. In her relationship, she feels trapped. Curley feels the need to see other women in town to feel less empty, yet when his wife does something similar this is seen as unacceptable. Loneliness is also presented through Candy and his dog. His dog’s death foreshadows the death of Lennie near the completion of the book. Candy was extremely distraught over the death of his dog, so from that, it is inferred that George felt similar. A human and dog bond is extremely strong, but a bond between humans is immensely stronger. Early in the story, George affirms,  “‘Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world”’(Steinbeck 39). After this Lennie reassures George that they are distinct from these men because they have each other. When Lennie is gone, however, George will be just like those men. With Lennie, Geroge’s dream and future perished as well. He no longer has a purpose to strive for. He is alone and truly has no one else. He will become one of the men he talked so lowly about. The connections to loneliness in Steinbeck’s works are not just in Of Mice And Men, but in a short story, he wrote by the name of “Chrysanthemums” as well. 

In the short story “Chrysanthemums” the motif of loneliness is manifested through Elisa and her husband’s marriage comparable to Curley and his wife. Unlike Curely’s relationship, however, Elisa’s marriage was not forced rather unsatisfactory. With her partner constantly working and inconsiderate towards her feelings they seem like an incompatible couple. He shows very little enthusiasm in her gardening which she is extremely passionate about. It becomes apparent that Elisa is unhappy in her marriage. At the beginning of the story, her husband shows he is unappreciative of her skill in gardening and dismisses her as only being good at tending to flowers. Then, when the tinker approaches Elisa for directions it is clear he wants to develop a bit of a connection with her, so he can make his sales pitch. All the tinker does is show curiosity in Elisa’s hobby of gardening and she offers to let him have some of her flowers. Which is shown are her prized possessions, as well as; the fact that they are meant to symbolize her as a woman. So when her husband does not appreciate her flowers which are an extension of her person, yet this random tinder with which she is merely acquainted shows interest she feels appreciated. In the story Steinbeck writes, “Kneeling there, her hand went out toward his legs in the greasy black trousers. Her hesitant fingers almost touched the cloth. Then her hand dropped to the ground. She crouched low like a fawning dog. He said, “It's nice, just like you say. Only when you don't have no dinner, it ain't.” She stood up then, very straight, and her face was ashamed”(Steinbeck 5). Before this, the tinker merely shows interest in Elisa’s chrysanthemums and her love for gardening and due to him wanting her trust, yet she was willing to give herself up to him. Elisa’s husband does not satisfy her. Their relationship may not be toxic in the way Curley and his wife are, but it is still self-destructing. All her husband has to do is appreciate her works, yet he still cannot do that. It is the bare minimum. Later that night Elisa’s husband takes her out to eat to show her off essentially. When they are on their way to dinner Elisa sees her flowers out on the side of the road and starts weeping to herself. Assuming that the tinker has been out on the road for the majority of his life he presumably did not understand the significance of the flowers. He was most likely talking to Elisa and obtaining her trust to make a sales pitch. In the story, he states, “‘It would be a lonely life for a woman, ma'am, and a scary life, too, with animals creeping under the wagon all night." He climbed over the singletree, steadying himself with a hand on the burro's white rump. He settled himself in the seat, picked up the lines. "Thank you kindly, ma'am," he said. "I'll do like you told me; I'll go back and catch the Salinas road’”(Steinbeck 6). Due to the tinker’s prolonged loneliness, he was unable to understand the essence of Elisa’s chrysanthemums. Due to the era, the story takes place, he states that this life would be lonely for a woman, however, just like women men can get uninhabited, so he was clearly articulating out of the experience. Just like the men who go from place to place in Of Mice And Men the tinker has a similar life full of loneliness and no application. The despair of the world at the time along with having no one to confide was tragic. Just like the high depression rates back then life now is quite similar. 

The motif of Loneliness is applicable today because of the remarkably high rate of people with depression notably due to the pandemic. Loneliness can always affect individuals. Even just the lingering thought in the back of their head. According to the World Health Organization, three hundred twenty-two million people worldwide suffer from depression. Due to the constant isolation people have been in because of COVID-19 many people have been experiencing or exhibiting depressive behavior. Just like during the Great Depression, which is when Of Mice And Men takes place, many people have been losing their jobs and experiencing traumatic events. Which is one of the main causes of depression. Depression can affect anyone however many believe that if you are given the modest minimum people should have no ground to complain. “Depression can be Over 60% reported disruptions to mental health services for vulnerable people, including children and adolescents (72%), older adults (70%), and women requiring antenatal or postnatal services (61%)”, according to the World Health Organization. Depression affects many various types of people. It is not about what they did or did not have rather what happened to them. Anyone can become depressed or just have mental health issues in general. It does not matter if they are men, women, or nonbinary. Emotions have no gender.

All things considered, loneliness can cause a butterfly effect of dark situations. A simple thing like not having any variety of companions can lead to a life of despair. Loneliness is not just a physical state, but a mental state as well. Due to Curley and his wife’s relationship, Lennie had to perish. After Lennie is gone George has no one and nothing to achieve, for he is all alone. Just like the men he seems to fear to be like. Elisa is lonely enough to debate the possibility of cheating on her husband and running away to live a life by herself. Almost like she has nothing to stay for. However, due to that same lifestyle, the tinker who inspired this possibility for her can not make a connection with her and is unable to grasp the purpose of her chrysanthemums. Finally, just like in the stories loneliness affects many real-life people every day. This can cause high rates of depression in people all over the globe because some people are so isolated they have no one to confide in.

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