Steinbeck’s the presence or absence, of this abstract necessity,

Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’, set in the 1930s
during the ‘Great Depression’, showcases what life was like for itinerant ranch
workers back then when economic depression, poverty and social inequalities
conquered America. It was during this time that alongside the ‘American Dream’,
the existence of friendship had started to become questionable. Steinbeck, in
his novella, uses various characters to emphasise the dire need of a companion
in every aspect of an ordinary person’s life. Friendship is a necessity of life
according to Steinbeck and as important as shelter is especially as it was
during the 1930s. Steinbeck also explicates how his diverse characters are
affected when they live with or without Friendship; the presence or absence, of
this abstract necessity, is the motivation for the character’s actions and
behaviour towards their relations with other workers on the ranch. Steinbeck
communicates, with the reader, that loneliness can have various reasons like
race and that friendship, too, is based on several concepts such as trust and
protection. He, then, emphasises how these certain reasons and concepts mould a
diverse personality in each character. Steinbeck also highlights how each one
of his characters desire, greatly, an escape from their monotonous lives.

 

Throughout the novella Steinbeck stresses how
Crooks is isolated by the other ranch workers and is

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unwanted.
Crooks’ race is the main danger line and obstacle between the workers and him
which neither can cross, and this line is symbolised by the workers living
separately in the bunkhouse while Crooks is boycotted into the harness room.
The entrance to the bunkhouse is the obstacle line in Crooks life which does
not let him blend with the other ranch workers. The first time the reader
realises that Crooks has approached the bunk house is when “…the stable buck
put in his head…” (P.29 l.22-23) and addressed “Mr. Slim” to show that he
couldn’t enter the bunkhouse because “he’s black”, all he could do was ‘put in
his head’ for a conversation only if it was something important. Furthermore,
the title ‘Mr.’ is used to highlight the fact that Crooks has to respect others
but he does not get respect in return as he is mostly referred to as a ‘nigger’
or the ‘stable buck’ because back during the ‘Great Depression’ segregation
based on race was a norm due to racial prejudice especially for the coloured
people.

 

In addition, Steinbeck stresses the negative impacts, on Crooks, of his
isolation through the way he behaves at the ranch. “I can do it if you want,
Mr. Slim” (P.49 l.29), the tone used here is polite but desperate and full of
struggle to befriend ‘Mr. Slim’. Moreover, Steinbeck reveals that “…Crooks
was a proud aloof man.” (P.66 l.8-9) to imply that he had become slightly
arrogant due to isolation and boycotted others the way they cut him off.
Crooks, clearly, demands his space from others: “You got no right to come in my
room.” (P.66 l.31). There is longing for a companion but is masked by anger and
annoyance in order to give the other workers tit for tat for their behaviour
towards him. It is this hesitant arrogance of Crooks that separates him more
than ever from the other ranch workers.

 

However, Crooks’ thirst for
friendship gets the better of him when “Lennie’s disarming smile defeats him.”
(P. 68 l.1) and makes way into his room. Steinbeck illustrates Crooks
persuasion, to the reader, by ‘disarming’ him with a ‘smile’ that hints towards
a sense of warmth and the beginning of a genuine relationship. Steinbeck
emphasises how

easy it was to overcome Crooks’ harshness with just a hint of kindness.
It also brings upon the spotlight on Crooks desperation at how quickly he
agrees to let Lennie “Come…in and set a while”.

 

Another effect loneliness has on Crooks is on his stand for himself.
Despite the fact that “…he was more permanent than the other men…” (P.65
l.18-19), he still “reduced himself to nothing” (P.79 l.3) when Curley’s wife
threatens him. The use of the word ‘permanent’ indicates that Crooks is more of
a firm man than the others thought and that he is underestimated in his
abilities which reinforces the falseness of the perception of ‘coloured’ people
being useless. The word ‘reduced’ creates an image of a fearful man making an
attempt to protect himself from the more powerful (Curley’s wife). Furthermore,
Crooks is portrayed as being ‘nothing’ before Curley’s wife and having no
importance. This is due to the absence of friendship because Crooks is well
aware he has no one to support him if he stands up against Curley’s wife and he
alone can barely prove to be any harm to Curley’s wife. The reader, also
realises this is the first time Crooks stands up to protect himself and his new
friends which shows that the presence of this new friendship has brought up
confidence in Crooks.

 

On the contrary, Steinbeck depicts an honest and
unconditional friendship between George and Lennie. Their relationship is
deemed unusual as they have each other to look after them unlike the other
ranch workers which emphasises how prominently odd it was at the ranch for
George and Lennie to prove their friendship. Within the introductory chapter,
the reader realises that George and Lennie are “A few miles south of Soledad”
(P.3 l.1), which tells the reader that George and Lennie are close to
‘Soledad’, literally meaning solitude. It foreshadows the ending of the novella
when George is left alone because initially they, themselves, walked towards
solitude. Additionally, George and Lennie’s friendship is based on protection
especially for Lennie because “He ain’t bright.” (P.34 l.25) enough to look
after himself. The phrase ‘ain’t bright’ creates an image of darkness meaning
the dull side of Lennie is that he is dull-witted. In this case friendship is
portrayed as a relationship of innocence and sincerity.

 

Steinbeck also illustrates the outcome of such a friendship through
George and Lennie’s actions and relations with other ranch workers. George is
the most ‘normal’ character, without any extremities, found in the novel by the
reader. He is neutral with most workers on the ranch which accentuates that the
presence of friendship prevents you from going insane. Furthermore, Lennie’s
survival up till this age in such a cruel society is only due to his friendship
with George who has been protecting him since his “Aunt Clara died” (P.39
l.30). Lennie literally grew up under George’s shade; otherwise someone would
have used Lennie and pushed him aside to die. Besides, it is only when George
and Lennie arrive at the ranch that the real action in the novella starts
before which the lives of the ranch workers were repetitious. This accentuates
that friendship is essential for the change and entertainment in life which everyone
requires.

Anyhow, Steinbeck also underlines the independent effects on George and
Lennie of their friendship. When “Lennie smiled…in an attempt to make
friends.” (P.66 l.30) Steinbeck shows that for Lennie a companion of his own
intellect level was necessary with whom he could relate his thoughts and
emotions. He smiles and tries to befriend Crooks because Crooks, like all black
people at the time, was deemed unintelligent.

 

Also, George does not always enjoy Lennie’s company, he, too, needs
someone smart enough to advise him, understand and help him with his
responsibilities and “…if he was alone, he could live so easy. No mess at
all” (P.12 l.14, 16). This statement of George allows Steinbeck to clearly
explain that all George wants is peace and a normal life like any other ranch
worker. The presence of such an unbalanced relationship is another reason why
George hastily confides in Slim. George, desperate as he was, trusts Slim
instantly: “You wouldn’ tell…No, ‘course you wouldn’.” (P.41 l.14) George’s
instant reply to his own question suggests he is eager to share about ‘Weed’.
The word ”course’, used by Steinbeck, clears all suspicion of any doubt of
trusting Slim. Their friendship dies in the end accentuating the fact that
ranch workers are meant to be alone.

 

Steinbeck depicts loneliness and friendship in several different ways
for several different characters but with a common central message that
friendship is the abstract basic need of life just like the physical needs. He
strengthens his message by illustrating the effects of the presence or absence
of friendship on different personality based characters. He describes the
outcome on their relationships that different race, loneliness and true
friendship cause. Steinbeck also informs the reader that during the ‘Great
Depression’ loneliness was a law and so all friendships, former or fresh, are
lost by the end of the novella.

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