Of Mice And Men

In Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men two friends start work at a new job in Salinas California at a ranch and learn how hard it is to achieve the “American Dream”. The book’s lead, Lennie, is a mentally stunted giant of a man who is kind and hardworking, but has a tendency of breaking things because he doesn’t recognize his own physical strength. His friend and guardian, George, is a good, but fairly irritable man. Set in  California, in the 1930’s, the novel demonstrates the struggle to find happiness during the Great Depression. A major theme throughout the book is loneliness and this reflects the common attitude during this time period: every man for himself. George killing Lennie was clearly justified because he was ultimately protecting him from a series of worse options.

The setting of this book easily justifies George’s actions at the end of the book.  At that time if he made any kind of mistake, Lennie could have been sent to an insane asylum, shipped off to a prison, or killed. Insane asylum in the 1930’s were brutal. If he went to prison he would be terrified and most likely taken advantage of. His death could have been much more painful and gruesome than a shot to the back of the head. If he avoided all of these fates, it is still unlikely that he would ever keep a job long enough to achieve his dreams in the terrible economy, especially with a mental disability. At best he would be on the run until his mistakes caught up to him.

Of course, George’s decision to kill Lennie was illegal. He could defend that he was merely protecting the world from a dangerous criminal, but that would never stand up in a court of law unless his killing Lennie was direct self defense. Despite one’s common sense or instinct it is not legal to kill someone even if you know that they are on the run from the law. America has always frowned upon vigilante justice and the 1930’s were no exception.  Morally, however George was saving Lennie from a life of misery. It is very unlikely that Lennie would have ever acquire the land, rabbits, and happiness he desired. It was an obviously selfless decision. Despite the pain it must have caused him, George killed his best and only friend in the world to save him from an even more tragic fate.

A major theme in this novel is the unrealism of the “American Dream” during this time in history. Throughout the book he makes sure to let the reader know that none of the characters get their dream. Curley’s wife wanted to be a star, and instead ends up in an unhappy marriage; Crooks wanted to belong, and he ends up in complete isolation in the middle of a group of white farmhands; and Lennie’s dream has the same fate. If Steinbeck had written a happy ending for the novel, it would have gone against the entire message.

The unfortunate time in history led George’s choice to be the only one he felt was right. Selflessly, he went against his every instinct to put his friend out of misery. His decision at the end of the book was essential to portray the entire lesson of the story. Although it may receive criticism for its depressing moral and hopeless message,  the tragic series of completely justify George’s decision. With these circumstances, he ultimately made the best choice he could.

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