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How Does John Steinbeck Explore the Themes of Hope, Freedom and Prejudice Throughout of Mice and Men to Represent the Shortcomings of the American Dream?

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How does John Steinbeck explore the themes of hope, freedom and prejudice throughout Of Mice and Men to represent the shortcomings of the American Dream?

The novel Of Mice and Men (1937) written by John Steinbeck is a tale of two drifting workers and friends during the Great Depression Lennie Small and George Milton. Lennie is a tall, small minded man who follows George wherever he goes. George is Lennie’s loyal companion who protects Lennie as he suffers from a mental disability. The pair has a dream of one day building “a stake”[1] to purchase their own property so they do not have to work for anyone else ever again and be free. However, once the pair arrive at the ranch Lennie gets into trouble like once before. Steinbeck explores the themes of dreams, freedom and prejudice in the novel to represent the shortcomings of the American Dream.  Steinbeck also uses various characters to explore these themes.

Steinbeck explores the themes of dreams and plans in his novel which is a driving point for many of his characters. Characters Lennie Small and George Milton both share a plan of being owners of a small piece of land, which they can self sustainably live so that they do not have to work another day for the rest of their lives. This plan is shown in chapter one before the pair go to sleep in the brush. At this point the reader believes that the pair is committed to this shared plan. It is not only until later when in the bunkhouse, Lennie begs George to tell him once again about the rabbits before they doze off to sleep. It seems like the story is soon becoming a fairy tale that George continues to tell Lennie every night as if it were a story from a book. This can be correlated as Lennie’s begging to George to tell him about the rabbits. This is similar to a small child asking their father or mother to read them a bedtime story.  This makes the reader feel sympathy for Lennie as they know he would never get to tend the rabbits he is obsessed with. Another character that is victim to unrealistic dreams is Curley’s wife, whose dream was to become a movie star in the “pictures.” The story that she describes is common amongst many young, pretty women during the 1930s. Curley’s wife doesn’t accept the dream has failed after saying “I always thought my ol’ lady stole it.”[2] To spite her mother she married Curley, a man she had met the same night she had met the producers. The characters dreams from Lennie and George’s house to Curley’s wife’s failed acting career show that the American Dream does not benefit everyone and there is no such thing as complete freedom.

Freedom of the American Dream throughout the novel is also explored by Steinbeck. The characters of George and Lennie have separate views on what freedom means to them. George believes freedom is being able to do what you want whenever you want and this is shown in Lennie and his shared plan to “live off” the land. However in the novel George also finds freedom away from Lennie when going to town and when playing horseshoes. Lennie on the other hand finds his freedom in comfort when either petting the mice, the pup or even his dreams of one day tending the rabbits. George for example when in the brush says “…Tonight I'm gonna lay right here and look up. I like it."[3] In reference to Lennie’s question of why they did not eat supper at the ranch. This can be viewed as a last night of freedom before hard work the next day. In another situation, George says to Lennie “I wish I could put you in a cage with about a million mice an' let you have fun.”[4] This hints towards desire to let Lennie be caged up in confinement however with familiar surroundings such as the soft mice for Lennie to be happy, which also would allow George to be free from Lennie. However, this does not fit in with the ideals of George and Lennie’s plan or the American Dream no matter what freedom George has away from Lennie and what Freedom Lennie has with his mice in the cage.

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