Loneliness is the feeling of isolation – Steinbeck achieves this theme by portraying effectively through key fictional characters in ‘Of Mice and Men’. By living in the town of ‘Soledad’ (Spanish for loneliness), the audience gets an overwhelming sense of the depressing environment that the migrant workers are living through by their repetitive lifestyle and the consequences they face through the Great Depression (1930’s – 1940’s) and the Dustbowl. Even through hard work and prosperity the American dream is unattainable. The four loneliest personas in this novel are Curley’s wife, Crooks, Candy and George + Lennie.
Even though they all want to strive for success, and achieve the American dream: the idealistic fantasy of individual freedom, independence and self-reliance they all have to face loneliness to get there.
The theme loneliness is most bitter in Crook’s character. Crooks was introduced in chapter 4 and the first word used to describe him: the negro clearly tells us that he is isolated due to race which leads us to the theme of loneliness, in those days black people were always separated and discriminated because of the segregation law.
He is also housed with the animals treating him like he is one of them. This is shown by Steinbeck’s language of setting as Crooks lives in a ‘little shed that leaned off the wall of the barn’ to indicate that he is weak to survive in the world. He also has ‘a mauled copy of the California civil code for 1905’ which conveys that despite Crooks being motivated and strong to achieving a prosperous life, his life will never be the same. The past has gone behind him and nothing can protect him from his isolation and loneliness.
Although Steinbeck shows that loneliness has made Crooks bitter by putting Candy and Lennie in the same position as he is making Lennie think if ’s’pose you don’t have nobody’ As well as this, his race makes him more vulnerable and exposed to others easily. “S’pose you didn’t have nobody. S’pose you couldn’t go into the bunk house and play rummy ’cause you was black. How’d you like that? S’pose you had to sit out here an’ read books. Sure you could play horseshoes till it got dark, but then you got to read books. Books ain’t no good. A guy needs somebody-to be near him. A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t make no difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you. I tell ya, I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an’ he gets sick”. Steinbeck says this to show us that race was the main reason why Crooks was lonely and isolated and that he would work for nothing, as long as he could communicate with others.
Curley’s wife is lonely in many ways. She is flirtatious with many of the men on the ranch because she feels trapped in a world of men and a marriage which lacks love and companionship. She was born lonely and women were considered as disability in 1930’s America, which is harsh but Steinbeck shows this very effectively. Curley’s wife`s appearance may make her as an extremely attractive person, having ‘full rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes’ and her American dream makes her all the more vulnerable to her loneliness. “Think I don’t like to talk to somebody ever’ once in a while? ”Why can’t I talk to you? I never get to talk to nobody. I get awful lonely” shows us that she would like to talk to someone once in a while and is really lonely in this ranch world where there is no one to support her. What makes her more exposed is the constant red imagery used in her appearance which not only represents a desire for romance in her life (which is failed by Curley for her loneliness has made her disappointingly upset) but also a sign of warning and danger in her life.
Not only this, but Curley’s wife is vulnerable because she has no name which in a sense suggests that she has no strong identity on the ranch and is treated as a social accessory. So similarly to Crooks, her loneliness has made her bitter and more masculine which is shown towards the end of Chapter four and is now treated as ‘ma’am’ by Crooks. Candy is a prime representation of isolation and loneliness. Firstly, it seems his disability has brought him down by the ranchmen because he lost his right hand which shows that he isn’t practical in the ranch. He’s the oldest on the ranch by being a ‘tall, stoop-shouldered old man’ and having the most experience on the ranch. Yet it seems that the depression has hit on the shoulders for his look on life has been brought down knowing it seems that age and disability has made him vulnerable against the harsh reality of isolation in 1930’s America. Secondly, he lost his only trusted companionship because of old age and decay so now he’s really vulnerable and thinks that he is going to die soon as well because of his old age- “You seen what they done to my dog tonight?
They says he wasn’t no good to himself nor nobody else. When they can me here I wisht somebody’d shoot me…” “And they give me two hundred and fifty dollars ’cause I lost my hand. An’ I got fifty more saved up right in the bank right now. That’s three hundred…” He is easily willing to give every penny that he is worth to join in George and Lennie’s dream and break his intense loneliness in his life and leave behind his isolated painful ranch life. Contrasting with all these characters, George + Lennie are a strong companionship coming into the ranch with high expectations.
However George feels like he has a burden on his shoulders and has to take care of someone who doesn’t have the same mental ability like him. So, for him it feels like a job rather than a partner or a friend that will give him courage and hope in the future. His dream about his farm is his attempt to breaking the loneliness in his world. “Guys like us that work on ranches are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong to no place”, “I seen the guys that go around on the ranches alone” by these two quotes Steinbeck suggests that the ranch itself is a lonely place and with that the characters are lonely themselves which builds up the isolation.
Furthermore Lennie’s desire to pet soft things comes from his need to feel safe and secure, to touch something that gives him that feeling of not being alone in the world. For Lennie, the dream of the farm parallels that security. Lennie is not alone, he knows that he has George to take care of him and says that George would never leave him no matter what. He is not as lonely as other characters but is still afraid and sacred of this world which he can’t cope with. Even though George and Lennie are always together they are still lonely because George is like a care taker and for Lennie, George is like a boss and a person to take orders from rather than a companion.
Overall, George + Lennie, Curley’s Wife, Crooks and Candy are affected by the harsh reality of loneliness which Steinbeck presents emotionally through setting and their own disabilities in 1930’s America- whether it’s racism, sexism or not able to perform practical skills. Even with their American Dream, Steinbeck shows that this only makes them the more vulnerable against the wide world ahead of them within a lonely town known as ‘Soledad’. We see this isolation come altogether in Chapter 4 when the ranch hands go into town on Saturday night to ease their loneliness with alcohol and women. Similarly, Lennie and Candy go into Crook’s room to find someone to talk to, and later Curley’s wife comes for the same reason – Loneliness.