John Steinbeck’s 1937 novella ‘Of Mice and Men’ depicts itinerant workers in California during the Great Depression and how the dreams of the protagonists in the novella are both helpful and harmful during this time. Steinbeck demonstrates that having dreams can give you both hope and motivation, even if those dreams are unrealistic. However, unrealistic dreams may result in many negative outcomes, the dreams can provoke characters into doing whatever it takes in order to accomplish such a dream. Whilst the dreams are beneficial for most of the characters, they are harmful and unrealistic for others. Steinbeck explores the unrealistic dreams through the cyclical structure and demonstrates their inevitable fate through foreshadowing. The setting conveys hope being lost and the loneliness that the 1930s American went through during the Great Depression, due to that, the unrealistic dreams may be destructive towards the characters in the novella.
Steinbeck reveals that many of the characters in the novella all have a common dream, a dream to break out of their trapped lives and have freedom. The dreams are helpful as they motivate the characters to strive for their goals despite how hard it was during the Great Depression. This is exemplified through Lennie, George, Curley’s wife and many of the other character’s on the ranch. ‘Tell about the place, George,’ George is asked repeatedly by Lennie to retell their dream, wanting to hear it over and over again. The dream gave Lennie motivation and hope that one day they may be able to achieve such an unrealistic goal. Even though George was one of the more mature characters, he still had hope that the dream would become a reality. This could be depicted through the conversation between George and Candy, “I bet we could swing her.” It can be seen that despite their position and the struggles the characters have gone through during the 1930s, they still grasp onto the dreams they have to keep their head above water. Curley’s Wife had the same dream of having control over her own life. Her dream was to be an actress and the way she talks about her dream is similar to George and Lennie, ‘When they had previews, I coulda went to them.’ This allowed her to continue despite her loneliness. Steinbeck illustrates that the dreams give comfort to the characters’ lives and gives them the motivation to tackle the struggles and the obstacles in their life, however whilst they are helpful, they are ultimately unrealistic.
In the novella Steinbeck the demonstrates characters’ disadvantages and the fact that the dreams are unrealistic throughout the cyclical structure, foreshowing and the lack of power the men and women had. Crook is introduced in the beginning of chapter four, a man who is isolated and excluded because of his colour skin. He is trapped in his own life because of the disadvantages of being an African American and having a crooked back. At the beginning of the chapter four, Crook is rubbing liniment on his spine, at the end of chapter four he ‘poured a little liniment in his pink palms…rubbing his back’. Even after the conversation he had had with the men at the ranch, he returned back to rubbing his spine, displaying his inevitable fate. George in a sense knew that the dream that they had was unrealistic, he had always known their fate and accepted it because he knew that he had a lack of power. This is revealed when he said ‘I should have knew…I guess maybe back in my head I did,’ the sentence itself shows how George had given up on the dreams. Being trapped is also depicted through foreshadowing. Foreshadowing appears consistently throughout the novella, during Curley’s wife’s death, Candy’s dog’s death and even the death of the mouse at the beginning of the book. The deaths guaranteed the destruction of any dream that the characters had. The character’s dreams in the novella are unrealistic and therefore are harmful.
Whilst the dreams in the novella are beneficial, they are also deemed as harmful. Steinbeck illustrates that the character’s dreams can cause harm to an individual as it provides false hope and causes bitterness this is represented through the characters Lennie and Candy. George and Lennie’s dream provoked Lennie to be blind in many situation, he was so desperate to tend the rabbits that he ended up killing Curley’s wife just to keep her quiet. ‘He ain’t gonna let me tend no rabbits’, Lennie was begging Curley’s wife to stop her screaming and the only thought he had was his dream. He knew that Curley’s wife was trouble and was afraid that she would be the cause to the destruction of his dreams, due to that, he gave no thought to the consequences. The unrealistic dreams brought out the bitterness in Candy the moment he knew that the dream has failed. You goddamn tramp,’ even in her death, Curley’s wife was being blamed for the failure of the dream by Candy. When Candy found out that the dream could no longer be accomplished, he became bitter and dull, and the small spark of happiness disappeared.
Due to the disadvantages that occurred during the Great Depression in 1930s, most of the character’s dreams in the novella was unrealistic. However, those unrealistic dreams were helpful for the fact that they gave the character’s in the novella a purpose in their life, a reason to keep on fighting and to strive for their goal despite how hard life was in 1930. On the other hand, the dreams were the reason that the characters in the novella lost fate and turned bitter. They were the reason that Lennie felt the need to do whatever it took to keep his dream of having rabbits safe, despite the consequences. Steinbeck illustrates that the dreams help the characters by giving them hop and something to strive for, however it becomes apparent that their dreams are ultimately unrealistic, and therefore also harmful.