Alienation is the feeling of isolation and no hope or dreams in your life-which is Steinbeck’s achievements by portraying this theme 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 farmers are living through by their repetitive lifestyle and the consequences they face through the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Yet another aspect of loneliness which is exposed vulnerable through several characters is the idea of the American Dream, for Steinbeck teaches us that even through hard work and prosperity, it is unattainable which is represented by Curley’s wife, Crooks, Candy, George and Lennie. These personas are left in isolation for as George says that ‘Guys like us that work on ranches are the loneliest guys in the world. They don’t belong no place…’ which is to say that these characters have lost all hope in their lives, which Steinbeck conveys effectively, and the fact that despite this, they still believe there is hope to come for them, which leaves me to sympathise for them more.
Candy is a prime representation of isolation and loneliness in ‘Of Mice and Men’. Firstly, it seems his disability has brought him down by the ranchmen because he has ‘no (right) hand’ which is a sign that it isn’t practical in the ranch, yet it also suggests that Steinbeck may have used religious imagery to interpret the isolation Candy feels because the right hand is a symbol of hope and love in Christianity, and by not having one Candy has lost meaning in life, in my opinion. Nevertheless, it’s surprising this because it’s ironic that he’s the oldest on the ranch by being a ‘tall, stoop-shouldered old man’ but 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. As well as this, his American Dream of living on George and Lennie’s dream ranch is affected mainly by Curley’s wife’s death as he “lay down in the hay and covered his eyes with his arm” after the men left, knowing it seems that age and disability has made him vulnerable against the harsh reality of isolation in 1930’s America.
Crooks was also considered disabled by being a ‘negro buck’ as black people were treated terribly as slaves and not in society. This is shown by Steinbeck’s language of setting as Crooks lives in a ‘little shed that leaned off the wall of the barn’ as if to say that he is not strong or bold enough to survive in the world. He also has ‘a mauled copy of the California civil code for 1905’ which conveys to me 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, especially by Curley’s wife threatening him to be ‘strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny’ which conveys to me that Crooks is used for other people’s pleasure and has no freedom or boundaries.
Furthermore, despite Curley’s wife being dominant towards Crooks, she was also born lonely- for women were considered as disability in 1930’s America, which is harsh but Steinbeck shows this very effectively. Curley’s wife appearance may make her as an extremely attractive person, having ‘full rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes’ which to me reminds me of an image of Marilyn Monroe if we look at this from a modern generation, a controversial celebrity- which is Curley’s wife’s American dream-which makes her all the more vulnerable to her loneliness. What makes her more exposed is the constant red imagery used in her appearance as well 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- an echo of the girl ’in a red dress’ by Lennie who as a woman was treated as a disability and also uses red imagery. Because of this, Curley’s wife exposes herself too much and may face the consequences of this from Lennie because of her vulnerability. 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, like Candy’s dog-also with her name. Similarly to Crooks, her loneliness has made her bitter, she’s treated as ‘ma’am’ by Crooks, which raises her hierarchy. Nevertheless, she is isolated with herself as she was never meant to be masculine.
Contrasting with all these characters, George + Lennie are a strong companionship coming into the ranch with high expectations. However, their initial descriptions convey their hierarchy already as Steinbeck says that ‘the first man was small and quick’ with ‘sharp, strong features’- which means that he is the dominant and masculine character in this relationship and can stand up against the world. Juxtaposing with this, Lennie is described as ‘a huge man, shapeless of face’ which may describe his feature- unbalanced and quite unsure of himself and the rest of the world compared to George. Because of this, as they enter the ranch they are split into two clashing environments as George ‘went into town’ with the ranchmen and Lennie headed into ‘a little shed’ which shows that George has company and will never be afraid of the world, whilst Lennie is alone and exposed in his vulnerability. Because of his disability, unfortunately he may never escape it. Lennie is sentenced to death by his loneliness and contrasting characteristics with George which is very similar to Candy’s dog as a mercy killing which seems controversial, because of the loneliness and depression the companions have been through, Steinbeck shows that it may seem unfair for Lennie to stay alive and go through the same cycle again with a new ranch-similar to Weed in my opinion, leaving George to go through the cycle of loneliness as he threw the gun ‘near the pile of old ashes’ with the rest of the old and bad memories as he must leave them behind in order to survive alone.
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 this only makes them the more vulnerable against the wide world ahead of them within a lonely town known as ‘Soledad’.
The setting of The Lamp of Noon is placed in vapid desert in Prairies during the times of the Great Depression. The terrible weather, constant dust storms have negative influence not only upon the health conditions of the inhabitants but also on their relations. Paul and Ellen – the main heroes of the story experience tension and lack of mutual understanding during their time spent together. The dust storms bring thick layer of dust on their tables as well on their souls. The feelings of isolation of the two persons can be compared only to the isolation of the nature at the place, where they are living – their countryside seems to be endless, and nothing can be seen except for dust in the air. “The nauseating notion that Ellen was “trapped in a cage” droned into her outlook on life, making her testy and angry at her husband” (Nichol, 13). Thus the setting plays a very important role for presentation of characters and major themes of the story, because due to the severe drought and the fact, that their farm was far from other houses and people, Paul and Ellen were inevitably developing depression and grudge towards each other. Ellen was absolutely dependent on the small child and Paul had to manage the drought- ridden farm, he was so devoted to his work, but year after year proved the fruitlessness of his efforts. His routine was broken only when he found his wife left with the child – “the two are later found in the sea-like prairie desert, the dead child smothered in his wind-maddened mother’s uncomprehending bosom” (18).