The Theme of Loneliness in of Mice and Men
Many people experience loneliness as a natural part of life. People who feel lonely are more likely to seek out human contact. However, their mental state makes it harder for them to make connections with others. (Cherry). It is difficult to overcome loneliness. Those who are determined will make it through that stage and become a better person. However, if you stay in that mindset, it can cause more problems, including depression. John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men perfectly portrays the idea of loneliness. Of Mice and Men shows loneliness as a complicated emotion that causes characters to engage in behavioral outbursts. Steinbeck links these feelings of loneliness with the outbursts they bring through the characters in the novella, Candy, Curley’s wife and Crooks, which reflect on the discriminative time period that ultimately drove these characters towards loneliness.
George Milton was one of the first characters to be struck by the effects of loneliness in Mice and Men. George was Lennie’s caregiver for many years. Lennie had mental retardation, and George couldn’t care for him. Lennie was unknowingly in major trouble and George lost every job. This was a significant disadvantage. George was also unable to establish relationships with others because they didn’t stay in one place for very long. He also disliked ranch hands, saying, “I saw the guys who go around on ranches alone.” It’s not worth it. They can have fun. They can get very mean after a while. They want to fight every day” (Steinbeck 41). George vented his frustration at the ranch hands and it became clear that he doesn’t have a strong friendship with them. Curley and Carlson were two ranch hands that he didn’t get along with. Curely and Carlson were emotionally shallow people who didn’t understand emotions. Carlson was shocked by George’s murder of Lennie in the last scene and replied, “Now, what the hell do you suppose is eating them two guys?” Because of their lack of empathy, George and Carlson were unable to emotionally connect with each other or forge friendships.
Lennie was the only person George truly cared for and considered a friend. Lennie’s mental illness meant that he was only a physical companion to George. Despite George telling him they had each other, George never felt able to connect on an emotional level with Lennie. Lennie thought of himself as a child and so George didn’t feel the need to. George was often lonely emotionally. He often felt lonely through his solitaire games. George’s only friend and companion, Lennie, was killed in the end. George also lost Lennie, his only friend and companion. He lost his purpose in life. George was at the end of his life. He has reached his maximum level of loneliness and discontent, and is now filled with false hopes that will never be fulfilled.
Curley’s wife was another character affected by loneliness. Curley’s wife, however, hates him. Curley is not her favorite person, and she doesn’t have anyone to talk to on the ranch, so she has fallen into a deep depression of loneliness. Her behavior toward others was severely affected by her loneliness. She was so desperate for attention, she would act inappropriately flirtatious and malevolently cruel or even insecure. She would wander the ranch asking men if Curley was around. While she was seductive, she also made sure she looked her best. She had full, red lips, wide eyes and large, spacy eyes. Red was the color of her fingernails. Her hair was arranged in small rolled curls that looked like sausages. “Steinbeck 31) She wore a red housedress made of cotton and red mules. On the steps were small bouquets of red Ostrich feathers.” Because she wanted attention, she does this because it is the only way she can get it. Unfortunately for Curley’s spouse, ranch workers treated Curley with hostility. They tried to ignore Curley to keep themselves out of trouble. She has been known to be sadistic due to her loneliness. Her loneliness made her unhappy and insecure. She would sometimes insult and condescend towards others to feed her ego, such as Candy, Lennie and Candy when she called them “a bunch bindle stiffs–a dum-dum, a nigger and a lousy old sheep”. Curley’s wife, Curley, reassured herself by putting down other people. This gave her an ego boost, and helped her to feel better about her self for the moment. This was a sign of how insecure she felt about herself. Her intentions weren’t malicious at all. She was just an empty, lonely person in search of someone to talk to. Lennie even heard her admit it herself, “I get lonely.” Talking to people is one thing, but talking to Curley is another. Otherwise, he will get mad. “How would you prefer not to speak to anyone?” She clearly felt lonely and insecure. Her personality was often seductively malevolent. Her only purpose in life was to find someone to pay attention to her, and that was what she was always shown. Curley’s wife was not able to find someone to talk to her despite her best efforts. This left her in a state of complete loneliness that could only be ended by death.
Crooks, a black stable buck, is one of the most lonely characters in the novel. Crooks’ loneliness was caused by the prejudice and discrimination of white ranch hands against blacks. Crooks, unlike everyone else, was forced to sleep in his own bedroom, while all the other men slept inside the bunkhouse. Crooks was not invited to go out to the town with them, nor did they play cards with him. Crooks’s isolation and deep loneliness have had a negative impact on his character as well as his perception of other people. Crooks’s loneliness made him bitter and cold. He often avoids people because he doesn’t feel safe enough to share his feelings with them. He used his superficial hardness as a way to shield his vulnerable and insecure self beneath. He lost touch with his true self due to loneliness so he adopted a new persona. He was so used being alone that he couldn’t help but react in a hostile and harsh manner to Lennie peeking into his room. This is my room. “Nobody got any right in there except me,” (Steinbeck, 68). Crooks’s constant loneliness led to him becoming slightly sadistic. Crooks discovered that Lennie had a mental condition and gave Crooks an advantage in intelligence and common sense. Crooks used this advantage to emotionally torture Lennie, telling him that George might have been hurt and may not be coming back. Crooks temporarily satisfied his ego by praying for Lennie’s weaknesses. He has been treated as if his worth was less than others. This has led to a deep depression and loneliness. Now, however, things have changed for the better and Lennie is now vulnerable to Crooks. Crooks finally realized that Crooks should not be trying to trick Lennie. He even admitted to being lonely and that “a man needs someone?” to be near him. If he doesn’t have anyone, a guy will go crazy. It doesn’t matter who the guy might be, as long as he’s there for you. You know what I mean. “A guy becomes too lonely and he gets sick,” (72-73). Crooks openedly acknowledged that he was tired of being lonely. However, as soon as he had the courage to face the world, he retreated into himself emotionally. The promise of having someone to talk to and an opportunity to escape from the loneliness that he felt was impossible to believe,
Through the darkened depths of George, Curley’s wife, and Crooks, the overwhelming theme of loneliness was well communicated in Of Mice and Men. Loneliness, a unique and painful feeling, emits an atmosphere of emptiness that plagues its victims. Loneliness is so strong that it can be a debilitating feeling. It can also have a negative impact on your emotional outlook, just like it did for George Curley’s wife and Crooks. Crooks and George were drawn deeper into the pit of loneliness, which led them to their emotional devastation. Curley’s wife, on the other hand was too distracted by her loneliness and her desperate cries for attention. Their lack of empathy and emotional understanding of each other was one of the main factors in their loneliness. Ironically, despite the fact that loneliness affected almost everyone, none of them seemed to be able to understand their loneliness. They have become so emotionally isolated from others that they can no longer feel the emotions of others and sometimes even themselves. It is quite disheartening to observe how powerful and pervasive the effects of loneliness can be. These characters will continue to live in loneliness as the empty spaces they have left behind will continue to eat away at them.