Explore the methods Steinbeck uses to demonstrate the effects of isolation on people in ‘Of Mice and Men’ – GCSE assessment day 2

Explore the methods Steinbeck uses to demonstrate the effects of isolation on people in ‘Of Mice and Men’

‘A few miles away from Soledad…’ Soledad. Solitude. Within the first line of John Steinbeck’s novel, ‘Of Mice and Men’, a major theme is subliminally established; ‘Soledad’ translating directly from Spanish as ‘Solitude’, essentially setting the book ‘A few miles away from solitude’. Demonstrated here is a key method Steinbeck has used to develop his theme of isolation: Foreshadowing. Throughout the book foreshadowing occurs; Lennie killing the mouse leads to his killing of the puppy, which then escalates into the killing of Curley’s Wife, eventually leading to his own death. As is shown by this, many of the seemingly insignificant happenings of the book act a forewarning to the reader, warning of future events to come.

‘An’ he ain’t no good to you, Candy… And he ain’t no good to himself.’ This quote is a goldmine of information on the methods used, and a real example of how companionship is overlooked as a quality. Carlson, a typical farm worker, attempts to persuade Candy to put down his dog, due to it being useless and ‘Stinking’. Carlson pays no attention to the fact that Candy may want to keep his dog for company, having an attitude that when something has no use, it has no place. This attitude is a method used by Steinbeck to enforce the theme of isolation. Each person having nobody who is dear to them and therefore having nobody to talk to or share their inner thoughts with, which is a main element of a healthy society. The lack of conversation between characters ensues that they feel self-conscious, and apart from the majority; each character feeling protective and withdrawing from others. This is voiced perfectly by Curley’s wife: ‘You’re all scared of each other, that’s what. Ever’ one of you is scared that the rest is goin’ to get something on you.’ Going back to the previous quote, foreshadowing is evident (the dog meeting its end when it has no use, in the same way that Lennie eventually meets his end when he reaches his apparent ‘expiry date’). There is a strong feeling of negativity felt in this statement, the words ‘no’ and ‘aint’ recurring frequently. This shows the mind-set of the characters, adding to the feeling of mistrust between characters.

‘Ain’t I got a right to talk to nobody? What do they think I am anyway? You’re a nice guy. I don’t know why I can’t talk to you, I never done no harm to you.’ Curley’s wife is isolated from the rest of her characters due to her gender. Being the only notable female character in the whole of the novel isolates her, but this effect is amplified more by the sexual boundary that Steinbeck has created around her. ‘She had full rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up.’ Curley’s wife is not given a name throughout the entire course of the novel, given just the title ‘Curley’s wife’. This description, and subtle method of having merely a title, isolates her as a sexual object and alienates her form the other characters. She is treated with constant mistrust by all of the male farmworkers, due to her relationship with Curley, the farm bosses son – who is ‘handy’ and up for a fight – and the fact that she is known for her flirtatious character. The paranoia cause by Curley’s wife is primarily due to the fear of Curley; the farm workers do not wish to fall out with the farm boss’s son, at the risk of a beating, or worse, being thrown out of the farm. Steinbeck has cleverly used fear as a method to isolate Curley’s wife from all other characters, and this method has been repeated throughout the book; isolation through fear and weaknesses. For instance, Curly has a constant fear of people bigger than him, his weakness being his height. His fear has come about due to a constant regret about his meagre stature, his regret turning to passionate hate towards people above his own size. ‘S’psose Curley jumps on a big guy an’ licks him. Ever’body says what a game guy Curley is. And s’pose he does the same thng and gets licked. Then eve’body says the big guy oughtta pick on somebody his own size…Seems like Curley aint givin nobody a chance.’ Curley is evidently a macho-ist, always wishing to appear ‘big’ and ‘on top’.

‘aint many guys travel around with each other. I don’t know why. Maybe everybody in the whole damn world is scared of each other, that’s what.’ Steinbeck has shrewdly used the voices of characters as a method to express the theme of isolation, in the case of this quote being Slim. The meaning of this quote is clear; isolation occurring because of fear between people. This is an extremely effective method, as characters can directly convey the theme of isolation across without appearing too blatant. Steinbeck appears to enjoy this method, as he uses it when Curley’s wife faces a bitter rebuke from the ‘outcasts’ of the farm, Crooks’ – a nigger and a cripple – Candy – an old amputee – and Lennie – ‘the big dum-dum’. ‘you’re all scared of each other, that’s what. Ever’one of you is scared the rest of you is goin’ to get something on you’.

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