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

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

‘A few miles south of 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 south of 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. This dynamic chain of events shows how events escalate throughout the book, and that every event has a consequence; namely realism. 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 has nobody who is dear to them and therefore has 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 ensures 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 from the other characters.

Curley’s wife 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’pose 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’.

Steinbeck uses the destruction of dreams and ambitions as a method to demonstrate loneliness; having the characters living in hope and then facing the downfall of their ambitions. For example, George and Lennie’s dream is to have a small house in the countryside, and live of the ‘fatta’ the land’. In this case, their dream is actually the opposite of loneliness; George and Lennie wish to have a real home, be real friends and to have a real purpose. This theme carries on: in Candy wishing to join George and Lennie, and in Curley’s wife wanting to be an actress – ‘He says he was gonna put me in the movies. Says I was a natural. Soon’s he got back to Hollywood he was gonna write to me about it. I never got the letter.’ In all of these individual cases, the closer each got to their goal, the harder it was for them when their dreams were destroyed. ‘“Jesus Christ! O bet we could swing her!” His eyes were full of wonder. ‘I bet we could swing her,” he repeated softly.’ Pure elation is shown by George as he realises that their dream is accomplishable. As the saying goes – ‘So close, but so far’ – the destruction of their dream occurs just a single chapter later, when Lenny murders Curley’s wife. Dramatic irony plays it part in the story, with Steinbeck making it clear to the reader that the dream of each character will never happen, whilst keeping the character oblivious to his intents and ever hopeful. Each character keeps his dreams to himself, or to the group that share the dream, isolating them from ‘outsiders’ as they discuss their dream, for example George strictly tells Lennie not to tell anybody about their dream. However, as each dream is destroyed, the characters withdrawn into themselves, blocking the outside world, isolating them further.

Prejudice – and through that, segregation – also plays a key role in the methods that John Steinbeck has used to enforce isolation. Crooks’, the black crippled stable buck, suffers enormous amounts of prejudice, his skin colour being held against him ‘Cause I’m black. They play cards in there, but I can’t play because I’m black. They say I stink. Well, I tell you, you all stink to me.’ In this scene, Crooks’ complains to Lenny about the racism held against him. Racism continues throughout the novel, and not just through the characters speech, but through their emotions and feelings. The quote ‘Candy seemed embarrassed. ‘I do know. ‘Course, if ya want me to.’ shows that Candy is embarrassed even to enter the ‘Nigger’s’ domain. This discrimination seems almost subconscious, as Candy ‘s embarrassment seems genuine. Discrimination continues to Lennie, due to his mental difficulties, and example residing in the very beginning of the book, when George stops Lennie from seeking to the Boss – for fear he will say something stupid. ‘up around Weed,’ said George. ‘You to?’ to Lennie. ‘Yeah, him to.’

Description of setting has also played its part as a method to isolate. ‘’Lennie removed his hat dutifully and laid it on the ground in front of him. The shadow in the valley was bluer, and the evening came fast…’ The setting is described in detail whenever there is a tense moment, taking something form the scene, and replacing it just with loneliness and sadness. In this case, just before Lennie’s death, the background image introduces a background world, extensive and infinite. This generates a contrast to the self-contained and inward looking world that Steinbeck has created, which isolates the entire novel from the rest of the world. The only interaction with the outside world in the duration of the novel, is the bus driver who delivers George and Lennie to the ranch – a seemingly one way trip.

‘I tell ya a guy gets too lonely and he gets sick.’ Crooks’ voices Steinbeck’s main point; that isolation can be mentally – and physically- damaging to humans. He shows that a society without friendship, trust and love is not one worth living in: a pointless struggle to survive. The 1930’s great depression was a hard enough time, but without the key characteristics shown above, it would have been unbearable. Crooks’ is a victim of this sickness – the sickness itself fuelling his rage. The quote ‘Now what the hell ya suppose is eating them two guys?’ by Carlson is an excellent summary to the novel: saying that life goes on, despite the death of a fellow worker – what goes around comes around, added to by the fact that the final location is the same as the starting location. This is a final measure by John Steinbeck to show how insignificant the past events were, as if they were part of a daily regime. All of the intense growth for the plot, and the emotion of the characters is lost, dwarfing them against the vast expanses of the big wide world.

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