The idea of the world’s cruelty and loneliness has loomed in the minds of society for decades and can be seen even today. John Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men internalizes this idea of cruelty and demonstrates the struggles that society faced in the 1930’s. During the Great Depression, food was limited, finances were put into check, and severe droughts were present, which made the value of labor high. During this time period, businesses limited their jobs in an effort to cut back on costs, limiting the jobs available. Since society valued the work of men rather than women, the work opportunities available for women diminished. In John Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men, internal and external conflicts emphasize the theme that the world is a cruel and lonely place as a result of society’s ideas and expectations.
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Candy’s indirect conflict with society exemplifies the world’s cruelty and loneliness owing to the societal values of the 1930’s. Lennie and George had only been at the ranch for a short period of time when a foul smell crept through the bunkhouse, and Carlson exclaimed that Candy’s dog, “Is so god damn old he can’t hardly walk. [Somebody should] shoot [the] old dog” (36). This portrays the idea that old is better than new, and that old is useless. Carlson’s thoughts compare to the reality of society because the demand for labor was high, which led to the overarching idea that younger, newer, and more productive people are of better use. This conveys the world’s cruelty due to the fact that once you were viewed as aged, you were no longer treated to the same standard as others, as demonstrated when it was said that somebody should shoot his old dog. In addition, Slim stated that he, “Wish’t somebody would shoot me if I was old an a cripple” (41). This further solidifies the concept that older, non-working, people were viewed as if they were better off as dead, which further proves the idea that the world is a cruel place. The societal values present in the 1930’s for labor likewise played a role in the expectations of women.
The external conflict demonstrated by Curley’s Wife towards the ranch hands highlights the lonely reality for women due to the expectations of society. Curley’s Wife, when talking with Lennie alone, told him that she, “Can’t talk to nobody but Curley. Else he gets mad” (87). This exhibits the idea that women were expected to be isolated and only talk to their husbands. Moreover, revealing that women were considered subordinates, restricting them from talking with other people, which contributes to the loneliness similar to what Curley’s wife experienced. Additionally, the ranch hands resisted interacting with her and would often tell her to, “Go along to [her] own house” (56). In addition, Crooks sent her away to her house telling her that they, “Don’t want no trouble” (56). This conjointly relates to the idea that the world is a lonely place because of the expectation that women were to be secluded to their husbands, which in this case, in essence leaves her with a husband who is rarely present to interact with. In virtue of the idea that women were to be isolated and secluded to their husbands, this conveys the thematic concept that the world is a cruel lonely place.
The internal conflict that was portrayed between Curley’s Wife and her dreams highlight the cruel realities that women faced in the 1930’s. When Curley’s Wife was speaking with Lennie about her dreams of becoming a movie star, she explained she met a man who said, “He was gonna put me in the movies” (88). However, this dream was struck with reality when she never received a letter in return from the man, “So [she] married Curley” (88). This proves the cruelty of the world because Curley’s Wife’s dreams of becoming a movie star were quickly diminished and the reality of being a housewife to a man she halfheartedly loved set in. Further, this labeling of women contributes to the concept that the world is a cruel place due to the fact that her dreams were crushed because of what society expected of women. In addition, the men of the ranch would often tell her to, “Go along to [her] house” (56). This presents the cruel reality that even her shorterm minor dreams of being recognized and talked to are unable to be fulfilled. Society’s expectations of people based on gender and appearance contribute to the cruelty of the world.
Lennie and Curley’s conflict portrays the cruelty of the world because of the societal expectation of masculinity. Slim explained to Lennie and George that, “Curley’s like a lot of little guys. He hates big guys. Kind of like he’s mad at em’ because he ain’t one” (26). This testifies to the fact that the world is a cruel place because Curley’s immediate judgment to Lennie due to his physical appearance. Additionally, Curley feels threatened by Lennie because he feels like Lennie posses more masculine characteristics than he does, so he feels as if he needs to establish he is in command of the situation. Furthermore, this presents the idea that Curley makes others feel insignificant and minor for his own morale, which contributes to the thematic idea that the world is a cruel place. Conjointly, Curley was outraged when Lennie laughed when he spoke and communicated to him that, “No big son-of-a-bitch is gonna laugh at [him]” (62). This again highlights Curley’s technique of establishing dominance and attacking the other person to make himself feel more secure. This proves that the world is a cruel place Lennie is made to feel insignificant and lesser than so that Curley can feel more secure about his masculinity.
The internal and external conflicts that were portrayed in Of Mice and Men led to the overarching theme that the world is a cruel and lonely as a result of the expectations and ideas in society. Candy’s conflict with society highlighted the world’s cruelty through the values of society. Curley’s Wife faced a similar challenge as the way she was treated by the ranch hands conveyed the societal expectations of women. Similarly, Curley’s Wife also was challenged with the internal conflict against her dreams, which portrayed the cruel reality for women in the 1930’s. Curley’s quest for masculinity through the conflict with Lennie demonstrated the cruelty of the world due to the expectations that were set by society with regard to masculinity.
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