JOHN STEINBECK*S OF MICE AND MEN

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THREADS
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Argument: The central
guiding principle of the
novel is the theme of
Cain and Abel.
“The mythical discourse
theme that is present
throughout the novel is
the question of man’s
destiny and fate, which
Cain is noted to have
asked God.”
Comes from chapter 4
of Genesis in the Old
Testament.
 Immediately following
the Creation and
Expulsion (from the
Garden of Eden).

Cain and Abel were
sons of Adam and Eve.
 Cain was a farmer, but
his offerings of
agricultural produce to
the Lord failed to find
favor; Abel, the second
son, offered livestock,
which was well
received.

Angry, jealous, and
rejected, Cain killed
Abel when they were
working in the field.
 When the Lord
inquired of Cain,
“Where is your
brother?” Cain replied:
“I know not: Am I my
brother’s keeper?”

Cain was marked by
the Lord so as to
preserve him from the
wrath of others.
 He left home and went
to the land of Nod,
which the story says
lies east of Eden.
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For his crime, the Lord
banished Cain and set
upon him a curse that
Cain was to become
homeless, a wanderer,
and an agricultural
laborer who would
never possess or enjoy
the fruits of his labor.
Where does the story
find application in Of
Mice and Men?
 The relationship of
George and Lennie,
and the reactions of
the other characters to
that relationship.

George and Lennie have a
brotherly, mutual concern
for each other and faithful
companionship.
 “If them other guys gets in
jail they can rot for all
anybody gives a damn. But
not us.”
 “…because I got you to
look after me, and you got
me to look after you.”
 Each is truly his brother’s
keeper – and they get
beauty, joy, security, and
comfort from this.

Secondly, this sort of
camaraderie is rare, almost
unique in the world George
and Lennie inhabit.
 Other men are solitary souls
without friends or
companions (such as Candy).
 So the alternative to George
and Lennie is aloneness: The
migratory ranch worker
seems to be the fulfillment of
the Lord’s curse on Cain.
 Right from the first scene,
after the incident in Weed,
they are “fugitive and a
vagabond,” just as Cain was.

The “Eden” myth
looms large in other
ways in the novel.
 The California setting
underscores the theme
of man’s isolation and
need for commitment.

Takes place along the
Salinas River, a few
miles south of Soledad,
California.
 Steinbeck often used
California as symbolic
of a fallen world or lost
Eden.
 “The Promised Land”
is a painful and illusory
dream.

“Soledad” translates
into English as
“solitude” or
“loneliness.”
 In this country of
solitude and loneliness,
George and Lennie
stand out sharply
because they have
each other.
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George and Lennie’s
dream represents a
desire to defy the curse
of Cain and fallen man –
to break the pattern of
wandering and
loneliness imposed on
the outcasts and to
return to the perfect
garden.
The “dream” farm
symbolizes their deep,
mutual commitment to
each other.
Even Candy and
Crooks subconsciously
recognize this unique
commitment when
they unite to protect
Lennie from the threat
posed by Curley’s wife.
 They, too, become
their “brother’s
keepers.”
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The “serpent”?
Loneliness and the
barriers between men,
and between men and
women , that create
and reinforce this
loneliness.

Yet, it is this
overwhelming and
uncontrollable urge for
human contact that
brings about Lennie’s
destruction and the
destruction of almost
all he comes in contact
with – the mice, the
puppy, and Curley’s
wife.
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Because of this, the
dream of the Edenic
farm was likely never a
possibility – he likely
would have killed the
rabbits, too.
So his flaw represents
the inherent
imperfection in
humanity that renders
Eden forever impossible.
What hasn’t perished with
Lennie?
 The dream of man’s
commitment to man.
 This is seen in the final
scene when Slim comforts
George.
 The novel began with two
men climbing down to the
brush from the highway.
 It ends with two men
climbing back up from the
pool to the highway.
 George is not alone – he is
spared the fate of Cain.

Still, many readers
wonder why George
doesn’t still purchase
the farm with Candy.
 While we sympathize
with George’s decision,
we sense that he is still
making a terrible
mistake.
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Let’s consider Candy.
It’s easy to see the
parallel between the
shooting of Candy’s dog
by Carlson, and the
shooting of Lennie by
George.
But Lennie and Candy
are very similar.
Candy needs someone
to look after his affairs:
He needs George and
the dream farm.
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However, George
declines to still get the
farm with Candy, even
though Candy is still
more than willing to put
up the money.
This proves that being in
one safe place with
Lennie was more
important to George
than simply being in one
safe place.
He elects to continue living
the hard life of a ranch hand
rather than settle down to
life on a small farm with
Candy.
 This may be the true tragedy
in the book.
 It’s not just that George loved
Lennie; this unnatural
attachment (in the context of
typical migrant workers) was
the only reason why George
could put up with and do so
much for Lennie in the first
place.
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Without Lennie, George
sentences himself to the
same fate as the other
migrant workers: a life of
loneliness.
So when Lennie dies, the
dream of the farm dies
with him.
While his weakness
doomed the dream, it
was only his innocence
that kept it alive.

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