This is a novel of defeated hope and the harsh reality of the American Dream. George and Lennie are poor homeless migrant workers, doomed to a life of wandering and toil in which they are never able to reap the fruits of their labor. Their desires may not seem so unfamiliar to any other American: a place of their own, the opportunity to work for themselves and harvest what they sew with no one to take anything from them or give them orders. George and Lennie desperately cling to the notion that they are different from other workers who drift from ranch to ranch because, unlike the others, they have a future and each other.
But characters like Crooks and Curley’s wife serve as reminders that George and Lennie are no different from anyone who wants something of his or her own. Lennie and George’s dream is presented by Steinbeck in order to convey their relationship: “George. Tell me. Please, George. Like you done before” This dream cannot exist without friendship. This is most demonstrable in the relationship between George and Lennie. Without the other, neither character would be able to maintain the dream.
Lennie is constantly asking George to “tell about how it’s gonna be”. The constant repetition of the way things will be is what keeps the dream alive in Lennie. However, George needs Lennie just as much as Lennie needs him, which is apparent at the end of the novel. When George kills Lennie, he also kills the friendship, which results in the death of the dream within himself. Friendship is an underlying factor in the dreams of others as well. Candy, Crooks befriend George and Lennie when they learn of the possibility of owning land.
They share the same dream as the two new workers, a dream that would have seemed impossible before the friendship began. Lennie’s dream is introduced at the beginning of the novella through Steinbeck’s description of nature. During the novel’s opening and closing chapters, Steinbeck describes the activity of the natural world. These passages are rich and interpretable in many directions. Steinbeck writes that the rabbits happily “sit on the sand,” and are then disturbed by the arrival of George and Lennie – they “hurry noiselessly for cover”.
Not until later does this little detail take on a richer significance – rabbits, we learn, represent for Lennie (and George, to a lesser extent) the dream of obtaining a farm of their own and living “off the fatta the lan'”. The scattering of the rabbits at the beginning suggests already that this dream will prove elusive. Because Lennie thinks in concrete terms of his own pleasure, he equates the tending of rabbits – whose soft fur he wishes to pet – with the attainment of utter happiness.
Thus he has developed a shorthand for referring to the plan George and he share to start a farm of their own – “I remember about the rabbits”. Lennie takes deep pride in the notion that he would be entrusted to raise the rabbits, to protect them, to feed them out of their alfalfa patch. He places the entirety of his future happiness on this one image of caring for rabbits. This dream of the rabbits becomes literally a dream at the end of the novel, when Lennie hallucinates a giant rabbit who tells him that he will never be allowed to tend rabbits.
This highlights the extent to which Lennie bases his entire life around the goal of tending rabbits. Steinbeck presents Candy’s dream as his last hope after an unfulfilling life not achieving anything. His pessimistic language emphasises how he will eventually become useless: “When they can me here I wisht somebody’d shoot me… I can’t get no more jobs” Candy realizes that his fate is to be put on the roadside as soon as he’s no longer useful; on the ranch, he won’t be treated any differently than his dog.
Worse than the dog parallel, though, is that Candy, unlike his dog, is emotionally broken by this whole affair. He can’t bring himself to shoot his pet himself, and we suspect this is going to be the same fear and reticence that keep him from making anything more of his life. Candy can’t stand up for his pet because Candy can’t stand up for himself. It’s no wonder, then, that Candy takes such a shine to George and Lennie and their dream. Seeking some way out of his inevitable uselessness, Candy works to change “George and Lennie’s dream” into “George, Lennie, and Candy’s plan. Still, it seems as though Candy has a bad case of futility. As he tries to help the men attain their dream, he also reminds them of the possibility, and indeed, likelihood, that it’s going to fail. Once it does indeed fail, it’s Candy more than anyone else who feels the loss. While George mourns what he must do to his friend, and Lennie worries for the future rabbits, Candy is left to embody the despair one finds at the end of a long, hard-working life when you’re done with your career and no closer to the American dream.
The dream of living out his days with George and Lennie on their dream farm distracts Candy from this harsh reality. He deems the few acres of land they describe worthy of his hard-earned life’s savings, which testifies to his desperate need to believe in a world kinder than the one in which he lives. Like George, Candy clings to the idea of having the freedom to take up or set aside work as he chooses. So strong is his devotion to this idea that, even after he discovers that Lennie has killed Curley’s wife, he pleads for himself and George to go ahead and buy the farm as planned.
Curley’s wife had a dream; however, due to fate intervening, she did not make it. Nevertheless she still wishes to achieve it: “said he was gonna put me in the movies… he was gonna write to me about it… I never got that letter” When she confronts Lennie, Candy, and Crooks in the stable, Curley’s Wife admits to feeling a kind of shameless dissatisfaction with her life. Her vulnerability at this moment and later—when she admits to Lennie her dream of becoming a movie star—makes her utterly human and much more interesting than the stereotypical vixen in fancy red shoes.
However, it also reinforces the novella’s grim worldview. In her moment of greatest vulnerability, Curley’s wife seeks out even greater weaknesses in others, preying upon Lennie’s mental handicap, Candy’s debilitating age, and the colour of Crooks’s skin in order to steel herself against harm. It could be said that it was not her dream that changed her behaviour, instead it was the thought that her dreams had been shattered that caused her to rush into marriage with Curley.
This marriage forces her to become a commodity of Curley due to the sexism of the time. This meant that she would never be able to achieve a dream anyway. Alternatively calling someone by their name can be a gesture of respect and a way of connecting with them. The lack of a name for Curley’s wife may suggest her disconnection from the rest of the workers and the lack of respect they have for her, revealing one of the larger themes of the novel-the loneliness and disconnection evident in the lives of most of these characters.
The fact that this dream would never come true in view of her marriage to Curley and the grim life on the ranch makes her desperate for attention. She is hungry for recognition from anyone including men other than her husband. This craving for attention led her to seek Lennie’s company. Time alone with him eventually resulted in her untimely death. She is a symbol of dreams lost and never realised. Crooks has experienced so many men who have had dreams which have failed that he has ceased to believe that dreams come true: “I seen hundreds of men come by… hat same damn thing in their heads… an’ never a God damn one of ‘em ever gets it” It seems as if Crooks has given up. After experiencing so many examples of men who have had a dream and were unable to achieve it, he has ultimately decided to give up as he believes that no matter how much he tries he won’t “ever get it”. However, even if Crooks had a dream, the racial prejudice present at the time would not have allowed Crooks to achieve any of his dreams.
However, Candy gets the man excited about the dream farm, to the point where Crooks could fancy himself worthy and equal enough to be in on the plan with the guys. He offers them “a hand to work for nothing”. This contrasts his earlier behaviour when picked on Lennie. His outsider status causes him to lament his loneliness, but he also delights in seeing the loneliness of others, perhaps because misery loves company. When Crooks begins to pick on Lennie, suggesting George won’t come home, we discover the slight mean streak that undoubtedly develops after being alone for so long.
Perhaps what Crooks wants more than anything else is a sense of belonging—to enjoy simple pleasures such as the right to enter the bunkhouse or to play cards with the other men. This desire would explain why, even though he has reason to doubt George and Lennie’s talk about the farm that they want to own, Crooks cannot help but ask if there might be room for him to come along and hoe in the garden. So overall it seems as if Steinbeck is attempting to portray that dreams are unobtainable through the failed attempts of all the characters.
Unlike George and Lennie, Slim doesn’t feel the need for any kind of partnership or long-term friendship – he is a true loner. Slim is not a ‘fleshed out’ round character; he is rather a flat character, even a stereotype of the lone male drifter seeking labour out West during the Depression years. Quiet, disarming, naturally authoritative without turning to force, Slim is the opposite of fist-swinging Curley. He has a position of leadership on the farm and has won the respect of all the workers; he has earned his rightful place.
Slim feels at home right where he is; he is biding his time in a limbo land of nonexpectation without even the thought that anything better could come along. Soft-speaking Slim is held in suspension, so to speak, in a stagnating economy whose inertia affords little hope for anyone’s dreams to actually come true. Unlike George and Lenny, he is a realist. His devise would be “bloom where you are planted” and make the most of the situation at hand.