Solitude in the 1930’s
We have all experienced loneliness; no matter how hard we try to surround ourselves with people and make connections, we still feel isolated from time to time. John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was set in the mid-1930’s, an especially lonely time in American history. Workers from the South flocked to California to find jobs because of the Dust Bowl, many of them without homes, families or even friends. Steinbeck does a great job of showing this in his classic novella: all of the characters are touched by solitude, whether it’s obvious or not.
Curley’s wife is one of the most alone characters in the book. ” ‘Think I don’t like to talk to someone ever’ once in a while?’ she says to Lennie and Crooks. ‘Think I like to stick in that house alla time?… Sure I gotta husban’. You all seen him. Swell guy, ain’t he? Spends all his tie sayin’ what he’s gonna do to guys he don’t like’ ” (77-78). Curley treats her as if she is nothing more than a frustrating possession that keeps getting lost. All she wants is someone to talk to, and the only way she can think of to get any of the guys’ attention is to act like ” ‘a tart’ ” (28). As a result, all of the workers treat her as though she is annoying, which just makes her feel even more isolated.
Although George has a constant companion (Lennie), he too is very lonely. Lennie is
” ‘jes’ like a kid’ ” and George has to pay attention to him and can never completely relax; he is always playing the role of the parent (43). He never gets to fully engage with anyone of his own intelligence. He often wishes he could take a break from Lennie because ” ‘he’s a lot of trouble’ ” (7). Even though he’s often around other people, he has a hard time really getting to know them because he has to care for Lennie.
Crooks, the stable buck, is arguably the loneliest character of them all. He is not permitted to ” ‘go into the bunkhouse and play rummy’ ” with the other guys or sleep in the same room with them or really socialize with them at all because he’s black (72). He is treated by everyone as inferior, called racial slurs, and not compensated fairly for his effort. ” ‘A guy needs somebody to be near him… or a guy goes nuts’ ” (73). He has forever wanted to be able to talk to someone as an equal and has never been able to because of racial prejudice. The saddest part about Crooks is that unlike many of the other lonely characters, he doesn’t have any hope. Candy tells him that he is welcome to come to their plot of land with them, and Crooks seems almost cheerful until Curley’s wife reminds him that she is in charge of him and that he can do nothing to resist her. Afterwards, he decides there’s no point in trying because he’ll never go anywhere: ” ”Member what I said about hoein’ and doin’ odd jobs?… Well, jus’ forget it’ ” (83). He believes that he will never be able to have real companions and decides not even to try.
All of the people at the ranch are lonely, and all of them deal with it in different ways. Loneliness persists throughout all of our lives, regardless of how many friends we have. We must remember to make an effort to be kind to people because we have no way of knowing if they are feeling lonely or not. Isolation is a difficult topic to think about, and the best we can do is find people that care about us and make the most of what we have.
Solitude in the 1930’s