The novel by John Steinbeck is set in the time of The Great Depression in the United States of America, and more specifically in California. The novel, which is set in 1937, uses a number of characters in bringing out the situation as it was back then, and explaining what relationships were like back then between the rich and the poor. The main characters, George Milton and Lenin Small, are ranch hand men who are displaced migrants, sharing a common dream. The two men, of different intellectual capacity are in pursuit of a better future. They hope to own a farm and reshape their lives. The people around them affect their friendship differently. The people around them hold different ideas about their dream. At the end of the novel, George Milton kills Lenin Small, ironically, out of love. This paper focuses on the role that irony plays in the novel. It as well discusses and analyzes three of the minor characters that impact on one way or another on the friendship between George and Lenin. The minor characters are Crooks, Curley’s wife and Slim.
In direct characterization, Crooks can be described as a lone character due to his tendency to stay isolated from the others on the grounds that he is black. Despite the fact that this character is black and feels disrespected among other ranch handymen, he is a proud cynical man that is bitter about his fate and circumstances. The man is a stable buck who is educated and highly intelligent. The man is brought out as someone who is negative about life and holds no hope for the future (Scalia et al 67). This is seen in the fact that he is not ready to buy the idea that Lenin and George Milton have. He does not believe that the circumstances will allow them to get to achieve their dream. Even so, he asks them to allow him plough a garden on their land. This brings the man out as an opportunist who is trying to play it safe, while taking advantage of others.
The motives of Crooks are complicated as he does not associate with anyone. He considers his race as being a modest one. Even so, his deep admiration for Lenin is an indication that the man intends to work together with the white people. Looking at Crooks from a shallow point of view, he is ready to embrace friendship with the whites, but is entrapped in the idea that he is not a white (Goodman 126). Among the key motives of this character is to grow into being a well off individual in the society, if chance arises. The character counts on luck and chance. The fact that the man does not believe in the dream of George and Lenin but wants to be a part of it makes him appear like someone that has strived to succeed in the past, but failed. Considering that the man is educated, it may be important to note that he looks down upon the idea since Lenin is illiterate.
This man is a depiction of the black people back in the times of the great depression in America. In the 1930s, the Africans had begun accessing elementary education in America. Even so, that education did not help them much as the society did not offer equal chance to the races. The character is used in this novel by John Steinbeck, to explain the theme of discrimination. From the scene where Curley’s wife meets Lenin, Crooks and Candy, she expresses her unfounded dislike for Crooks because he is black. The woman goes to an extent of threatening Crooks with lynching. The character is one with a silent profile, and obtains his name from his crooked back.
Direct characterization brings out the woman as an individual that is somewhat loose. From the manner in which her husband mistrusts her, to the style in which she flirts with practically all handymen in the ranch, Curley’s wife, who John Steinbeck does not give a name, is the daughter in-law to the boss. She is married to Curley, the boss’s son – a small man that suffers inferiority complex and hates bigger men. All other characters in the novel refer to the woman as “Curley’s Wife”. The woman puts on a lot of make up on her face and appears to be luring the men into liking her. This makes he appear like a desperate, lonely woman that wants to find a place among the commoners. The men in the ranch do not like her, and the seductive moves she makes are not welcome by any of them. In describing her, one of the handymen says "Well, I think Curley's marrieda tart." (Scalia et al 117) This makes it clear that the woman is unwanted by the men.
Indirect characterization explains that this woman is used to illustrate the racist nature of some white nobles back in the thirties. The women of the day did not only discriminate along the lines of class, but also along the racial lines. Curley’s wife maltreats crooks and threatens to have him lynched. Her motives are definitely negative in all respects. This is particularly so because, despite being married, she seeks to put other men in trouble by trying to cultivate immoral relationships with them. This makes her a promiscuous woman because; she is married to a rich man’s wife, but cannot settle down. Her threat to have a black man lynched enhances the reader’s understanding of her ill motives. John Steinbeck uses this character to bring the novel to a peak through the incident involving her and Lenin, a man she had always admired (Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck 34). Her accidental death in the hands of Lenin marks the end of the dream that was shared by George and Lenin, and by extension, Candy. Curley’s wife is an evil person and, keenly analyzed, her role in the novel explains how lust and desire can shatter dreams and potential achievements.
Apparently, this is a character that John Steinbeck brings out as admirable and welcoming. The man, who is in charge of the chief driver of a mule team on the ranch, is brought as a person that all people trust, and are ready to share their problems with (Meyer 48). This is the only handyman that Curley respects on the ranch. The character is a man of integrity, whose presence John Steinbeck describes as princely. The man is a mediator in the novel, as he is keen to listen to and understand everyone. Apparently, slim is the only character that understands the bond between George and Lenin. When Lenin dies, he is the character that consoles George. Slim is not only kind, but also insightful and a man with intuition. John Steinbeck writes "It was Slims’ calm invitation to confidence." Here, Slim was actually trying to convince George to share his problems with him. He was trying to gain the trust of George.
Slim is a polite and neutral character. He does not seem to discriminate against anyone, and is one person that endeavors to bring understanding between people. The fact that Curley respects him enhances the point that the man is likeable and witty. His motives can be said to be positive as he is a friend to all, and is trusted with problems and troubles that others bring to him. The manner in which he offers consolation to George makes him stand out as an understanding man. Notably, when Lenin dies, no one sympathizes with George. As such no one consoles him for having lost a friend so dear. It is only George that attempts to console the man, to the amazement of such characters as Curley, who sought to have Lenin lynched. John Steinbeck uses Slim to explain the theme of neutrality.
The role of irony in of mice and men
John Steinbeck prominently uses irony in the novel, with the peak of it being the decision by George to kill his best friend Lenin because of his deep love for him. Irony brings about a sense of suspense in the novel. John Steinbeck employs irony in such a manner that the reader cannot predict the events in the novel with accuracy (Meyer 94). When George meets Lenin at the point where they had agreed – the very point where they had camped the night before they started working on the ranch, it is least expected that George will harm his friend. On the contrary, George shoots Lenin at the back of the head, prompting his death. Irony here sends the reader into a world of sorrow and confusion. This is exactly what John Steinbeck intended to achieve – to raise emotions in the reader. The ironic turn of events turns out to be a cause of emotional involvement.
Apart from suspense, John Steinbeck uses irony to foreshadow many events. The act by George to steal the gun from Carlson is an act that a reader would perceive as positive, since Carlson has been cruel as to shoot Candy’s old dog in the back of the head. Ironically, this is the same gun that George who appears kind, would use to kill his friend Lenin. It is ironical that George, who is seemingly angered by Carlson’s action of killing a dog, kills his own friend. The use of irony to foreshadow the events of the novel gets the mind of the reader jogging, trying to figure out past events in the novel. This makes the novel particularly exciting and interesting at the same time. Irony brings a sense of humor into the novel. The decision by John Steinbeck to name Lenin as “Small” is quite ironical since in the novel, Lenin is described a gentle giant. He is big bodied and quite energetic. It would be rather humorous for a person to refer to such a big man as “small”.
Irony plays the role of introducing contradiction to the events surrounding the novel. Such contradiction gets the reader thinking hard. The contradiction that is prominently brought out in the novel is primarily seen in the decision by George to kill the dream that he so strongly believed in (Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck 71). At the beginning of the story, George is brought out as the protector of his friend Lenin, and the man that held hope of the realization of the dream. When George kills his friend Lenin, the dream is dead and gone. One may then wonder what happened to the dream and its strong association with George. Such contradiction makes the reader look deeper into the meanings of the novel.
Irony separates reality from delusions in the novel. This is especially seen through George. George is so much obsessed with a luxurious life where he spends money on alcohol. On the contrary, George does not; at any one point spend his money on whiskey. Additionally, the man does not even take the whiskey that his friends tempt him with. This therefore helps the reader make a difference between that which is real and that which the characters find ideal. The dream of the two men moving out of the ranch and owning a farm of their own was not real at all. It was just a dream because, under the circumstances that the two were in, it would have been quite difficult moving from such a sorry state to the state of being bosses.
Irony is used to engage the reader in a much deeper sense. This means that the rhetoric feature creates complicity between the reader and the author. The reader tries hard to get involved and to understand why the author creates such unexpected turns to events. When Lenin and Curley’s wife get intimate, with Lenin caressing the woman’s hair, it is almost definite that, in the expectations of the reader, the two would have begun a romantic affair. On the contrary, John Lenin kills the expected affair almost instantly. Here the reader is left confused and trying to appreciate what the author intended to achieve. In so doing, the reader pauses to think about the possible idea behind such an event. Such deeper thinking brings better understanding.
Irony helps the author explain the nature of many characters. At the end of the novel, for instance, when George kills his dearest friend Lenin, it is apparent that all other handymen in the ranch do not understand why George had to do it (Laura 1). They do not see the sense in killing a friend. As such, they do not console him. On the contrary, slim, the princely character consoles George, whose bond with Lenin, he well understands. It is ironical that Slim has to console George for a pain that he caused himself. This ironical reaction enables the reader to further understand the nature of Slim’s character. John Steinbeck effectively uses irony to explain the character traits of many people in the novel. Another example would be the example of Curley’s respect for Slim. It is uncharacteristic, and hence ironical of the master’s son, who looks down upon all handymen, to show respect to a handyman. The use of irony here enhances the fact that Slim is a person with exceptional qualities, which make him inviting and acceptable by all.
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