Monday, February 05, 2007
Tragedy, the root of which was proposed by ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle on his treatise Poetics, is a mimesis (imitation) of the praxis (action) lush in human interest, not of human beings (who are needed to perform the acting). With action, one refers to logically-, meaningfully-, and causally-ordered sequence of events, the imitation of which functions on faculties culminated by heightened emotion, fear (self-regarding) and pity (other-regarding) in particular. This mimesis, which springs naturally in human beings from childhood, is the vehicle to produce catharsis, which aims to generate pleasure or purgation of emotion effecting from fear and pity. With muthos (plot) to lend life-likeness in tragedy, the mimesis is best acted when peripeteia (reversal), recognition (change from ignorance to knowledge) and pathos (act involving destruction or pain) are present in it. Meanwhile, the muthos is a perfect one if it has a single issue; that is, the alteration in the hero’s fortunes goes from happiness to misery, the reason for which must be found in some hamartia (great error) on the hero’s part.
The tragedy that is Of Mice and Men is a mimesis of the praxis of George Milton and Lennie Small, two migrant laborers who are proceeding to a loading barley work at a California ranch. They agree to sleep along the Salinas riverbanks before reporting to their job the morning after.
While the two men start planning, their contrasts become obvious: George is small and quick and assumes the brain and the mouth for the pair, whereas Lennie is humongous and scatter-brained. Lennie obeys what George says and acts like a kid brother or a subservient canine.
The pair has been on the go for quite a time, and Lennie seems to trap them constantly into trouble. Lennie has a fetish for soft things, from the dead mouse George takes away from Lennie to the soft dresses of young ladies, and Lennie’s misconstrued touching of a girl’s dress leaves them no option but run away from their previous job in the town of Weed .
As they eat their supper, George lectures Lennie on their prospective jobs and enumerates rules that Lennie must follow: Lennie must not speak about anything, must prevent trouble, and must return to the riverbank, hide and anticipate for George if anything goes wrong. Then, Lennie asks George to reiterate his discussion of the reason for their difference from other migrant workers and the means by which they will acquire a farm of their own on which Lennie will take care of rabbits someday. George re-explains monotonously, yet gradually gets affected by Lennie’s enthusiasm. They go to sleep happily within a tranquil natural setting.
The next morning, the pair makes an appearance at the ranch where they are greeted by Candy and his similarly aged dog. The old man informs them about the ranch and the personalities in it. Their boss then arrives at the bunkhouse, angry because George and Lennie were not early for the morning work shift. George makes an alibi that they got lost as a result of a bus driver’s incorrect directions. He proceeds to answer all questions posed by the boss, even those asked of Lennie, making the boss grow suspicious. When Lennie imitates one of George’s comments in his moronic way, George glares at him and later gives him a scolding.
The boss’ son Curley, a mercurial bully, appears in the bunkhouse searching for his father. Curley interrogates the new men and attempts to pick trouble with Lennie. George grows nervous about the potential perils posed by Curley and forebodes Lennie to steer clear from him. He instructs him again to keep to himself in the brush along the riverbank should there be any problem.
Curley’s wife steps in, presumably looking for her partner yet really intending to greet the new men and display her beauty. George and Candy let her down, but Lennie comes to her defense. George warns Lennie to avoid her downright. Lennie likewise seems reluctant now and wishes to flee at once due to the place’s meanness. George assures him they will take a flight as soon as they earn enough to buy their own farm.
Slim, the bunkhouse’s authority man, walks in next. He takes interest in the fact that George and Lennie travel together, an unusual situation among ranch hands. Slim informs everyone that his dog has had a litter of puppies. Slim and Carlson, another ranch hand, deem the idea of slaying Candy’s old dog and offering him a new puppy. George is amenable in requesting Slim if Lennie can own one of the puppies.
As George talks to Slim in the bunkhouse later that day, he pictures his relationship with Lennie. He confesses that Lennie is not clever, but he is a good guy. Lennie gives companionship and makes George feel superior alongside him. When Lennie enters into the bunkhouse with his puppy kept under his shirt, George forebodes that Lennie’s over-prodding the pup might kill it.
While all the men converge in the bunkhouse, Carlson starts persuading Candy to let him put his dog out of its plight. He elaborates that he will shoot the dog in the back of the head so it will suffer no misery. When Slim joins in the straining, Candy ultimately concedes. Later, Candy eavesdrops on George‘s recount on Lennie about the farm and the rabbits. He pleads to partake in the venture and provides half of the money necessary to purchase the farm. In a moment, the impossible dream seems nigh. Candy reveals to George his regret over letting a stranger kill his dog, a task that he should have done himself.
Curley enters the bunkhouse, searching for his straying wife. When he sees Lennie still all smiles from his rabbits’ memory, Curley thinks that he is being ridiculed by the big man. He starts pushing Lennie around, and his taunting and hitting are never retaliated by Lennie until George urges him to do so. Then Lennie clasps Curley’s hand and eventually crushes it.
Later that night, while George and some others spend time in the town’s whorehouse, Lennie enters the room of Crooks, the Negro stable worker. Crooks initially shuns this intrusion in his privacy, but Lennie’s naïve humor gets the better of him. Crooks depicts the hardships of being a black man on the ranch, and Lennie tells of the future farm. When Candy comes in and divulges that he has offered to raise some of the money, Crooks wants to be taken in, too. Curley’s wife, searching for company, also invades Crooks’ place. Crooks and Candy debate with her, but she starts flirting Lennie. She escapes when George arrives. George is vexed to know that Lennie and Candy have shared the dream with somebody else.
The afternoon the next day, all of the trouble that George forewarned starts to arise. Lennie has toyed with his puppy too much and has its neck broken. As he skitters away to bury the animal, Curley’s wife enters the barn. She confides her life to Lennie and appears to be seducing him. When she notices that Lennie likes to pet soft things, she lures him into touching her hair. He gives in, but, as always, grabs on too tight. The woman commences to struggle and shriek, and Lennie panics, breaking her neck just as he had done to the puppy. After Lennie escapes, Candy discovers the dead woman’s body. He turns to George and begs for reassurance that the two of them can realize their dream farm, even in Lennie’s absence. However, George has already given up the vision. He requests Candy to allow him a few minutes’ headstart before divulging the incident to others. In that time, George seizes Carlson’s Luger, the similar gun that was used to put Candy’s dog out of misery. George reenters the barn with the others to come upon the body, and he attempts to persuade the men that Lennie should only be put away because he meant no danger. But Curley prevails on a lynching, and they set forth searching for Lennie.
The ultimate scene happens on the very same riverbank where the novel commenced. Lennie has remembered to return there after he got involved in trouble. Two visions assail Lennie as he ponders that he has committed something very bad this time. George finds him there. Lennie asks him to lay guilt upon him, but George chews him out only half-heartedly. They discuss the farm and rabbits one final time. George commands Lennie to look across the river and envision the farm. Then he guns down Lennie in the back of the head using Carlson’s Luger. The other men arrive and George nods to their version of a struggle between the pair that culminated to shooting. All of the men return to the ranch, some offering George sympathy, others crippled in deciding what George was so frustrated about.
For better understanding of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, it is essentially helpful to analyze the muthos-presented mimesis of important tragedy-laden characters’ praxis in the light of Aristotle’s Poetics. It is equally enlightening to arrive at the intended catharsis by virtue of zeroing in on the characters’ experience of peripeteia, recognition, and pathos and the ensuing pity and fear for these characters.
Even though Lennie is among the lead characters in the novel, he is probably the least dynamic. He comes in passing without any meaningful changes, progress or growth all through the novel and stays the same as the reader come upon him at the onset. In a nutshell, he fetishizes soft stuff, is blindly attentive to George and their envisioned farm, and possesses formidable albeit unselfconscious physical strength. Almost every scene in which Lennie is a part of attests to these and only these characteristics.
Since the tragedy depends upon the result appearing to be beyond control, the reader must know from the start that Lennie is doomed, and must feel pity for him. The author creates a protagonist who earns the reader’s sympathy due to his abject helplessness in the grip of events that unfurl. Lennie is outright defenseless against the hazards posed by Curley, Curley’s wife or the world in general. His naïveté lifts him to an echelon of untainted goodness that is more poetic and literary than realistic. His enthusiasm for their wished-for farm proves infectious as he makes George, Candy, Crooks and the reader that such an American Dream might be attainable. Nonetheless, the reader feels fear because this character is set up for destruction, a character whose innocence only seems to seal his inevitable disaster.
When Lennie accidentally renders dead his puppy and eventually, Curley’s wife, there is a reversal because only wants to handle their softness, but he pets too much them and kills them anyway. Only when he breaks the neck of the woman does he recognize that he had done a hamartia that is too bad this time, and he undergoes in a relative state of pathos for his wrongdoing, enough to make him flee to the brush as constantly reminded by George.
Like Lennie, George can be described by a few recognizable characteristics. He is quick-tempered but a doting friend whose habitual complaints against life with Lennie never untangle his duty of safeguarding his friend. George’s initial words, a severe warning to Lennie not to guzzle so much for fear that he falls ill, define the tone of their friendship. George may be terse and impatient every so often, but he never wanders away from his foremost commitment of protecting Lennie.
Unlike Lennie, however, George undergoes change while the story moves along. The reader learns that he has capability to grow during his conversation with Slim, during which he confesses that he once abused Lennie to amuse himself. From this instance, George recognizes the moral that it is wrong to take advantage of the weak. Of Mice and Men follows toward a sympathy-eliciting realization that the universe is designed to prey on the weak. In spite of his hardened, sometimes harsh exterior, he has conviction about their future farm that he counts and recounts to Lennie. He yearns for the moment when he can relish the freedom to dismiss work and enjoy a baseball match. More significant, than a baseball game, however, is the idea of getting by in security and comfort with Lennie, devoid of people like Curley and his wife, who seem to exist only to spawn trouble for them. Lennie is greatly accountable for George’s belief in this safe haven, but, fearfully and pitifully for the characters, the predatory nature of the world eventually surfaces until George has but to let go of that belief in the midst of reversal of fortune. By gunning down Lennie, George salvages his friend from the ruthless death that would be committed by Curley’s lynch party, but he also recognizes the pathetic evaporation of his dream of a perfect, fraternal world.
Candy, the old handyman, aging and left with a single hand as the outcome of a freak occurrence, worries that the boss will soon proclaim him useless and declare that he desert the ranch. Life on the ranch, especially Candy’s dog—previously a fantastic sheep herder but now toothless, stinking and brittle in decrepit condition—aggravates Candy’s fright. Former achievements and present emotional bonds matter minimally, as Carlson points out when he insists that Candy permit him to slay the dog to render it out of its misery. In such a world, Candy’s dog symbolizes a cruel recognition of the fate that befalls anyone who outlives his utility.
For a short time, nevertheless, the dream of exhausting his days with George and Lennie on their dream farm preoccupies Candy out of this harsh reminder. He considers the few acres of land they depict deserving of his hard-earned life’s savings, which proves his desperate need to imagine a world kinder than the one he actually lives in, only to be reversed by overpowering turn of events. Like George, Candy clings tenaciously albeit pathetically to the idea of having the liberty to perform work or leisure as he pleases. So incredible is his devotion to the idea that, even after he finds out that Lennie has killed Curley’s wife, he summons for himself and George to purchase the farm as planned.
Curley’s wife, whose name is not even mentioned, walks the ranch as a temptress out to bring ruin on man and drive them crazy. She seems to illustrate a contemptibly-treated troublemaker tendency—Curley’s already bad temper has only worsened when he married her.
Although purposed as the “tramp,” “tart” and “bitch” that threatens to destroy male happiness and long life, Curley’s wife recognizes to sensing a kind of shameless wanting with her life the time she confronts Lennie, Candy and Crooks in the stable. Her vulnerability at this juncture and later upon confessing to Lennie her pathos-evoking illusion of celebrity fame, makes her consummately human and much more fascinating than the boxed-up vamp in fancy red shoes. In her moment of ultimate vulnerability, Curley’s wife reinforces the novel’s grim worldview by seeking out greater weaknesses in others, attacking Lennie’s mental handicap, Candy’s debilitating age, and the tone of Crook’s skin in order to shield herself from harm. Finally, she committed a hamartia when her touch-my-soft-hair flirtation on Lennie reversed to her eventual demise.
Crooks is an animated, smart, black stable hand whose name is derived from his humped back. Like most characters, he concedes that he is terribly sad. When Lennie makes a visit as his room, his reaction manifests this: In the beginning, he shoos him away, hoping to stress that if he, a Negro, is not permitted in white men’s houses, then whites are not allowed in his, yet his want of company finally wins out and invites Lennie to sit next to him. Like Curley’s wife, Crooks is an impotent character who turns his weakness into a tool to attack on the weaker. He toys with Lennie, implying to him that George is gone permanently. Only when Lennie threatens him with physical violence does he stop. Crooks shows the corrosive outcome that loneliness wields for a person; his character evokes sympathy as the cause of his stern behavior is exhibited. Crooks probably wants belongingness more than anything else; he wishes to enjoy simple pleasures such as an access into the bunkhouse or to play cards with the other men. This wish would expound why, even though he is skeptical at George and Lennie’s dream farm, he asks if he may have a room for him to join and a patch of garden to hoe.
Man’s predatory nature. Fraternity. Impossible American Dream. Imbalanced social power structures. All these themes are central to this acclaimed novel by John Steinbeck. The story of George and Lennie’s friendship provides insights into life regarding the natural law of the strong disposing of the weak, the sense of belonging in brotherhood, the unrealistic fulfillment of a utopian world, and the ruinous tendencies of the oppression made by a weakling against a weaker fellow.
In the current world where everything is fast-paced and made artificial, it is somewhat difficult to find a room where fundamental human needs like dreaming for relatively “better” life and keeping a true friendship can be satisfied. Although in Of Mice and Men, the tragic ending of Lennie leaves his American Dream unattained and his fraternity with George interrupted for good, the ever-kindling human desire for betterment lives on, prompting the renewed faith in persisting until the dream is made true and real friendship asserts amidst impermanence and disenchantment. Of Mice and Men is an enchanting read for those who do not give up the fight, for those who are determined to win at their own expense and pursuit.
As mentioned above, there are four universal concerns present in the novel, namely man’s predatory nature, fraternity, impossible American Dream, and imbalanced social power structures. Man’s predatory nature is prevalent throughout the novel, wherein almost all the characters have felt loneliness and isolation, which makes them helpless but, despite their weakest state, they plot to annihilate people weaker than they are. Also, brotherhood prevails in the novel by virtue of the belongingness need characteristic of human nature, which need draws the men together in such a manner that they act brothers to each other, bearing in mind the friend’s best interest, protection and concern. Similarly, the novel looms with the impossibility of the American Dream, that the wish for unceasing happiness and freedom to do one’s will shall remain elusive and unfulfilled. Lastly, the damaging imbalance of social power structures wherein oppression is not only in the hands of the mighty or the influential but also in those of the weak toward the weaker can be seen in Of Mice and Men. Holistically, the novel presents the values of the inequality among men (therefore, the uniqueness), the aspiration of only the attainable, and the sense of oneness with fellow human being.
The world is thought of to be cruel to the existing creatures dwelling on it, so unkind that one tends to deem life as purposeless, what with the unfulfilled justice, dream, friendship and equality. Seen in a brighter perspective, the world just acts as instrument of destiny by hurling challenges such as predation of the weak, impossible dream, unappreciated friendship and social power imbalance so that these challenges, when overwhelmed, will make these creatures stronger and wiser. Regardless of this world’s cruelty and gift of disillusionment, the creatures remain hopeful and unfazed until they succeed.
In spite of the setbacks suffered in the pursuit of justice, dream, friendship and equality, one needs to assert himself until he gets the sense of achievement. If things are only learned to be assessed in proper perspective, everything is beautiful and is deserving of hoped-for betterment, despite life’s disenchantment and injustice, even in the world of mice and men.
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