The Great Depression
The time in America when no one had a job. A time where everyone was poor. Of Mice and Men was set in the time of the Great Depression, and many african americans had their jobs given away to white males, and were segregated. This was also a time where disabled people of all kinds did not get special treatment, because most people were in a “survival of the fittest” mindset. In Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck uses Lennie, Curley’s Wife, and Crooks as an example to show how society has a direct relationship with people, and the way a negative society can lead to tragedy.
In the time period of Of Mice and Men, society looked down on the mentally challenged and the physically disabled. Lennie is mentally challenged, and everyone can tell due to his tendency to accidentally hurt people and animals, and for his inability to think and remember on his own. Lennie gets bullied by Curley, when Lennie innocently laughs at a joke about Curley’s vaseline hand, causing Curley to retaliate and and start a fight: “ No big son-of-a-bitch is gonna laugh at me. I’ll show ya’ who’s yella.” (Steinbeck 62). Curley takes advantage of Lennie’s frozen shock, and uses this window to punch and injure Lennie. Shortly after this, Lennie, unsurprisingly, accidentally crushes Curley’s hand in an act of self defense. Curley’s ignorance to recognize Lennie’s mental disability is the perfect example of what kind of society they had back then.
It’s important to recognise that Crooks is one of the most judged and prejudiced people on this ranch. The ranch is located in california, where even there, all African Americans were looked down on as lower class citizens. We can see this, as Crooks is separated from everyone else. It also doesn’t help that Crooks also has a disability: “got a crooked back where a horse kicked him” (Steinbeck 20) But, people are ignorant and prejudiced, and judge him without knowing him:” Well, he’s a pretty nice fella. Gets pretty mad sometimes, but he’s pretty nice.”
At this time of the Great Depression, women were looked at as invaluable and useless. Because they didn’t really work, they were really looked down upon, and this is apparent in Curley’s wife. She is the only woman on the ranch, and has a hard time with being lonely: “Think I don’t like to talk to somebody ever’ once in a while? Think I like to stick in that house alla time?”
It’s extremely hard for her to talk to the men on the ranch, because she is seen as having ‘the eye’, when she does, all she is seen as is a hoe. When Curley’s wife is first introduced, she is already negated with her appearance: “ she had full rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up… her hair hung in little rolled clusters, like sausages” This sets a certain tone or mood about her character, causing the reader to think less of her. The reader finds out that Curley’s wife doesn’t love Curley, but only married him to get away from the town she used to live in, and gains sympathy for her. Later on in chapter five, Curley’s wife threatens Crooks, whomst she can sort of relate to, due to the fact that society treats them as inferiors:”well, you keep your place then nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny.” (Steinbeck 81), and the reader seems to lose sympathy for her in this moment.
After Lennie accidentally kills his puppy, Curley’s wife walks in. Earlier in the book, there had been a lot of foreshadowing regarding Curley’s wife. She lets Lennie touch her hair, but he grasps it too hard, startling her. This of course, frightens Lennie who’s grip only tightened, as demonstrated with the fight he got into with Curley. Lennie, then out of fright, breaks her neck. Right after this, Lennie runs off into the woods, and later, Curley’s wife is discovered.The book Of Mice and Men perfectly shows how society treats people. John steinbeck uses Lennie, Curley’s wife, and Crooks, to show how people have a direct relationship to society, and how it can lead to tragedy – being that Lennie kills Curley’s wife, and George has to kill Lennie.
The society then, and the society now, are still ignorant and prejudiced towards those of lower class. They may not be judged as they were almost 90 years ago, but the violence surrounding the way society treats people of lower social classes now, needs to be brought to everyone’s’ attention, so tragedy can be avoided.