A Theme Of Oppression In Of Mice And Men By John Steinbeck

No matter where you live or the type of life you lead, everyone undergoes through basic emotions and events that signify the human experience. John Steinbeck, the author of theaward winning novel, “Of Mice and Men” manages to touch on a majority of the factors that characterize society for what it is. What is disguised as a simple tale about two economically unstable blue-collar workers with a dream, actually depicts themesthings such as friendship, ambitions, lust, innocence, isolation, and violence through symbolism and figurative language. Although all these are key concepts of the novel oppression is the major one that each character has to deal with on their own. Oppression is the unjust treatment of a person, and it comes in many forms all of which are explored in the book.

Oppression is mostly linked to their economic state, size, race, gender, and power. The question of who is most powerful out of the characters in this book is debatable based on what characteristic of a person is considered most important. Furthermore, since the perspective of each person is so different, they all have different thoughts on who holds power therefore there is not a complete dominant force. For example, Curley values physical strength so to him Lenny holds the most power even though he doesn’t admit it, and Lennie values the farm so to him George hold the most power because he is the one who tells him the stories of it. Although these differences in morale and values are true, everyone is fixed on achieving economic stability in one way or another. They all work for Curley’s father so even though he doesn’t control the workers, he receives the outmost respect. In conclusion, each character experiences oppression based on their unfitting qualities to the standards of society, thus financial status being the only way to gain respect and power, making Curly the most powerful due to his family’s wealth and his lifestyle.

A sense of individuality and being able to express and live freely wasn’t a very well established philosophy in the time the book takes place. The story occurs in the nineteen-thirties, before protest and activism among minorities managed to make a big change in the lives of the people. Things such as segregation, racism, and extreme prejudice had not yet been outlawed and for our low-income, disabled, and minority characters, this was a big issue. This can be seen in the way Curley’s wife is treated. Her name is never mentioned in the book however, the characters have no problem giving her names and labels. At the time, women were seen as inferior and only good for marriage, housework, and sex. The male characters converse about prostitution and how much of a trouble Curley’s wife is. Women were objectified yet seen as promiscuous and worthless when they expressed their sexuality. This is when George says “Well, I think Curley’s married… a tart” (pg. 28), and “Jesus, what a tramp” (pg. 32). Even though things they say about her could have some true, they treat her badly because of it, and the double standard works against her. The biggest victim of oppression in the novel is Crooks, a black worker who is formed to live in separation from the other characters due to the amount of melanin of his skin. He longs for a sense of acceptance amongst the workers, but has has been kicked to the curb so frequently, he perceives kindness as ridicule. While telling a story that involves Crook, Candy uses offensive terms to describe him when he says, “They let the nigger come in that night. ” The nineteen-thirties were times where minorities like women and people of color were openly oppressed as seen in the novel.

Everyone is yearning for economic freedom and independence in the book. This is especially true because the book takes place during The Great Depression, a huge economic crisis affecting a great quantity of nations from all over the world. This left countries such as the United States with fewer businesses, low trade, increasing inflation rates, and whopping unemployment rates. This was traumatizing for the pockets of blue-collar workers coming from poor backgrounds. The farm workers were tired of spending their days in tireless labor in pursuit of their own dreams, which of course were very hard to achieve seeing the situation they were stuck in. When Lennie and Candy enter Crooks’sCrook’s room to tell him about how one day they plan to own a farm, Crook bluntly responded with; “You guys is just kiddin’ yourself. You’ll talk about it hell of a lot, but you won’t get no land…Hell, I seen too many guys. Lenny here’ll quit an’ be on the road in two, three weeks. Seems like ever’ guy got land in his head” (pg. 37). People from the United States are known to be hard-working folk, chasing after what is known as the “American Dream”. In this evidence from the novel we see pessimism and doubt, which is most likely due to the political circumstances impacting their financial welfare. The characters in the book acknowledge that living a wealthy life where money is not a thing you constantly worry about is nearly impossible to achieve as low-class farm workers, yet it is what they want most. They have a sense of respect and admiration for those who have money, whether or not it’s done consciously, and thats what makes it so powerful. The wealthy are a representation of the worker’s ambitions and dreams so they hold the most power and respect.

The character with the outmost dominance is the boss’ son, Curley. Although the boss is the one who takes ownership of the farm, he is rarely mentioned in the novel and he doesn’t play a crucial role in the book’s storyline. As a result, Curley becomes the most powerful character being the son of the boss and having the ability to impact the worker's jobs. Moreover, traits such as his quick temper and physical strength due to boxing subconsciously aide him in asserting control over others. This is why when Lennie kills Curley’s wife, George has no option but to do what Curley says, seeing that he hold the most power and is the most threatening. On the other side of the spectrum, Lennie is most likely the character with the least amount of power in the entire book. Although, he has an enormous amount of physical strength, his mental capacity will not allow him to use that in his favor. Adding on, he is also a low-income farmer and he has the lowest IQ out of all the characters. Lennie has a mental disability that is not described in the text, but is shown through his bad memory, extreme need to please George, childlike demeanor, and his causing harm without awareness of it. This makes Lennie more vulnerable to being tricked and taken advantage of, and as George states “Jus’ tell Lennie what to do an’ he’ll do it if it don’t take no figuring. He can’t think of nothing to do himself, but he sure can take orders. ” Furthermore, he doesn’t have the intelligence to obtain and maintain control over a situation let alone people.

All in all, “of mice and men” was a carefully written tale containing many layers and depths to its meaning. It uses symbolism to explain fears and doubts society is known for having, and uses clear foreshadowing to strengthen its plot. In one instance, it was done by hinting that something bad will happen to Lenny at the start of the novel when George tells Lenny to go to the bush bear their campsite if anything goes wrong. The book descriptively demonstrates outcasts of society being wrongfully sentenced to a life of oppression, the thirst for riches because it is perceived to be the key to respect and power, and lastly it shows clear contrast between the most powerful character (Curley), and the least (Lenny). This book shows the hard truth of what society was liken the thirties, which was a controversial thing to publish back then, and it is still relevant today. No matter the day and age, the level of humanity and experiences of these characters will continue to live in everyone as these are the same experiences that shape us into the people we become.

15 Jun 2020
Your Email

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and  Privacy statement. We will occasionally send you account related emails.

close thanks-icon

Your essay sample has been sent.

Order now
Still can’t find what you need?

Order custom paper and save your time
for priority classes!

Order paper now