Of Mice and Men – the Crisis of Drama
The Drama Based on Peter Szondi’s studies, the Drama of modernity had its beginning in Renaissance. After the collapse of the medieval worldview, an artistic reality in which a human being could fix and mirror himself on the basis of interpersonal relationships was created. Man disclosed himself to his contemporary world: nothing outside the interpersonal relationships was accepted in the drama. Drama is absolute and unique for it is separate from everything outside itself and it is constructed by dialogue, which is dominant.
The author cannot appear anywhere in drama – referred to what is spoken – but it belongs to him just as a whole and everything spoken cannot be out of context. Also, the absoluteness of this artistic reality regards to the spectator that has to be passive: “silent, with hands tied, lamed by the impact of this other world”(p. 8)?. The relationship between actor and role cannot be visible, since no things can exist besides those demonstrated in the drama – actor and character become one. The drama is always primary, which means that it represents only itself.
It is not related to some historical event, or to something that is happening in the contemporary world, and these both characteristics always leads to the “present” as Drama’s internal time. The internal time, or present, is constructed through dialogue – as the dialogues pass, the action pass and the present is dressed by a new present. As Szondi affirms, “every moment must contain the seeds of future” (p. 9), otherwise, the linearity and the principle of absolute presence in Drama would be subverted. From this point of view, the temporal fragmentation of the scenes would result in the break of unity of time.
Another aspect of drama consists on its unity of place. The spatial context should not be large, since the larger the scene, the more difficult it is to the spectators to follow it. Then, with Drama’s characteristics mentioned above, this paper will analyze one of the novels that symbolized the beginning of the crisis of drama. The novel is Of Mice and Men, and some of its aspects that can be considered opposite to what was preached by Drama’s theory will be observed. The Crisis in Of mice and Men As said in introduction, the Drama consists in unity. Nothing outside the interpersonal relationships was accepted in it.
As Szondi says, “real dramatic action does not present human existence in terms of some specific cause. If it did, the action would point beyond itself (…) The existence of the dramatis personae should not reach beyond the temporal borders of the Drama” (p. 38), which means that the characters presented in the Drama are not created as a mirror of subjects in the exterior world. This kind of dramatic presentation is called by Szondi as “transformation of alienated conditionality into interpersonal actuality” and it means that a single dramatic personae represents thousands of people living in the same condition.
However, in Of Mice and Men, of John Steinbeck, an undramatic element is seen – the characters do represent subjects inserted in a certain period of human history. In this case, the period remits to the Great Depression, which happened after World War I and had devastating effects in many countries. This crisis led many rural poor and hand workers to produce even more goods, but for the same amount of money and many rich farmers bought more lands and expensive agricultural equipments in order to support the new demand, and this made them broke. It is in this context that Steinbeck writes Of Mice and Men.
One of the main characters, Lennie, is as mindless as a mice, and he may represent the life that the low society – in this particular case, hand workers – had in this period. Lennie can also be a stereotype of people that simply accept and obey what others tell them to do and this can be noticed in the 2nd act, 1st scene, when Curley starts beating Lennie and the last fights back only when George asks him to do so. A character as Lennie cannot be accepted in society, since he is not capable to, at least, try to improve his conditions in the world – he is not even able to reason about himself.
He only obey orders without being able to think about what is his real role in society and every action he does by his will ends in great trouble. Curley, the boss’ son, symbolizes the oppressive system. He many times acts irrationally and wants to demonstrate his power by showing his physical strength – although minimal. This character could be sometimes considered as stupid as Lennie, but the difference is that he is the son of the ranch’s owner, and knows the difference between evil and good, and that means he is conscious of his wrong doings.
Opposite to Curley, there are characters as George, Curley’s wife, Crooks and Candy that are victims of the system, but, at the same time, dream about changing their lives to a better condition, even though the oppressive system hinders them to fulfill their dream. George dreams about owning a land, Curley’s wife desires to be a movie star but renounces it by marrying Curley. Crooks wants to have his own mules and also hoeing a patch of garden on Lennie’s farm one day. Candy gets excited about George’s idea to have a piece of land and wants to take part in it.
All of these dreams represent for these characters the possibility of real happiness, but the realization of these fantasies is not tangible for them. These dreams are an allegory of the impossibility of reaching the American Dream. Such impossibility is another undramatic element in Of Mice and Men, since it is a way of the epic I to expose to the audience one idea, or, as Anatol Rosenfeld in his essay “O Teatro Epico” indicates, it is a way to present a “palco cientifico capaz de esclarecer ao publico sobre a sociedade e a necessidade de transforma-la” (p. 48). The epic I consists in a subject which stands above the play and shows the social determinants and forces the spectators to reflect about society and to make decisions in order to improve it. In Of Mice and Men, the epic I exposes several issues in human society. Among these issues there are the already mentioned impossibility to reach the American Dream, the brutality that men with certain power can exercise upon men humans of lower classes and the necessity of not take an action just when someone else demands it.
However there are other conceptions presented in the play, as the imponderability of life that acts upon all men, not just upon those of a low condition – although a boss, Curley has his wife killed by Lennie. It demonstrates that, metaphorically, there are wealthy and non-wealthy mices, but both suffer from superior forces that submit them to uncontrolled situations – the repressive human elite, the death, the mental incapability and so forth. It remits to the title of the play, which means humans and mices share the fragility they possess before something bigger than them.
Also, there is the conception of friendship which is pointed by the relationship between Lennie and George. The spectator notices that George seems to look after his friend, for Lennie has a mental disability. Their relationship is established within the first pages of the first act, and although they are uneducated laborers, they have a mutual devotion that persists until George kills Lennie, mercifully, with a shot to the back of his head just as Candy’s dog is killed by Carlson, retracting, therefore, the similarity between the dog and Lennie – the dog’s murder was a prelude of what would happen further to Lennie.
Finally, the last undramatic aspect to be considered in Of Mice and Men is based on Szondi’s affirmation that, in social Drama, “The play’s unity is not rooted in the continuity of action but rather in the invisible epic I who presents the conditions and events” (p. 40). This aspect consists in the rubric, that is an instrument through which guidelines are given to the reader regarding the scenario, the time, and the character’s features, lines and actions.
In the 18th century, the rubric gained importance as the characters became more psychologized. As they are introduced, the rubrics function as a device that helps not only to construct the characters but to reveal the complexity of their relation by indicating the nature of their interaction, the way they react to each other and to the faced circumstances. In the very first act, Lennie’s manners are described by the epic I through adverbs as “irritably”, “furiously”, “sternly”, “disgustedly” and “violently”.
On the other hand, George seems to assume a rationalist position with more security, which allows him to ponder and doubt about the circumstances, present in the second scene of the act one, when he “inspects”, acts “skeptically”, “on guard”, “thoughtfully” and “pensively”. These rubrics show the difference between both main characters. During all the play, rubrics are presented indicating the feelings and situations of characters.
Also, rubrics in Of Mice and Men present the scenario: “Outside the sound of the horseshoe game goes on” (p. 331), “They take places opposite each other at the table” (p. 339), “Candy turns over and watches George” (p. 345). Even more, in the very beginning of each act, the epic I narrates the hours, the places and the situation to be further developed through the character’s dialogue.
All the characteristics mentioned in this paragraph prove that there is an explicit appearance of the epic I, although his identity is not exposed, and this is once more an aspect of the crisis of Drama. As a conclusion, it can be said that with society’s crisis, the Drama also entered in crisis, and the necessity of transformation in plays appeared. This necessity implied in making the spectator an observer, obligating him to make decisions and to face his troubles.