The more a society seeks to disempower its people
In the novel Of Mice and Men, the author John Steinbeck suggests that although society can seek to disempower people for reasons they cannot necessarily control, this can empower the individual spirit to thrive. There are various factors as to why society seeks to disempower people, such as ethnicity, sex, intelligence and wealth. In Of Mice and Men the characters are all disempowered by society in some way and yet all find a way to thrive and to overcome these setbacks.
The dreams and aspirations as well as companionship of the characters shown throughout the novel give them great sense of purpose and empowers them to succeed and have hope for the future. However empowerment does not always end in success, and sometimes society’s opinions and standards cannot be beaten. Steinbeck addresses the issues of disempowerment through society in the setting of the Great Depression in America, a time when the most valuable thing an individual could have is hope.
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In Of Mice and Men, characters George and Lennie both are disempowered through society due to their wealth and social status, as well as intelligence and strength, however they both deal with this disempowerment through their strong companionship with one another. George is physically small but is intelligent and has a very strong personality. In contrast, his companion Lennie is huge and powerful yet has very little intelligence. They are both low on the pecking order as ranch workers. What makes them different from any other of the workers is their companionship for one another.
This companionship encourages and drives them to work harder and to overcome setbacks. George is disempowered through society because of his size, therefore rarely has power of anybody. George senses this and finds comfort in the control and power he has over his companion, Lennie. He feels a purpose to look after him because he cannot look after himself. George says to Lennie on page 15, ‘We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don’t have to sit in no bar room blowin’ our jack jus’ because we got no place else to go. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn.
But not us’ He says this to Lennie whilst explaining how all the other men working on ranches are lonely and don’t have anything to look forward to. He is telling Lennie that for them it is different, and even though they have a tough situation, not having much money, they can make it through because they have each other. Their self-belief and self-worth does not rely on social affirmation. Their companionship encourages them to strive and gives them hope for the future. Although to society, George and Lennie are just two average ranch workers, their comfort in one another gives them a sense of purpose.
George and Lennie’s spirits also thrive through their dreams and aspirations. They are disempowered by society because of their social status as ranch workers. They don’t earn much money and the average ranch worker doesn’t really do anything else with their life other than work out on the ranch and blow all their money on alcohol. For Lennie and George, they have determination and thrive to get where they want to be. They both have a dream. On page 56, George describes their future to Lennie, ‘We gotta get a big stake together.
I know a little place we can get cheap, but they ain’t givin’ it away. ’ George then goes on to tell Lennie about all the things they will if they get the place together. He is telling Lennie about where they will end up not only to tell him what he wants, but also to give Lennie hope. He wants his companion to have a sense of purpose and know that all his hard work will pay off in the end. This idea of having somewhere to end up and having a future together gives them hope. Not only hope but also it empowers them to work as hard as they can so they can make the aspiration a reality.
Although society disempowers them through their social status, it doesn’t stop Lennie and George’s determination and drive to get to where they want to be. Their aspirations of owning a place together makes their spirits thrive. However, dreams and aspirations can have the opposite effect and damage someone’s self-worth and disempower them. In the novel, Curley’s wife faces disempowerment by society because she is a woman, just the fact that Steinbeck didn’t give her a name throughout the whole novel ties in with the lack of respect a woman had in the time that the novel was set.
Steinbeck reveal Curley’s wife’s back-story in the noval towards the end, when she tells Lennie about how a man she once met promised to put her in a film. She tells Lennie on page 87, ‘He says he was gonna put me in the movies. Says I was a natural. ’ She expresses this as a dream to Lennie. The way she talks about herself being a ‘natural’ symbolizes that she believed in herself too, it also shows some vulnerability that she includes what he says as if to prove to Lennie she was a good actress. She never heard back from the man and her dream did not come true, she lost her self-belief.
She then went and married Curley as she didn’t have any other choice because women in those days had to rely on a man for financial security. There is great sadness in her marriage with Curley because she never loved him. Steinbeck suggests in Of Mice and Men that sometimes the only escape from disempowerment is death. In the chapter in which Curley’s wife reveals her dream, she is killed accidentally by Lennie. After her death, her true self-worth is revealed. You can see this through the language Steinbeck uses to describe the scene, ‘Now her rouged cheeks and her reddened lips made her seem alive and sleeping very lightly’.
He creates a sense of peace with Curley’s wife as she lies there dead on the barn floor. He uses descriptive language about her sleeping lightly as if to say she is finally happy and content with herself now that she is dead. He then goes on to say, ‘Her face was sweet and young. ’ Again contrasting with when she was alive and was more dangerous for men on the ranch but now he describes her innocence. Curley’s wife, now dead, has finally found peace. She has escaped societies disempowerment through her life ending.
Throughout the novel Steinbeck suggests many issues through society in which people are disempowered through their physical appearance, sex, social status and intelligence. However sometimes the individual spirit thrives through disempowerment, through dreams and aspirations and companionship. However this is not always the case and sometimes societies standards and opinions cannot be beaten, ending in loss of self-belief and self worth. Of Mice and Men describes what life was like back in the Great Depression and how societies disempowerment can have great effects on an individuals spirit.