Surviving on Hopes and Dreams
The novella Of Mice and Men, written by John Steinbeck, is about two migrant workers, George and Lennie, who share a dream of having their own ranch, a vision so appealing that all who hear it come to share in it; sadly, they are ultimately unable to fulfill their dream. Steinbeck suggests that dreams, regardless of their potential futility, are an important motivating force that enables those who share them to survive and maintain control in adverse conditions by bringing them into a happier, more stable state of mind. This theme is delineated through how following his dream orients Lennie’s moral compass, as well as how hearing about George and Lennie’s vision lifts Crooks out of his embittered state.
Lennie’s dream of tending to rabbits at his ranch, and the rules he obeys to ensure the fulfillment of this dream, show how having a clear goal can enable people to focus mentally and maintain a sharper degree of self-control. George sets a psychological barrier for Lennie by threatening him to not being able to tend to the rabbits. Whenever Lennie is happy, he gushes about the rabbits, saying “he’s gonna let me tend the rabbits” (39). He happily tells Curley’s wife that he has been following the rules and had been good and so he will be allowed to care for the rabbits. Lennie views caring for the rabbits as a reward that can only be obtained by remaining on his best behavior, which in turn motivates him to do good. For this reason, when faced with a difficult decision Lennie asks himself whether George will or will not allow him to tend the rabbits anymore. After Lennie kills the puppy he imagines what George will say to him: “Jus’ for that you don’t get to tend no rabbits” (42). Lennie differentiates good from bad by discerning whether or not his actions leave him deserving of his goal. Although this means that Lennie’s moral compass is somewhat bound to whether his actions would please George, it is still true that his dream helps him orient his morality, and being a morally upright person is typically viewed as an indicator that one will live a long life.
Crooks, the African-American stable buck, shows how believing in a higher goal can elevate one’s mental state to one that is generally happier and more capable of managing adversity. Crooks is originally hostile towards Lennie. when Lennie first comes into his room, Crooks says “This here’s my room. Nobody got any right in here but me,” attempting to keep Lennie away from him (34). Since childhood, Crooks has been discriminated against and he is wary of the white men and doubts their intentions. However, as he and Lennie talk, he discovers that Lennie is harmless and furthermore, that he is likable. Crooks also finds George and Lennie’s dream foolish and shuns Lennie for believing in it but eventually says ” . . . . If you . . . . guys would want a hand to work for nothing (…) why I’d come an’ lend a hand” (37). This reversal in personality — from an embittered worker to one happy to dedicate their life to a cause — is a clear indication of the effect that believing in a dream may have on one’s psyche. Though this does not seem to materially impact his ability to survive, since he’s merely offering to go from one ill-paying job to another, it would be foolish to ignore the effect of a positive attitude on one’s ability to process future challenges. Had Crooks gone on living a miserable life, every small inconvenience, like someone entering his room, would seem like a violation against his happiness. By contrast, the idea of working for free seems almost appealing to him by the end, implying that believing in a goal is good for one’s mental health, even if it has no apparent effect on their current lifestyle.
George and Lennie had a simple dream: to own a ranch, on which Lennie would someday tend to rabbits. This simple dream serves not only to motivate Lennie to stay on a morally correct path, but it also helps Crooks, a distrustful soul, to become more accepting of those around him and less aggressive toward his situation and any new challenges he faces. Steinbeck uses the impact of the ranch dream on these two characters to illustrate his belief regarding the importance of dreams — that though they may be ultimately futile, they provide those who share in them with a sense of purpose, a guiding principle that can help people make changes to their life decisions and mental states, helping them to survive in the face of adversity.
Surviving on Hopes and Dreams