The Novel Of Mice And Men: George And Migrant Workers
“Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world.”(Steinbeck 13) This quote by Steinback through the character George symbolizes many of the people’s lack of aspirations for a comfortable and happy life during the Great Depression. John Steinbeck portrays his character George to exemplify the difficulties that a 1930’s migrant worker had to face.
Of Mice and Men takes place amongst a lifeless and difficult time not only for America, but for the entire world, and the characters in the book share the same troubles. George is just like any ordinary migrant worker in California, he lives from paycheck to paycheck with no hope of having a life to himself. He like many other workers dreamed of easier times and a better life; filled with hope and happy life with those he loves. A place to call home where they can work and live for themselves. But hopes and dreams are often just that and during those troubling times that was especially true. George nonetheless had hoped to live “off the fatta’ the lan’ ” (Steinbeck 14), and with Lennie and Candy he pushed to make those dreams come true. Even so in the end it wouldn’t be so simple, and like many others he was exposed to the hopelessness of his dreams and that the only sense of happiness he could ever hope to achieve was at the end of every month in the cat house. George’s life in a sense was even lonelier and harder than most of the men in the book even with Lennie. Because Lennie had a mental illness, George had to constantly take care of him which required a great deal of patience and sacrifice. It is often stated in the book that George would always think of Lennie first in any situation. However when Lennie asked for something too unreasonable, George would explode out of anger saying, “ If I was alone I could live so easy…why I could stay in a cat house all night. I could eat any place I want, hotel or any place, and order any damn thing I could think of.”(Steinbeck 11). Back then all the things he said he would do was the norm for these workers. They had to fight through awful conditions and hard work,” These migrants, many of them racial and ethnic minorities, had always worked for low wages and lived in horrible conditions. The Great Depression merely exacerbated their harsh circumstances. ” (Mapes 1) for one night of very temporary happiness.
George can also be further related to the struggles of that time through his reaction to Lennie’s mishap at the end of the book. At the end he was tired and felt great despair in his situation. Justified or not George knew he had to find a new way to live and ease Lennie of the suffering he would undoubtedly have to face if he was found. Of course he was very conflicted with this because like many migrant workers he and Lennie developed a sense of brotherhood with one another, even more so than normal. Slim in a few simple sentences from the book summarizes the view of George perfectly when he tells him, “ You hadda, George. I swear you hadda. Come on with me.”(Steinbeck 107) Through these small messages, he clarifies George’s feelings and heartaches and invites him to have a new life with him and the rest of the workers. The migrant workers formed very strong ties. The uncertainty of the job led them to rely on their close friends and family. According to one of the sources many workers set up unions for better rights and pay, ” Even though migrant workers were excluded from the National Labor Relations Act, thousands joined unions and engaged in strikes to garner better wages and living conditions.” through these common ideals and goals they had much to relate with and create a culture of their own. Throughout the book through Crooks and Curley’s wife it is often mentioned that a person goes crazy if they don’t have a person to talk to and spend time with. George along with all the others at that time were no different they just wanted a place to belong, with people they consider friends.
Throughout the span of human history many peoples and cultures faced alienation and migratory workers were no exception. Both in the book and in many historical sources they faced hard discrimination and inequality. George experiences this heavily in the very beginning of the book. It occurs when George and Lennie are lied to by the bus driver and are forced to walk miles and eventually end up being late to their first day, although it may have been a small ordeal it leads to a gateway of prejudice and hardship. George said,” God damn near four miles, that’s what it was! Didn’t wanta stop at the ranch gate, that’s what. Too God damn lazy to pull up.”(Steinbeck 4).Two people, Todd and Sonkin, interviewed many migrant workers and found a connecting theme in all of their experiences, ”The bulk of the people Todd and Sonkin interviewed shared conservative religious and political beliefs and were ethnocentric in their attitude toward other ethnic/cultural groups, with whom they had had little contact prior to their arrival in California. Such attitudes sometimes led to the use of derogatory language and negative stereotyping of cultural outsiders.”(Fanslow 1). They all were confronted with negative bias and disrespect, not George and Lennie.
Steinbeck builds all the characters in Of Mice and Men in a way that exhibits the alienation and tribulations that migratory workers have experienced, especially George. He never wanted to be lonely and sorrowful, in fact, he tried hard to make something for himself and Lennie, but like many other migrant workers at the time, he didn’t have a choice in the matter; he could only fantasize of a better life with little hope of acquiring it.
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