20 March 2014
The main character, George Milton, in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, carries a heavy burden of caring for his mentally disabled companion, Lennie Small. George promises Lennie’s aunt that in the event of her death, he would care for him. He cares deeply for Lennie and has to move from job to job because Lennie’s childish endeavors are often misconstrued. His naïve tendencies accompanied with his inability to control his strength have been viewed as threatening to others. As a result, George has to help Lennie escape town to avoid persecution. Therefore, George and Lennie arrive in the Salinas Valley in California to escape persecution from Weed and obtain a new job. To understand George’s action, one should explore the justification behind George’s choice to personally end Lennie’s life, including the events that led up to it and his purpose behind doing it.
According to the well-credited critic Cardullo, the mice represented in the novel are an ultimate symbol of upcoming death. He states, “the play is...the story of two men and the symbolic mice that surround them and contribute to their doom” (Cardullo 24). Lennie’s adoration for the mice is so strong that he “strokes” the mice with a little too much force, resulting in their death. He loves the mice so much that his desire to pet them overcomes him; however, he lacks the ability to contain his strength. The mice’s representation of death foreshadows Lennie’s impending death.
On their journey to seek a new job, George and Lennie come to a clearing near the Salinas River. In his pocket, Lennie carries a mouse he used to stroke during their journey. Lennie tries in vain to hide the mouse from George's line of vision. Eventually, George confronts him about the mouse, and he reluctantly hands it over to him. Without realizing it, Lennie had killed the mouse. “George [stands] up and [throws] the mouse as far as he could into the darkening bush” (Steinbeck 9). Cardullo states that “George's action is symbolic, for he is removing from his sight an omen of the future” (23). Lennie describes the mice that his Aunt Clara had given to him previously as the following: “They was so little...I'd pet 'em, and pretty soon they bit my fingers and I pinched their heads a little and then they was dead because they was so little” (Steinbeck 9-10) The mice, in resistance to Lennie's rough petting, would bite him. Lennie's not sure how to react; as a result, he panics and “pinches their head” to get them to stop biting. He does not intentionally kill them.
The accidental killing of the mice parallels what could have happened to the lady in Weed. At their previous job, he “jus' wanted to feel that girl's dress” because it was soft. She resists, and “[he] holds on like it was a mouse” (Steinbeck 11). The lady could have easily met the same fate as the mice. According to Cardullo, “Steinbeck uses the dead mouse to symbolize the past and to foreshadow the future” (23).
Lennie’s relationship to the mice parallels George’s relationship to Lennie. George has developed an “unnaturally attachment to Lennie;” a relationship similar to Lennie’s dependence on a mouse for companionship. From this point of view, Lennie’s relationship to George can be viewed as similar to that of a pet and his owner. For example, “George love[s] Lennie so much that he wound up having to kill him” (Cardullo 24). One can observe that Lennie similarly loves his pet mice so much that he kills them.
As George and Lennie grow accustomed to their workplace, they become close to their fellow acquaintance, Candy. He has an old dog that Carlson describes as “near blind” with “no teeth” (Steinbeck 36). The dog is totally dependent on Candy. Carlson states, “He ain't no good to you, Candy. An' he ain't no good to himself” (Steinbeck 44). Many critics view Candy's relationship with his dog as parallel with George's relationship to Lennie. George even