In John Steinbeck’s novella, Of Mice and Men, having a dream helps the men by giving them hope and meaning. George and Lennie both talk about their unique dream of the farm they hope to own, and it becomes clear that this dream is something that keeps them moving forward even when some people would have already abandoned hope. Steinbeck writes, “O.K. Someday—we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and—” ‘An’ live off the fatta the lan’,’ Lennie shouted” (Steinbeck 14). Despite the fact that the version of social Darwinism that dominates the society there has pushed them into a much lower class than they might hope to be, because of the dream of owning a farm, there is still a significant amount of hope for Lennie and George, as they can climb to the next rung on their own personal ladder.
This is true even if they have no ability to break out of the overall trap in which they are never actually able to get to the top of the societal ladder. One of the reasons why a dream is so important is that it gives a person meaning. At one point, George says of his future farm, “All kin’s a vegetables in the garden, and if we want a little whisky we can sell a few eggs or something, or some milk. We’d jus’ live there. We’d belong there” (Steinbeck 57). Steinbeck uses this to show the reader that the men would have more than just a farm; they would also have a place where they could feel at home and experience the sense of belonging that might have otherwise eluded them. A dream is critical for this purpose because it allows one to feel that sense of belonging and a connection to something larger than themselves. This plays out for George and Lennie. Having a dream helps the men, who are otherwise in a lower social station, by giving them something to hope for in their own lives.
Dreams are helpful for the men because those dreams help to connect them broadly to society and more specifically to one another. Candy–old and handicapped–learns of George and Lennie’s dream and ends up sharing that same dream, offering to help them reach it immediately. For Candy, the dream of owning land and a home is crucial because he does not know how much longer he can get by and make a living on the current ranch. Like Lennie and George, Candy’s thoughts of owning a home and land gives him comfort, security, and a place where he can fit in and not worry for the rest of his days. In fact, Candy offers money to help George and Lennie achieve the dream as fast as possible when he says, “S’pose I went in with you guys. Tha’s three hundred an’ fifty bucks I’d put in” (Steinbeck 59). Candy becomes very involved in this dream, just as George and Lennie are.
Though dreams are often not realistic, people are still bound by the idea of it – of the dream. Steinbeck wrote of this, “I seen hunderds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an’ that same damn thing in their heads. Hunderds of them” (Steinbeck 74). Even if the dream is not likely to come true, the fact that humans are bound up in a dream helps to connect them to all of the other dreamers in the world who also have hope. Dreams help to unite in a world where social Darwinism is the norm. Those hopes and dreams do not have to just be connective devices for the whole world; yet, they can also drive connections between individuals on a lower level. As George says in the novel, “I think I knowed from the very first. I think I knowed we’d never do her. He usta like to hear about it so much I got to thinking maybe we would” (Steinbeck 94). Steinbeck is portraying to the reader that dreams have the power to unite people around some shared goal. This makes dreams valuable even if they are never going to come true, and even if they may lead to disappointment. Having a dream helps the men in this novella by connecting them in ways they might not have otherwise been connected to others in society, and by allowing them something to share amongst themselves.
Not all is positive for the men when it comes to dreams, as having dreams harms the men by leading them directly into disappointment. By the end of the novella, it is evident that the mens’ dreams stay just far enough out of reach that they never quite attain them. For instance, George says at one point, “Whatever we ain’t got, that’s what you want” (Steinbeck 11). In other words, no matter what one acquires, there is still something else he needs. George goes on to say that he is frustrated because no matter what amounts of money he is able to put together and what small material gains he is able to make, he knows at the end of the day that he is just going to come up short of what he truly needs. This creates angst even as the dreams he has also help to drive him forward during a very difficult time. At some points, it even seems like the characters do not truly believe that the dream is going to come true.
Steinbeck writes, “They fell into a silence. They looked at one another, amazed. This thing they had never really believed in was coming true” (Steinbeck 60). Steinbeck demonstrates to the reader that dreams are quite complex, being both positive and negative for the characters of the work. Although dreams have the power to give people meaning, provide them with a sense of belonging and connectedness, and give them hope for the future, dreams can remain out of reach, especially in a society that is forever creating barriers for people who are struggling. In a society where the hierarchy is pushing people down and ensuring that people are born into the class where they will likely die, having a dream can be a dangerous thing because it opens a person up to a host of different disappointments. Dreams have many good qualities, but they also have the ability to disappoint, which harms the characters in the story.
- Steinbeck, John. “Of Mice and Men.” New York: Penguin Group, 1993. Print.