The American Dream, epitomizing every individual’s right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” has been deeply ingrained in American society since the inception of the Declaration of Independence. In John Steinbeck’s classic novel, “Of Mice and Men,” the characters George and Lennie embody this dream through their relentless pursuit of owning a farm and living off their own hard work. However, Steinbeck challenges the notion that the American Dream is readily attainable, arguing that unattainable dreams are still necessary to make life in America bearable, even in the most challenging times.
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The Demise of the American Dream
Within the backdrop of the Great Depression, the American Dream took a severe blow. The Roaring Twenties, characterized by economic prosperity and artistic innovation, abruptly came to an end, plunging American society into a state of crisis. It was during this tumultuous era that George and Lennie, facing their own financial struggles, clung to their dream of a peaceful and self-sustainable life. They sought solace in the hope that their dream could transcend the harsh realities of the economic downturn.
Escaping the Ghosts of the Past
Although their backgrounds remain shrouded in mystery, George and Lennie hail from Auburn, a once-thriving Gold Rush town that lost its luster in the 1920s due to dwindling gold prices. Fleeing a place that offered them no future, they pursued their dream, oblivious to the countless others in their hometown and beyond who harbored similarly shattered and hopeless aspirations.
The Grappling Reality of the American Dream
Wherever George and Lennie ventured, they encountered hostility and calamity. Steinbeck masterfully portrays the struggles faced by poor itinerant workers attempting to make a living in America. These hardships primarily stem from Lennie’s inability to conform to societal norms due to his childlike nature. The dichotomy of Lennie’s innocence and immense strength perpetuates a cycle of rejection, leading to tragic consequences and shattered dreams.
Clinging to Hope in Desperation
George, rather than helping Lennie control his impulses, perpetuates their shared dream of owning a farm. It becomes a beacon of hope, shielding them from the harsh realities that accepting Lennie’s true nature would entail. Another laborer, Candy, also becomes entranced by the romantic notion of farm ownership, even offering his own savings to secure a plot of land. However, given their financial struggles and societal barriers, their dream remains unattainable. Nevertheless, it acts as a lifeline, providing momentary respite from their rootless and dangerous existence.
The Bittersweet Reality
Although George and Lennie never materialize their dream, it is this very dream that sustains them during the darkest of times. In the final pages of the novella, as George prepares to protect Lennie from the wrath of the ranch laborers, he recounts their shared vision of a “little place” they could call their own. Ultimately, George’s act of mercy, granting Lennie a dignified death, underscores the notion that their dream is nothing more than a fantasy—an unattainable yet necessary construct that helps them endure the harsh realities of life.
In “Of Mice and Men,” Steinbeck skillfully captures the enduring power of the American Dream and its profound influence on the human psyche. It serves as a stark reminder that dreams, whether attainable or not, are essential in navigating the complexities of life. As we reflect on our own aspirations, it is important to recognize the delicate balance between imaginative hope and the realities that shape our existence.
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