How does the characters’ way of life affect their behaviour in the novel?
Ideas on an essay title – you need to find the appropriate quotations and to develop my stimuli.
This essay has caused some problems, not because of its complexity, but because students have been unwilling to engage with the focus of the title. There is a need to engage clearly with an exploration of what is meant by Way of Life.
Let’s consider what we can say about the way of life:
• Itinerant workers tend to travel alone.
• Lack of money
• Lack of familial responsibility causes wastage of money
• Lack of privacy in living conditions
• Constantly moving on, so no great wish to try to develop friendships.
• Male dominated society.
Any of these, and there are more, would be suggestive of a way of life. Having established this in an introduction, you can begin to discuss the behaviour and link to these ideas.
Travelling alone is picked up from the outset – any number of passages relate to this, from the suspicion with which George and Lennie are viewed on arrival (behaviour of others towards G+L) to the mantra that “we got each other” that George and Lennie use as the bedtime story.
Your task is to pick you 4 or 5 favourite behaviours and to establish a link to a way of life.
Carlson shooting the dog is a favourite of many. This can not simply be a retelling of the narrative, however. This episode comes about due to the lack of privacy and disgustingly claustrophobic living conditions – a way of life. When one adds the idea that loneliness breeds an unwillingness to empathise – to become “sick” in Crooks’ words, this is a fairly clear path to follow. One could even add that since they all live on a farm, the idea that an animal should be put down when it has outlived its usefulness is not too shocking. Men are on the junk heap here – why should animals receive preferential treatment?
Curley’s Wife can be seen in the same way: A victim of a male society, where any hint of femininity is seized upon by the lonely and frustrated males she is the target of typically “locker room” gossip and abuse. This is exacerbated by her way of life – a young girl with aspirations to emulate the film stars of the day. Her clothing, first seen as provocative becomes a sad echo of her wish to be seen as beautiful; her behaviour in the bunk house, seen as “giving the eye” is finally shown to be little more than the behaviour of a thwarted actress trying to carve a niche for herself in the masculine world. The way of life imposed on her leads directly to her death. Curley will not let her talk to the men, she fails to do so whenever two of them are together (section 4) and seeks individuals, Curley treats her badly physically and mentally, Lennie shows some compassion and lets her tell her story. From that point her fate is sealed.
This is not to say that she is a pure character. Her abuse, particularly of Crooks, but also of Lennie and Candy can be attributed to a way of life where simple bigotry has replaced reflection and where swift expression of feelings has replaced the need to build relationships.
Crooks and Candy both suffer from a fear of replacement due to their injuries, but Candy has another layer. He is a gossip and when we first meet him he is very quick to criticise and to “tell tales”. He needs to “buy” friendship and is actively trying to win over George by letting him on secrets – the glove, the tart, the nigger, the fight with Smitty – in order that he gains an ally in the event of his disability bringing about the end of his useful life. He fears being “canned” above all else. It is only later, once the humanising effect of Lennie and George has begun to work on him tha the starts to behave in a more sociable manner. However, once Curley’s wife is dead and the Dream with her, he reverts swiftly to type. His abuse of the corpse could be said to be a direct result of the isolated way of life all live on the ranch. The selfish and the masculine are re-established as the driving force of all behaviours.