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• GEORGE AND LENNIE
The most important characters in the novel are George Milton and Lennie Small. They are ordinary workmen, moving from town to town and job to job, but they symbolize much more. Their names give us our first hints about them. One of Steinbeck's favorite books when he was growing up was Paradise Lost by John Milton. In this long poem, Milton describes the beginnings of evil in the world. He tells of Lucifer's fall from heaven and the creation of hell. He also describes Adam and Eve's fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. By giving George the last name of Milton, Steinbeck seems to be showing that he is an example of fallen man, someone who is doomed to loneliness and who wants to return to the Garden of Eden. Perhaps this is why George is always talking about having his own place and living "off the fat of the land," as Adam and Eve did before their fall.
Lennie is anything but small physically. He is a big man who is often described with animal images. In the opening scene of the book his hands are called paws and he snorts like a horse. Yet Lennie is small on brains and on responsibility. Someone has always taken care of Lennie and done his thinking and talking for him. First his Aunt Clara looked after him, and now George does. He is like a child, a term George uses several times in describing Lennie to Slim. Lennie has a child's short attention span and tendency to hang onto one idea stubbornly-the rabbits he will get to tend. He is innocent and "has no meanness in him."
In a sense, Lennie and George are both small men. They will never be famous or amount to anything great. Even their dream is a modest one. The ranch George is thinking about costs only $600. They will have just a few chickens and pigs and, of course, rabbits. They won't have to work real hard.
George and Lennie are practically opposites in the way they look and in their personalities. George is described as small and quick with sharp features. Lennie is described as big, slow witted, and shapeless of face. George can comfortably fit into the ranch hands' world. He plays horseshoes with the others and goes along to the whorehouse on Saturday night. Lennie plays instead with his puppy in the barn and spends Saturday night in Crooks' room with the other outcasts-Crooks, Candy, and Curley's wife. Yet it is very difficult to look at George and Lennie separately. Over and over, under Lennie's prompting, George explains that their specialness lies in the fact that they are together. As Lennie says (repeating George's words): "But not us! An' why? Because... because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that's why."
Sigmund Freud, the famous psychoanalyst, has written that each person has two sides-the ego and the id. The ego is the person's thinking side, the leader figure within him or her. The id is the physical side of the person, the body and senses. George is obviously the leader of the two men; he does all of their thinking. He remembers the things that must be remembered and instructs Lennie about them. Lennie, on the other hand, is all body. He "thinks" with his senses. The most important parts of Lennie's body are his hands. He likes to touch soft things, and he does so without thinking. That's why he keeps getting into trouble. Lennie crushes Curley's hand with his hand, and breaks the necks of his puppy and Curley's wife when his hands get the better of him. It is interesting to note that Lennie gets in trouble only when George is not around. Steinbeck seems to be saying that a body without a mind controlling it can easily get carried away. A person must be a balance of ego and id.
Another way to look at George and Lennie is scientifically. Remember that Steinbeck was also a marine
biologist. An important biological relationship is symbiosis. Many times in nature two different kinds of plants
or animals live in what is called a symbiotic relationship. That means each one needs the other in order to live.
George and Lennie need each other in the same way. It is obvious why Lennie needs George. George does his
thinking for him and tries to keep him out of trouble. But why does George need Lennie? Lennie is more than
just George's companion who keeps him from being lonely. Lennie makes George special. As George says to
Slim in Chapter 3, "[Lennie] made me seem God damn smart alongside of him...." He adds, "I ain't got no
There is a third way to look at the relationship of the two men-a biblical way. Remember that the Bible was also a very important influence on Steinbeck's writing. George and Lennie's story has some strong echoes of the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis. Do you remember that story? Cain draws Abel into a field and kills him. When God asks where Abel is, Cain replies, "Am I my brother's keeper?" George is not really Lennie's brother, but he is the closest thing to family that Lennie has. And George is clearly Lennie's keeper. He also is Lennie's killer. According to the Bible, after Cain kills Abel, he is forced to wander the earth alone as a fugitive, longing for Eden but never getting there. George too will be a lonely wanderer who no longer has his vision of a garden and paradise without Lennie.
Think about these possible explanations as you read the novel. Decide for yourself if you think Steinbeck is trying to look at George and Lennie's relationship in a psychological way, a biological way, a biblical way, or all three at once.