Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
The major theme of the book is the beauty of a dream, for it gives a person a purpose in life. George and Lennie dream of owning a farm that they can call their own and where Lennie can raise rabbits and stay out of trouble, free from the constraints of society. Both men constantly keep this dream in front of them. In fact, Lennie asks George to repeat the dream over and over. George, himself, refuses to frivolously spend any money, for he is saving every dime to buy the land. The dream keeps both of the working; it also keeps them close.
Curley’s wife and Crooks, two cynics, scoff at the dream of Lennie and George as being unrealistic, but Candy sees its possibility and its beauty. He offers to give his life savings to help make the dream a reality, for he wants to join George and Lennie on the farm, living out his last days in happiness. When the two men accept Candy, he suddenly has a new lease on life; the dream has given him hope for a better future.
At the end of the novel, the dream dies. As soon as Candy sees the body of Curley’s wife, he understands his own loss of a dream and curses her for it. George also knows the dream has died with Lennie’s death, and the novel ends with his going off to spend his money on liquor. He no longer has a reason to save his pennies. Without a dream, his life is sad and meaningless.
The pain of loneliness is another key theme of the novel. Early in the book, George sets the lonely mood by stating, ‘Guys like us that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world.’ Candy becomes the picture of total loneliness caused by age. He is rejected by all for being old and handicapped. His only company, his faithful, old, blind dog, is taken from him and killed; Candy fears that he will be treated the same way in the future and wants to join Lennie and George on the ranch. Crooks is the picture of total loneliness caused by prejudice. Because he is the only black man on the ranch, he is forced to live alone in a shed of the barn, and no one will have any interaction with him. As the only female on the ranch, Curley’s wife also voices her loneliness. She says, ‘I never get to talk to nobody. I get awful lonely.’ Slim is also a lonely man and says, ‘Maybe everybody in the whole damn world is scared of each other.” Only Lennie and George are spared from the feelings of loneliness that pervade the book, for they have one another.
The major irony in the book is that George kills Lennie because he loves him. He wants to spare Lennie from dying a brutal death at the hands of Curley and the other ranch hands who are enraged over the death of Curley’s wife; therefore, he selflessly does the terrible deed himself, as a merciful act to his friend. Ironically, George steals Carlson’s pistol to use; it is the same pistol that killed Candy’s old dog in order to save it from suffering and misery. Ironically, the ranch hands felt great sympathy and sorrow for Candy over the loss of his dog; but they feel no sympathy for George over losing his best friend and companion. Slim is the only one who realizes the irony of the shooting, and he tries to comfort George by telling him “you hadda” do it.
Throughout the book, George has openly complained that Lennie is a real pain. He dreams of what he could do if not caring for his retarded friend and pictures himself not burdened by Lennie. He thinks of drinking whiskey and going to cat-houses. Ironically, during the course of the novel, George chooses not to do any of the things he has dreamed about doing, even though he is free to do them; the other ranch hands even try to tempt him. But George does not want to frivolously spend money that could be saved for the farm. At the end of the novel, thanks to Candy’s contribution, the three men are close to realizing their dream of owning a farm. Ironically, the dream dies with Lennie. George is now a free man, without the burden of caring for someone. Ironically, he is miserable in his loneliness and misses his constant companion.