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Conflict in Of Mice and Men

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  • 0:01 Characters and Conflict
  • 0:37 Lennie vs. Curley
  • 1:31 Crooks vs. Society
  • 2:19 Candy vs. Nature
  • 3:02 Curley's Wife vs. Lennie
  • 4:03 George vs. Himself
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shana Van Grimbergen

Shana teaches high school English and has her master's degree.

John Steinbeck creates conflict in his novella 'Of Mice and Men' to increase tension and move the characters toward the climax and resolution of the story. This lesson explores the many forms of conflict in the novella.

Characters and Types of Conflict

Conflict can take many forms, and it can affect many characters. There is certainly no lack of conflict in John Steinbeck's Depression-era novella, Of Mice and Men. Not only do the main characters, George and Lennie, encounter conflict in the story, but the secondary characters, like Crooks, Candy, and Curley's wife, do as well.

The reader experiences conflict in a variety of forms: man vs. man, man vs. society, man vs. nature, and man vs. himself.

Lennie vs. Curley

As soon as George and Lennie arrive on the ranch, it is apparent to George that keeping Lennie out of trouble will be a constant struggle, creating immediate conflict in the story. The boss's son, Curley, wants to pick a fight with Lennie the moment he lays eyes on him due to Lennie's tall stature. Curley is an amateur boxer, but Lennie is so strong that George worries about what could happen if that strength were to be unleashed. George tries to steer Lennie away from conflict, but in Chapter Three the conflict between Curley and Lennie reaches a boiling point.

The man vs. man conflict intensifies when Lennie, after being bludgeoned by Curley's fists, fights back and breaks all the bones in Curley's hand. Thanks to Curley's ego, George and Lennie escape trouble for this blunder, but Lennie and George are now in the unenviable position of being on the wrong side of the boss's son.

Crooks vs. Society

Crooks is another character who faces conflict in the story, this time in the form of man vs. society as Crooks must face society's expectations of a black man during the 1930s. Crooks struggles with loneliness and isolation, for he is not allowed to be in the bunkhouse with the other ranch hands, but instead must stay in the barn by himself. The reader understands what this struggle with loneliness has done to Crooks in Chapter Four when he talks with Lennie after the other ranch hands have gone into town. For a moment, Crooks dares to dream that he, too, can be a part of something special. He offers to live with Lennie and Candy on the dream ranch with George, but after Curley's wife appears and reminds him of the prejudice he will always face, Crooks realizes he will never overcome the tenets of racism.

Candy vs. Nature

Candy, the old 'swamper' of the ranch, or janitor, struggles with the limitations that his body creates for him, placing his conflict in the category of man vs. nature. He worries that soon, due to his age and missing hand (because of a ranch accident), he will no longer be able to do his current job. Once he is no longer useful, he is concerned that, much like his old dog, he will no longer have a place at the ranch. This struggle with apprehension ultimately leads Candy to financially support George and Lennie's dream ranch, which gives them all something for which to hope. However, once Lennie kills Curley's wife, it is clear that their dream has died and Candy will again face the conflict between himself and his body.

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