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Of Mice and Men Character Analysis

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  • 0:04 Of Mice and Men
  • 0:32 Major Characters
  • 4:22 Minor Characters
  • 5:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Terri Beth Miller

Terri Beth has taught college writing and literature courses since 2005 and has a PhD in literature.

This lesson explores the most important characters in John Steinbeck's 1937 classic, ''Of Mice and Men.'' It also analyzes the significance of these characters both within the novel and in American literature.

Of Mice and Men

John Steinbeck's 1937 novella, Of Mice and Men, tells the story of itinerant farmworkers George Milton and Lennie Small as they seek some measure of stability and a share of the American Dream in Depression-era California. What makes Steinbeck's novella about a bygone era in America such a classic? Why has it continued to capture the attention of audiences, more than 80 years after its first publication? A look at the novella's major and minor characters might provide the key.

Major Characters

George Milton

Small in stature, yet kind, intelligent, and hard-working, George's potential is unlimited, but his circumstances are not. He is displaced, uneducated, and unfulfilled. Had he been presented the right circumstances and given the opportunities to thrive, he may have lived a more fulfilling, meaningful life.

However, George's lack of money, home, and education puts him at the mercy of his circumstances. He is forced to travel from town to town, seeking enough work to keep food in his belly and clothes on his back. Still, he dreams of a better life, of buying a plot of land that he can farm, one that he can call his own. He dreams of self-reliance, ultimately, and of living up to his potential.

Lennie Small

Large in stature and exceedingly strong, Lennie has the mind of a child. He looks to George's guidance to compensate for his own diminished mental capacity, and George gladly fulfills the role of surrogate brother and guardian.

But Lennie's strength is also a curse. He is innately gentle and kind. He loves soft things and makes George promise that when they have their farm, he will be allowed to keep rabbits. Yet Lennie can barely control his own strength. He has accidentally killed more than one beloved animal by petting it too hard.

Thus, Lennie's strength keeps him on the verge of danger, and George has to be on constant guard, helping Lennie try to control what he doesn't understand. In this way, Steinbeck demonstrates how vulnerable even the strongest of us are to that which is beyond our control, vulnerable to that which we didn't create or desire, but which has the power to destroy.

Curley

He is the foreman of the ranch where George and Lennie temporarily work and he's also the ranch owner's son. He's a small man with a huge chip on his shoulder, embodying the classic Napoleon complex, in which a person of small stature tries to prove his toughness through attitude and aggression.

Curley hates Lennie for his strength and size and also because Curley's beautiful wife flirts with Lennie. Eventually, he attacks Lennie, but Lennie does not fight back until George, seeing his gentle friend battered and bruised, gives the go-ahead. With George's blessing, Lennie proceeds to crush Curley's hand with little effort.

This only fuels Curley's hatred. Curley represents the menace of power, illustrating how those with a bit of authority and a lot of hatred can derail a person's dreams. Lennie's strength and size feed into Curley's insecurities. Because Curley has more money, status, and power than Lennie, his ego transforms Lennie into the ideal target for his rage.

Curley's wife

She is never given a name and is instead seen a symbol of the random dangers that lurk around every corner. She is beautiful but lonely, and Curley is cruel and indifferent toward her. She once aspired to the glamorous life of a star, but now finds herself stranded on a dusty farm in the middle of nowhere.

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