Symbols & Symbolism in Of Mice and Men

Symbols & Symbolism in Of Mice and Men
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  • 0:01 What Is Symbolism?
  • 0:40 Candy's Dog
  • 2:15 Mice
  • 3:19 The Dream Farm
  • 5:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Liz Breazeale
Authors often use symbolism to bring an idea or theme to the forefront. In this lesson, we'll discuss three major symbols in John Steinbeck's 'Of Mice and Men.'

What Is Symbolism?

In a literary context, symbolism is the use of a person, place, or thing to represent a larger, more abstract concept. Authors use symbols to engage readers, but also to address an important theme or topic. Symbols are sometimes used to discuss concepts that are large and complex, like war, for example, in order to make the topic more manageable and concrete.

Let's examine three major symbols from John Steinbeck's classic Of Mice and Men: Candy's dog, mice, and the dream farm.

Candy's Dog

Candy's dog symbolizes the fate of those who outlive their usefulness, like those who are seen as weak in the eyes of the world. Although Candy has protective and loving feelings toward his dog, because he's raised it from a puppy, this argument falls on deaf ears on the ranch. You can totally sympathize with Candy, right? You know what it's like to love a pet; that dog or cat or lizard or horse is your family member, your friend.

But, again, these feelings don't matter to anyone on the ranch but Candy. True, the dog used to be an excellent sheepdog, but the poor thing is crippled by age now and can't perform any useful duties. And though Candy pleads for his pal's life, Carlson won't listen. Sure, Carlson will kill the dog humanely and quickly so it feels no pain. But he still kills the dog.

The symbolism here is clear: Carlson's insistence that the dog must die because it no longer has any value other than sentimental illustrates a law of the farm, and of the book, that any creature that is more trouble than it's worth, whether through mental or physical weakness, cannot be allowed to survive. Candy fears this foreshadows the day when he, too, will be deemed useless. It also foreshadows Lennie's death at the hands of George later in the novel. Lennie, much like Candy's dog, is too weak (not physically, but mentally) to live in this world. Ranch life is cruel.

Mice

Mice are a symbol of false hope, mostly for Lennie. They're bound to be important (they're in the title, after all), and there are several mice images throughout the novel that support their importance.

The first is of a dead mouse that Lennie keeps in his pocket to pet. It's a comfort thing. Lennie likes to pet soft things, and is always hopeful that he'll get to keep them. But that hope is always dashed by Lennie's unfortunate talent for killing what he loves, like mice, his puppy, or Curly's wife.

Mice, like men, are also victims of cruel fate and destiny. Lennie may be hopeful for his future life, hopeful that he'll have more warm, cuddly creatures to love and pet. But Lennie, like these mice, like all men, is subject to the whims of destiny. Lennie becomes more like a mouse in this way than ever. All he hopes for is something warm and happy, but in the end he's victim to his own vulnerability, exactly like a mouse.

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