The theme of dreams is introduced at the start of the book through George’s description to Lennie of the farm that they hope one day to own together. They continue to discuss this throughout the text, with Candy also becoming involved and making it finally seem possible. This dream is very important to the men because it represents freedom and having control over their own lives, which they do not have while moving around looking for work.
Dreams in Of Mice and Men are linked to the ‘American Dream’. This is the idea that in America, it is possible for anyone to achieve success and improve their lives through hard work. This is linked to the United States Declaration of Independence which states that ‘all men are created equal’. For the men on the ranch in Of Mice and Men, having dreams gives them some hope that their hard work will be rewarded. Curley’s wife also has a dream – to be a film star – and although she no longer has any real hope that this could come true, it gives her a distraction from the unhappiness of her life, which is also true of dreams for the other characters.
Although dreams are initially a source of hope in the book, Lennie’s death makes his and George’s dream impossible so as the novel ends, we see that even simple, modest dreams are unattainable in the harsh environment of America during the Great Depression.
How is the theme of dreams shown in the book?
In Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck explores dreams through:
George recites the dream to Lennie like a story, which suggests that they don’t really believe in it, even though the things they are dreaming of are quite modest.
Sure,” said George. “All kin’s a vegetables in the garden, and if we want a little whisky we can sell a few eggs or something, or some milk. We’d jus’ live there. We’d belong there. There wouldn’t be no more runnin’ round the country and gettin’ fed by a Jap cook. No, sir, we’d have our own place where we belonged and not sleep in no bunk house.
All George and Lennie are really hoping for is described here: a place where they feel they belong and do not have to leave. These are the things that are missing from their lives, showing that the reason they need the dream is to have some hope that their lives may improve. However, despite the simplicity of their dream, the way that George recounts this like a bed-time story or folk tale suggests that it will never really come true and they need to talk about it as a comfort rather than as a real plan.
Both Candy and Crooks ask to be involved in George and Lennie’s dream as a way of trying to escape from the isolation of their difficult lives on the ranch.
[Candy] said miserably,
You seen what they done to my dog tonight? They says he wasn’t no good to himself nor nobody else. When they can me here I wisht somebody’d shoot me. But they won’t do nothing like that. I won’t have no place to go, an’ I can’t get no more jobs.
...If you... guys would want a hand to work for nothing—just his keep, why I’d come an’ lend a hand. I ain’t so crippled I can’t work like a son-of-a-bitch if I want to.
Candy asks George and Lennie if he can be a part of their plan to buy their own farm because he feels like he does not have a value on the ranch as he is ageing and will be unable to continue working. Like George and Lennie, he aspires to have somewhere he belongs and a permanent home. Crooks also wants to escape his miserable life on the ranch and sees George and Lennie’s dream as his only opportunity for this. On the ranch, Crooks is isolated and continually experiences racism. Both Crooks and Candy see the dream as a way out of their otherwise inescapable unhappiness. However, Crooks immediately realises how futile this hope is and Candy understands at the end of the book that it was never really possible.
It is not only the men on the ranch who have dreams; Curley’s wife also has hopes for a better future. She tells Lennie that she married Curley after her plans of becoming a movie star fell through.
I tell you I ain’t used to livin’ like this. I coulda made somethin’ of myself.” She said darkly, “Maybe I will yet.” And then her words tumbled out in a passion of communication, as though she hurried before her listener could be taken away. “I lived right in Salinas,” she said. “Come there when I was a kid. Well, a show come through, an’ I met one of the actors. He says I could go with that show. But my ol’ lady wouldn’ let me. She says because I was on’y fifteen. But the guy says I coulda. If I’d went, I wouldn’t be livin’ like this, you bet.
Curley’s wife is focused on how her life could have been if she had been an actress, showing how her dream is a type of escapism for her. Curley’s wife’s dream is different to George and Lennie’s because hers is grander; however, the dreams are similar in that the characters rely on them as a way of coping with the difficulties in their lives.
George and Lennie’s dream is impossible once Lennie has killed Curley’s wife. Without Lennie, George cannot envision himself carrying on, and he realises that the dream was never really possible. This represents the hopelessness of men like them.
George said softly,
—I think I knowed from the very first. I think I knowed we’d never do her. He usta like to hear about it so much I got to thinking maybe we would.
Crooks was scornful.
I seen hunderds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an’ that same damn thing in their heads. Hunderds of them. They come, an’ they quit an’ go on; an’ every damn one of ’em’s got a little piece of land in his head. An’ never a God damn one of ’em ever gets it.
Crooks’ comments remind the reader of how George and Lennie’s dream is not unusual for men like them: many others are also dreaming of a better life. This is linked to the idea of the American Dream as they believe that by working hard and saving up, they will be able to achieve the success they hope for. However, George realises at the end of the novel that his plans with Lennie really were just a dream; they would never have come true. This suggests that the dreams that men like them held during this period in America were hopeless.
How does Steinbeck explore the theme of dreams in Of Mice and Men?