“Farewel bliss only to enter a harsher world.

      “Farewel happy Fields / Where Joy for ever dwells: Hail horrours, hail / Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell…” reads John Milton’s famous poem, “Paradise Lost.”  The poem retells the biblical story of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace as they eat the forbidden fruit.   They lose their perfect place of happiness and bliss only to enter a harsher world.  In John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, this “paradise lost” can be seen through the journey of George and Lennie, two ranch workers in the Depression-era of 1930 Salinas, California.   In the novel, George and Lennie go to work at a new ranch after fleeing from some sort of trouble caused by Lennie.  Here, they meet Curley’s wife (who is married to the ranch owner’s son) and Crooks, a black stable hand.

These characters reveal their own “paradise lost,” and the idea of this is a prominent theme in the book.  Although Curley’s wife, Crooks, George, and Lennie aspired to be someone or have something of their own in the novel, they are reminded of their cruel reality or station in life as opportunities were missed or something went wrong, causing their dreams to not come true.       One character that reveals to have her own “paradise lost” is Curley’s wife.  As a teenage girl, Curley’s wife once had dreams of becoming an actress, but now she finds herself unhappily married and feeling trapped as the only woman on the ranch.

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 She is expected to stay in the house all day.  Often, she goes looking for company to help with her feelings of loneliness and neglect, but the men don’t “want no trouble” (77) so they constantly avoid her.  One day, Curley’s wife goes to the barn, where she comes across Lennie, who’s been playing with his puppy.  As she talks to him, she tells Lennie everything that’s happened to her and is reminded of the life that she could have had: 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… Coulda been in the movies, an’ had nice clothes… An’ I coulda sat in them big hotels, an’ had pitchers took of me… (88-89)Curley’s wife had an opportunity to be someone, but because she was young and naive, she fought with her mother and made the rash decision to marry Curley.  Instead of pursuing her own interests, she is now stuck on the ranch.  Then, after desperately seeking attention from someone, Curley’s wife finds it with Lennie in the barn as he listens to her forgotten dreams.  She allows him to stroke her hair and she momentarily finds companionship, but her life comes to a gruesome end when Lennie unintentionally breaks her neck in a panic: “Curley’s wife lay with a half-covering of yellow hay.  And the meanness and the plannings and the discontent and the ache for attention were all gone from her face” (92).

 With a few bad decisions, Curley’s wife’s paradise is lost forever.     Another character that has their own “paradise lost” is Crooks.  Crooks is the only black man on the ranch, and he is faced with discrimination from the other men.  Although he is described as a “proud, aloof man” who “kept his distance and demanded that other people keep theirs” (67),  Crooks is actually very lonely and finds himself longing for company.  While the other ranch workers go to town, Lennie stays at the ranch, and he ends up going to Crooks’ bunk.  As they begin talking to one another, Crooks admits to Lennie what it’s like to be a black man living amongst white people:S’pose you didn’t have nobody.

 S’pose you couldn’t go into the bunkhouse and play rummy ’cause you was black.  How’d you like that?  S’pose you had to sit out here an’ read books… Books ain’t no good.  A guy needs somebody—to be near him…A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. (72)Crooks wishes to be an accepted part of society and to have to the simple pleasure or company.  His “paradise lost” is companionship that will never happen.

 Later, Candy, a fellow ranch worker, comes into Crooks’ bunk, and begins talking to Lennie about the ranch the three of them want to buy.  Crooks becomes interested, and he offers to help them out by working on the ranch.   He gets his hopes up when Candy and Lennie talk about it, and the ranch seems to be a way for him to escape his situation.

 It’s his new paradise.  However, Curley’s wife enters the room and her presence makes the men uncomfortable.  Crooks, who is provoked by Curley’s wife’s rudeness towards him, abruptly asks everyone to leave.

 He gets a dose of reality when a scornful Curley’s wife tells him to “keep his place” and then threatens that she could “get him strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny” (81).  Crooks is again reminded that he can never be a part their world.  His newfound paradise is lost, and he is forced to tell Candy to forget about him wanting to help on their ranch.    One last example of a “paradise lost” is through the characters George and Lennie.  Throughout the novel, the reader experiences George telling Lennie about the ranch that they will have someday.

 It makes both men happy to think about a life where they are on their own and can do whatever they want.  When George talks of the ranch with Lennie, he says, “O.K. Someday—we gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and—”An’ live off the fatta the lan’,” Lennie shouted.

 “An have rabbits.  Go on, George…””Well,” said George, “we’ll have a big vegetable patch and a rabbit hutch and chickens.  And when it rains in the winter, we’ll just say the hell with goin’ to work, and we’ll build up a fire in the stove and set around it an’ listen to the rain comin’ down on the roof…” (14-15)George and Lennie’s greatest fantasy might become a reality in the middle of the book when Candy decides to contribute some of his money to the men in exchange for living on their ranch.  Just when things are looking good, and George and Lennie nearly have enough money for the ranch, Lennie unintentionally kills Curley’s wife.  George discovers what Lennie has done, and knows that it will be difficult to avoid the consequences.  He also is aware that Lennie will just keep getting in trouble wherever they go, and that it would be best to end his life before the other men do.  Knowing the ranch would never be the same without Lennie, the dream dies with Lennie:Now Candy spoke his greatest fear.

“You an’ me can get that little place, can’t we, George?  You an’ me can go there an’ live nice, can’t we, George?  Can’t we?”  Before George answered, Candy dropped his head and looked down at the hay.  He knew.  George said softly, “—I think I knowed from the very first.

 I think I knowed we’d never do her.  He uses like to hear about it so much I got to thinking maybe we would.” (94)After George decides to shoot Lennie, he realizes that without him, the ranch would never be the same, for it was their companionship that kept the dream alive.  George says that he’ll probably just end up wasting his money on something like a cathouse, and be like every other ranch-working man.  His paradise of having his own place is lost, and now without Lennie, George’s world won’t have as much joy in the future.      Curley’s wife, Crooks, George, and Lennie all wanted to be someone or have something in the novel, but they all faced their own “paradise lost,” as they missed their opportunities, something went wrong, or reality got in the way.

 This can be seen through Curley’s wife’s unhappy situation, where she wanted to be an actress and not live on a ranch, to Crooks’ desire to be treated like all of the other guys and have company, and George and Lennie not getting the ranch they’d been dreaming about.  Like Milton’s poem,  Steinbeck’s novel reminds us that we are imperfect human beings, and therefore paradise is simply unattainable. We all have common dreams and goals, but there are forces that work against us, and no matter how hard we try or plan, we are powerless.  True contentment is something that cannot be found in this world.


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