Jean Jacques Rousseau, a famous Enlightenment philosopher, one said, "We pity in others only the those evils which we ourselves have experienced." We as humans inevitably feel empathy towards people who have realistic fears and realistic hopes. We can understand the pain they feel because we have gone through it too. In the riveting novella, Of Mice and MenÃÂ¸ John Steinbeck creates extremely realistic characters who reflect people we see in our everyday world. The characters have the same fears and suffer the same pains, and thus, we can sympathize with them. The two main characters, George and Lennie, live during the Great Depression and wander around looking for ranch work, but when they finally find a ranch, they meet many different kinds of people. These various characters all have their own quirks, but the amount of empathy they receive from the reader varies based on the actions they take.
Curley's insecurities achieve no empathy from the reader. Candy's fear achieves immense amounts of empathy. And lastly, George's actions and motivations lead to a very unexpected twist. Throughout the novel, George, Candy, and Curley each have insecurities, motivations, and dreams, and while they may share certain human frailties, they are not all equally successful at achieving empathy and support from the reader.
Curley's dreams are powered by his inner motivation of insecurity; however, he is extremely unsuccessful in attaining the reader's empathy. Curley is a boxer who is more diminutive in stature than most men. Because of this, he is not content with his size. Thus, he picks on people bigger than himself to prove his strength, "'Curley's pretty handyÃÂ Curley's like a lot of little guys. He hates big guys. He's alla time picking scraps with big guys. Kind of like he's mad at 'em because he ain't a big guy'" (26). He dreams of being able to assert his authority and superiority and thus assuage his insecurity, and because of this, he feels the need to over establish his strength and superiority in order to gain respect. Of course, the type of respect he gains from people is not admirable because he obtains it via cruelty. His cruelty is not surprising since Curley's name is already a connotation for evil. Curley is similar to the word cruel, but slightly rearranged. And cruel he is, as Curley shows no mercy to anyone, even the developmentally delayed, "Curley was balanced and poised. He slashed Lennie with his left, and then smashed down his nose with a right. Lennie gave a cry of terror. Blood welled from his nose" (63). In this quote, Curley catches Lennie laughing at something. Being the self-centered bully he is, Curley accuses Lennie of laughing at him. Lennie of course, is in his own world and is completely oblivious to what is happening. Curley takes this oblivious, childlike state of mind and attempts to crush it. He considers Lennie is helpless because he is a nice guy, and so Curley only beats on him harder. Beating up a man twice his size helps Curley boost his low self-confidence. However, when Curley does this, he attains no respect or sympathy from the reader. In fact, he solicits our hatred by his actions. The reader only hopes that something bad will happen to him. Steinbeck caters to the reader's want immediately after Curley attempts to beat up Lennie as Lennie strikes back, "'Looks to me like ever' bone in his han' is bustÃÂ This punk sure had it comin' to him" (64). Lennie does not just stand there and allow Curley to beat him up. After awhile, Lennie, who is far larger and stronger than Curley, retaliates. In a mere matter of seconds, Lennie destroys Curley. Because of Curley's foolish actions, he ends up hurting himself. And when this occurs, the reader is happy because Curley had it coming; It was evitable that something nasty had to happen to Curley as he deserved to be beaten up. However, if we juxtapose Curley with other characters, such as Lennie and Candy, the animosity felt for Curley is even greater in light of the gentleness and kindness of old Candy and of Lennie, emphasizing that people like Candy deserve protection from people like Curley, and such protection is offered by individuals like George. Thus, while Candy may be insecure like Curley, the reader is able to feel differently about Curley because of his cruelty, and in contrast, the reader hopes that Candy and Lennie will be protected by people like George. Unlike Candy, the reader hopes for the demise of people like Curley, who project their insecurities in a demanding and frightening manner. Therefore, one can conclude that insecurities may lead an individual down the wrong path, the path towards misery and lack of respect.
Candy's realistic fears of failure fuel his dreams; however, although he fears failure, his insecurities actually make him extremely successful and receiving empathy from the reader. Candy is the oldest character in Of Mice and Men. He is immensely kind to everyone and never tries to gain respect through fear. Not only is he old, he is handicapped as he is missing one of his hands. With this in mind, he realizes that it is very hard to secure himself a stable job when he is already old and handicapped, "'I ain't much good with on'y one hand. I lost my hand right here on this ranch. ÃÂ S'pose I went in with you guys. ÃÂ They'll can me purty soon. Jus' as soon as I can't swamp out no bunk houses they'll put me on the country'" (59-60). This realistic fear of the future is justifiable as Candy is just another man who needs to figure out how to make his living during the Great Depression. Once Candy hears about George and Lennie's ranch dream, he is instantly hopeful for the future, as he thinks that he will succeed. Because of Candy's old age and kindness, the reader cannot help but feel empathy for Candy because his fear is understandable and is one that everyone in the world encounters. When George and Lennie promise Candy a share of the land, Candy perks up immediately, "Candy cried, 'Sure they all want it. Everybody wants a little bit of land, not muchÃÂ I never had noneÃÂ But we gonna do it now, and don't make no mistake about that'ÃÂ He stopped, overwhelmed with his picture" (76). Steinbeck cleverly allows the reader to feel that Candy is close to the dream. He has the money, and he has people who are willing to help him. At this point, Candy's fears have been temporarily assuaged. Naturally at this point, the reader cannot help but feel hopeful for Candy as he is so close to success. Of course, Steinbeck once again pulls a hand at Candy's fate when he shatters Candy's one hope, "He looked helplessly back at Curley's wife, and gradually his sorrow and his anger grew into wordsÃÂ 'You wasn't no goodÃÂ I could of hoed in the garden and washed dishes for them guys'ÃÂ His eyes blinded with tears and he turned and went weakly out of the barn" (95-96). After Curley's wife's death, the dream has been shattered; There is no doubt that George and Lennie will leave Candy and Candy will once again be stuck as the lonely man on the ranch. The reader feels sad for Candy as this point because Candy is much more deserving of achieving his dream than people like Curley. Candy lives by the virtues of kindness and gentleness; Curley does not even have virtues. This solicits a deep compassion from the reader for Candy. Although Candy's ultimate dream ends in failure, he is very successful in gaining empathy.
George is motivated by the realistic want of leading a good life; however, he is an ambiguous character, and the reader cannot help but feel mixed feelings for him. George and Lennie travel together in hopes of finding a ranch of their own. Unfortunately, Lennie is developmentally delayed and acts as a hindrance to George in many ways, ÃÂÃÂIf I was alone I could live so easy. I could go get a job anÃÂ work, anÃÂ no trouble. No mess at all, and when the end of the month come I could take my fifty bucks and go into town and get whatever I wantÃÂ You keep me in hot water all the timeÃÂÃÂ (11). Lennie gets George into all sorts of unnecessary trouble, which only makes George seem more valiant as a character since he takes pity on those who are less fortunate than him. Although George appears to be a good character, the reader cannot help but question GeorgeÃÂs inner thoughts that he could lead a better life without Lennie. While George is the protector of people like Lennie and Candy, we are confused by GeorgeÃÂs statement of frustration. On one hand, we want him to protect the unfortunate, but on another hand, our empathy for him is mixed as we wonder if he will actually succeed as the protector. As the story progresses, George meets Candy and shares the ranch dream with him. With CandyÃÂs money, and George and LennieÃÂs hope, the dream seems almost achievable, ÃÂÃÂJesus Christ! I bet we could swing her.ÃÂ His eyes were full of wonderÃÂ (60). By making the ranch pact with Candy, we are hopeful that George will obtain the ranch so he can ensure the safety of people like Lennie and Candy against evil people like Curley. Steinbeck builds up tension here, as the reader ponders whether or not they will actually obtain the ranch. However the most dastardly act of the book shocks readers the most, ÃÂGeorge raised the gun and his hand shookÃÂ he brought the muzzle of it close to the back of LennieÃÂs head. ÃÂ He pulled the triggerÃÂ Lennie jarred, and then settled slowly forward to the sand, and he lay without quiveringÃÂ (105-106). As Lennie lays dead on the ground, George fails us here. We do not feel anything other than shock and confusion for George. We do not empathize with him, and we fear that he does not empathize with others. GeorgeÃÂs entire image changes as the reader ponders who George really is. Is he evil like Curley or kind like Candy? Although we are unsure, we think that he may be both. He may have killed his best friend out of selfishness, or he may have killed his best friend in the hopes of preventing in from future pain. Either way, we realize that he is not the man we perceived him to be. George is unsuccessful in attaining his ranch, but the amount of empathy the reader feels for him is mixed, as George is no longer the empathetic man we perceived him to be at the beginning of the novella.
Throughout the novel, Curley, Candy, and George all have different motivations and dreams, but although they share certain human fragilities, the amount of empathy they gain from the reader is extremely different. Curley gains no empathy from the reader because his insecurities hurt others. CandyÃÂs insecurities gain him the most empathy because he is kind, but still must suffer. Lastly, GeorgeÃÂs motivation brings only utter confusion to the reader because although he seems like a helpful man in the beginning, his actions do not reflect the man we thought he was. Steinbeck attempts to show us that people do not give out empathy equally, but they dole it out based on peopleÃÂs actions and whether they are deserving of that empathy. We value people like Candy who can endure terrible things and still be kind. However, we dislike people like Curley who are nasty and rude. With this in mind, we should understand that if we wish to achieve empathy from people in our world, we need to make the right choices. We cannot expect to receive empathy if we choose to treat the people around us terribly; if we treat others with respect and handle things in a calm manner, we will receive empathy. Even if it does not come immediately, it will come in due time. Empathy is certainly important; it helps us understand the other people in our world better. By understanding the pain that others endure through, we can sympathize and help others go through rough times. Thus, we can make the world a better place.
Bibliography:Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. New York: Penguin Group, 1937.