The Loss Of Eden And The Attempt To Regain It

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Eden "“ with this word billions of people connect an idea of contentment although they have never experienced it. The Bible describes Eden as "a garden eastward "¦ [in which] "¦ out of the ground "¦ grow[s] every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food" (Gen. 2.9). In addition, there are the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the garden. Once, this nice place was in the hands of the human race, but it had to be given up by mankind because of the Fall of Man. The humans were allowed to eat the fruits of every tree except the ones from the tree of life and from the tree of knowledge. However, one day, the serpent spoke to Eve and enticed her to break the rules of the Lord "“ she took a fruit of the tree of knowledge and shared it with Adam.

Soon, the Lord discovered the betrayal and punished his children. He cursed man and "sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken" (Gen. 3.23). He also "placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the" humans out of it (Gen. 3.24). Since then, mankind has been condemned to live on the earth and to make the best of it.

All people are affected by this curse, including the characters of John Steinbeck's novel Of Mice and Men. It takes place in the years of the Great Depression, and it is set in the Salinas Valley in California where the Soledad farm is located. Here, the two main characters, the smart George Milton and his retarded companion Lennie Small, work to make some money that they desperately need to fulfill their dream "“ the recreation of a terrestrial Eden. At the beginning, everything looks as if they actually could achieve their goal. But their idea falls apart as soon as the biologically handicapped Lennie is tempted by the wife of the boss's son and kills her accidentally. Thus, given this plot line, it is clear that Steinbeck recognizes that man will never again be able to pass through the gates of Eden or at least to recreate it on earth after the Fall of Man. For in Of Mice and Men economic and biological factors prevent this and make people feel lonely. This state may be temporarily overcome by a community of men, but still the acts of women will wipe out the dream of a terrestrial Eden by destroying the comradeship of males who then will face an uncertain future.

Economic and biological forces mainly cause the loneliness of John Steinbeck's characters. It is the Great Depression that makes the economic aspect the most relevant cause for solitude and rootlessness in the novel Of Mice and Men. The Great Depression was an absolute disaster for all people and not just for the ones that lost their investments in the stock market when it crashed in 1929. Many tenant farmers moved to California where, they hoped to find a better life as farm workers. But, with so many of them pouring into California, the relationship between supply and demand for farm workers was disrupted. The old-established farm workers, the so-called "threshers", "being replaced by whole families migrating in cars, like the "¦ [Joad family] in Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath" as Judith Loftis points out (40). The result was that the threshers became more and more isolated and lonely because, in times of crisis, everybody looks solely after their own interests. Steinbeck's characters belong to this last group and are lonely, too. This is shown through the two main characters George and Lennie, especially in the case of George Milton who Mark Spilka, as an expert on the novels of John Steinbeck, claims is "indeed friendless and alone" (69). It is the result of permanently relocating in order to find work to keep him alive that makes him lonesome. In addition, Michael W. Shurgot who, as an author for the Steinbeck Quarterly, stresses George's solitary existence when he points out that "George's card game is solitaire" (38). In brief, one can say that the problematic economic condition of this period definitely increased the isolation among people.

But it is not only the economic situation that traps the novel's characters and isolates them, it is also the biological aspect that gives them the feeling of being outcasts. Entrapped biologically by his low intelligence and physical size, Lennie is lonesome. He is "a retarded child in an oversized man's body" as Richard Astro of the Oregon State University puts it (105). Furthermore, the other characters in the novel Of Mice and Men are also somehow lonesome through biological factors. Candy, the old swamper, according to Ross Douthat, is isolated, for "it is his advancing age and crippled hand that makes him feel isolated on the ranch" (4). "Crooks [the black stable hand] is [also] a lonely figure, but his isolation is magnified by the color of his skin" causing him to be racially excluded (Douthat 6). And Shurgot says, "on the ranch itself, the most hopelessly alienated characters "¦ are Crooks and Curley's wife" (39). This statement also indicates that Curley's wife is a lonely character as well, for she is kept out of the community of the farm because of her gender; as the only female on the Soledad farm, she, too, is alone. Biological as well as economic factors undoubtedly contributed to the characters' feelings of loneliness.

By now it is evident that "all the characters are intensely lonely" (8) and that "Steinbeck's novel emphasizes "¦ loneliness" according to Douthat (9). But Steinbeck goes even further. It is no accident that the farm on which the novel takes place is called Soledad. William Goldburst, a writer who is deeply involved in studying the religious aspects of Steinbeck's novels, notes that the word "Soledad" is "the Spanish word for solitude, or aloneness" (56). Consequently, one has to agree with Charlotte Hadella who states that "loneliness is "¦[a] central theme" in the novel Of Mice and Men (151).

This feeling of alienation is counteracted by a desire for male comradeship. This kind of exclusively patriarchal community is established to offer an escape into shared dreams in order to restore a sense of community. Yet in order to escape the above mentioned loneliness and the hard and uncertain life as farm workers, the two main characters, George and Lennie, go even further and develop their own strategy. One part of this strategy is the linking of dreams because these "dreams are the only thing that can keep them going" as Warren French, a major critic, mentions it (DiscLit 88). Hadella says that George's dream is it to get Lennie out of trouble because he cannot stay out of it by himself (158) while Lennie "desires only to live on a ranch with George and tend rabbits" as Tetsumaro Hayashi adds (Dictionary 173). These rabbits symbolize the wish for a safe place, according to Peter Lisca, who is a specialist on symbolism in Steinbeck's novels (135-136). Out of the two desires, the so-called "land dream" develops, which is another "central theme in the story" according to Hadella (147). Goldburst calls the envisioned farm a place of "abundance and refuge from the hardship of life" (49). And a few lines later, he openly states, "George and Lennie want to retreat and live in Eden" (56), thereby linking the "land dream" with the desire for a terrestrial Eden. And even Douthat confirms that "the entire novel is concerned with an Eden-like vision treasured by Lennie and George" (3).

Another part of the strategy of George and Lennie is the act of staying together, forming their own limited community of mutual dependency. Now, the question comes up as to why they actually stick together because George repeatedly yells at Lennie telling him, "When I think of the swell time I would have without you, I go nuts" (Steinbeck 18). Also both are considered to be lonely characters. Is there not something contradictory in these last lines? No, not at all. Several authors such as Shurgot state that, despite George's wish for total independence, there is no other way for him as to remain with his partner because he "needs Lennie" (41). In brief, he has no other choice because George requires Lennie to keep the dream alive and to give him, a man who, according to John Steele, really stands on one of the lowest ranks in his society, some kind of feeling of superiority (15). On the other hand, Lennie needs George as a guide and protector because as Astro says, "Primitives "¦ cannot survive in the modern world" (108). One can see this by noting the necessity of George taking care of Lennie. There are moments in the story in which George praises Lennie with the words "Hell of a nice fella" (Steinbeck 48) and does his best to protect him from harm, for instance, by saying, "Somebody would shoot you "¦ if you was by yourself. No you stay with me" (Steinbeck 19). As a result, one can easily agree with Hadella's statement that "George needs Lennie as much as Lennie needs George" (153). Given George's statement that he and Lennie "kind a look after each other" (Steinbeck 48), one can conclude that through this tactic they develop a symbiosis which Lisca calls "incredible" as they dream of a terrestrial Eden (191).

The Eden-dream not only affects the lives of George and Lennie but also the lives of some of the other farm workers who wish to be involved in this highly attractive dream because "the alternative to the George-Lennie-companionship is Aloneness" in Goldburst's opinion (52). This dream is "powerful enough to keep them going and to attract other men" according to Douthat (3). For "the lonely Candy "¦ who seems pitifully eager to join the other men in their paradise," George and Lennie are his last chance to find a satisfying place where he could spend the rest of his life (Douthat 5). And for Crooks, whose "plan is to find a place of "¦ [his] own," George and Lennie's idea makes him "hungry to share" the dream of a terrestrial Eden according to Loftis (43). Thus, it is evident that the shared dream of a terrestrial Eden overcomes loneliness as people gather and form a kind of community in order to talk about it.

By considering those characters that wish to be included in some kind of a community, another crucial feature of such a community becomes evident: Steinbeck's novel Of Mice and Men contains only companionships that are "defined in exclusively male terms" as Douthat stresses it (6). Several writers say that the male relationship is something typical for John Steinbeck. For instance, Lisca points out that "in Steinbeck's works, it is very seldom that boy meets girl, instead, man meets man" (206). And even George states that a "ranch with a bunch of guys on it aren't no place for a girl, specially like her [Curley's wife]" (Steinbeck 68).

For John Steinbeck this "girl" is a representative of all females. Moreover, it is the actions of such a female that caused the destruction of Eden as well as the dream of it in Of Mice and Men.

A typical feature of John Steinbeck's work is the negative influence of his women. In this sense, by describing fatal female actions' Genesis seems to have inspired him. Given that Eve convinces Adam to eat from the tree of knowledge thereby sealing mankind's fate, one can assume that the consequences of Curley's wife's actions in the novel will be similar to those of Eve. And, indeed, as Douthat says, it is "Curley's wife [who], like Eve in the original Eden myth, leads to the destruction of [the] paradise" of man, in this case the one of George and Lennie (4). As if to stress the negative effect of women, Steinbeck integrates another incident into Of Mice and Men. A story is told by George who mentions that Andy Cushman is " "˜in San Quention right now on account of a tart.' [Just] as an anonymous tart was responsible for Andy Cushman's fate, so Curley's wife, whom Candy describes as a "˜tart' in section two, will be responsible" for the destruction of the dream of Eden in the opinion of Shurgot (43). (One is reminded by Spilka that "it is no accident, that [The Grapes of Wrath] begins with the return of "¦ Tom Joad, imprisoned for an almost pointless crime involving" a woman (67).) Hayashi, having published and edited over twelve books on John Steinbeck, states that "women "¦ are a biological trap for Steinbeck's characters" (A New Study 143-144). And in Of Mice and Men George calls "Curley's wife a "˜rat-trap' " (Hayashi, A New Study 143). Furthermore, "George "¦ [calls] Curley's wife a bitch [and] a piece of jail bait" as Spilka shows it (64). By now, it should be clear, as Hadella puts it, that "George despises Curley's wife" (153) for two reasons: First of all, she gives every man "the eye"; second of all, he sees that she is the one element that can ruin his and Lennie's dream (Steinbeck 39). Along with this, Spilka, states that there are even some situations in which George is "about to strike her for threatening the friendship dream" of Eden (64).

Still, one should not condemn Curley's wife and see her as malevolent. Instead, there are several grounds for her behavior, despite the fact that, by inadvertently threatening the dream of George and Lennie, she causes disaster. The most important reason for her behavior is that she, too, is a lonely character. It is no accident that Douthat says that Curley's wife's "loneliness is a threat" to George and Lennie (6). Throughout the novel, Curley's wife looks "for some kind of human contact" (Loftis 42) in "an all male world" (Douthat 1). Thus, according to Loftis, Curley's wife has to play "the vamp" (42). This means that she tries to be sexually attractive to every man on the Soledad farm in order to get at least some degree of attention. By doing so, Douthat states that she "is the indirect cause of the novel's tragic end" (1). Yet one should be aware of the fact that Curley's wife is also "a victim" of a patriarchal society according to Gratzke (170).

Nevertheless, French says, "we cannot sympathize with the girl" (DiscLit 90) because "Steinbeck "¦ has chosen [her] as the force in migrant life which undermine[s] the friendship dream" (Spilka 63). Should Spilka's comment about Curley's wife's actions be accurate, one cannot disguise the fact that Lennie too is kind of responsible for the downfall of the Eden dream. On a warm summer day Curley's wife and Lennie meet in a barn. Curley's wife starts to talk to Lennie because she sees in him a listener to whom she can open up. While she talks Lennie, fascinated by her hair, wants to touch it. But because of his uncontrollable strength he hurts Curley's wife who shows her panic by yelling around. In return, Lennie starts to lose his nerves because he fears that George might hear her. And if this is going to happen Lennie knows that he will be in big trouble. So he roars at her, "I don't want you to yell. You gonna get me in trouble"¦Don't you go yelling" while at the same time he puts his hands over her mouth as well as around her head and shakes her (Steinbeck 115). She dies of this treatment, and with this it is clear that Curley's wife fulfilled her purpose as the femme fatale (Gratzke 170) in Steinbeck's novel because with her death, the dream of Eden dies as well. As soon as Curley finds out what Lennie has done, he looks for him. But George finds him first, at the river where, at the beginning of the novel, George and Lennie first verbalized their dream of a terrestrial Eden. When he finds Lennie, he lets him re-enter their Eden-vision and "shoots him in an act of kindness" according to Astro so that Curley will not harm Lennie (105). In addition, with this action George guarantees that at least "on one level the vision is accomplished" as Lisca points out (136). That means that Lennie is so caught up in the vision of the Eden-dream that he dies with an envisioned picture of Eden in his mind. Thus, for him the dream never collapses. After shooting Lennie, George "throws the gun on the ashes of their old campfire [which by now contains] the ashes of [the] dream" (Steele 16). This last symbolic action shows that for George the dream fails to become reality. As Howard Levant says, "Their ideal of the farm vanishes with Lennie's death" (143). Now George has his total independence that he wished for sometimes. The problem is that now there is no longer a direction or a meaning to his life. And French restates that through this tragedy "the dream that has given George's own life a direction and meaning" is shattered as well as his future (DiscLit 90). He probably will start drinking and enter the "cat house" like every other lonely guy in Steinbeck's world does (Steinbeck 119). In French's opinion, George has been reduced to "an ordinary guy" (75). Now, George "is obliged to acknowledge what Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman "¦ could never acknowledge "¦ his own mediocrity" (French 75-76). This state of middling quality as well as the collapsed dream are the legacy of the fatal encounter between Lennie and Curley's wife.

However, the deaths of Curley's wife and Lennie have a wider effect. At one point in Of Mice and Men Candy begs George, "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?" (Steinbeck 118). But before George can reply, Candy drops his head and looks down at the hay. He already knows the answer. George refuses to continue to pursue the fulfilment of the dream together with Candy. The reason is that it was Lennie who was the factor "to keep the dream alive" as French has shown (76). Because of their childhood that both men spent together a special bond of friendship could have been established between them. And if one considers the symbiosis between them one will be able to see that Lennie was such an essential part of George's life that George cannot replace Lennie by just taking someone else. With Lennie's death once more everyone will be lonely again, for the binding forces of a community of men are broken. In addition, a second expulsion from paradise has occurred because, like Douthat points out, "the illusion [of Eden is] "¦ destroyed" (3).

As a result, one can conclude that Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck suggests that women are one of the key factors that prevent the possibility of recreating a terrestrial Eden that might temporarily arise through male comradeship. Yet Steinbeck is not a misogynist; one has to be aware of the fact that women do not destroy dreams on purpose. Above all, in the novel Of Mice and Men Steinbeck has portrayed, on the one hand, the fact that "the isolation of individuals in our modern society still persists", and, on the other hand, according to Hadella, that "some people [still] have little else but dreams" in order to endure their lives (149).

Works Cited Astro, Richard. John Steinbeck and Edward F. Ricketts. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1973.

Benson, Jackson J., ed. The Short Novels of John Steinbeck. Durham and London: Duke UP, 1990.

Douthat, Ross. "Of Mice and Men." 1999-2000. iTurf Inc., February 2001. .

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- - -. John Steinbeck. New York: U of Florida P, 1961.

Goldburst, William. "Of Mice and Men: John Steinbeck's Parable of the Curse of Cain." Benson, 48-59.

Hadella, Charlotte. "Of Mice and Men." A New Study Guide to Steinbeck's Major Works with Critical Explications. Ed. Tetsumaro Hayashi. Metuchen: Scarecrow P, 1993. 139-163.

Hayashi, Tetsumaro, ed. John Steinbeck: A Dictionary of His Fictional Characters. Metuchen: Scarecrow P, 1976.

Levant, Howard. The Novels of John Steinbeck. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1975.

Lisca, Peter. The Wide World of John Steinbeck. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1958.

Loftis, Anna. "A [sic] Historical Introduction to Of Mice and Men." Benson, 39-47.

Shurgot, Michael W. "A Game of Cards in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men." Steinbeck Quarterly 15 (Winter-Spring 1982): 39-43.

Spilka, Mark. "Of George and Lennie and Curley's Wife: Sweet Violence in Steinbeck's Eden." Benson, 59-70.

Steele, John. "A Century of Idiots: Barnaby Rudge and Of Mice and Men." Steinbeck Quarterly 5 (Winter 1972): 8-17.

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