Critical Essays Major Symbols



An allegory is a story that uses character types to represent specific ideas and create a universal message. In Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck uses his characters, locations, animal imagery, and a simple game of cards to demonstrate to his readers that most people dream about lives of great significance. But in reality, most humans' limitations keep these dreams from coming true, and in the long run, they are destined to experience common lives.


George and Lennie are the only two characters in the novel who are explained in any detail. The other characters are all "types," or people whom the reader might recognize as one of a certain group. Even the names of the characters, short and descriptive, say something about them. Lennie Small, for instance, is anything but small physically, and other characters seem to notice and comment on that. His brain is small and his ability to reason is small, but his body is huge and very powerful. Curley's wife has no name, indicating her powerless position on the ranch.

Each of the characters represents a kind of person in American society and often one that is a victim of discrimination. For example, Crooks represents a segment of American society that is discriminated against because of race; Curley's wife, because of gender; Candy, because of old age and physical handicap. Carlson is a perfect example of a selfish oaf, interested only in his creature comforts and oblivious to any one else's feelings. Slim is the consummate example of understanding and gentleness beneath a wise and experienced exterior. The pugnacious Curley is the little guy who loves to flaunt his power and status. Each of these minor characters impact, negatively or positively, Lennie and George's dream of having their own farm.


The pool described in the first paragraph of the novel is a place of sanctuary. Away from the world of humans, "the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green. The water is warm too, for it has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight before reaching the narrow pool." Steinbeck goes on to describe the "strong and rocky" Gabilan Mountains and the "golden foothill slopes." A gentle breeze and fresh, green willow trees line the pool. In this place of sanctuary, George and Lennie enjoy one last night before going in to the ranch. Here there are no voices, no "scary things" for Lennie, no hurry, and no concerns about work.

But the pool represents another kind of sanctuary. George asks Lennie if he can remember this place, especially since it is on the river, an easy sign for Lennie to follow. George repeats several times his directions to Lennie: "Lennie — if you jus' happen to get in trouble like you always done before, I want you to come right here an' hide in the brush … till I come for you." This is the place where Lennie can come and George can meet him and help him again as he did when Lennie got in trouble in Weed. If necessary, the pool will be their meeting place so they can get away once again. Later, when the doomed Lennie returns to the pool, he sadly repeats, "I di'n't forget, you bet. God damn. Hide in the brush an' wait for George." For Lennie, this is where George will make everything right, and he will be safe.

While this is also the place where Lennie's dream will die, it will do so with peace and tranquility, at least in Lennie's mind. When George describes the dream, later at this pool, the atmosphere of nature and its beauty obviously inspire his words. He tells Lennie, "You … an' me. Ever'body gonna be nice to you. Ain't gonna be no more trouble. Nobody gonna hurt nobody nor steal from @'em." Now this place has also become enmeshed in the retelling of the dream that will bring them better lives. And even though we know that the dream is retold here with another meaning for George, we also see that Lennie hears the story once again with eagerness in his voice and anticipation in his words. Here, in this beautiful place, George will save Lennie from the cruelty of Curley and help him die with his picture of their farm in his head.

Continued on next page...