Of Mice and Men

How does Steinbeck allow the reader to see what is in Lennie’s mind? How do you interpret Lennie’s hallucinations?

Section 6: Of Mice and Men

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The content of Lennie's thoughts, and of Lennie and George's eventual conversation, also mirrors the opening. Lennie repeats the child-like, ritualistic cycle of separation and reconciliation that has seemingly marked his relationship with George for years. Once again he hears George complain that he could live it up if not for Lennie; once again he offers to leave George and live in the hills; once again he gets George to tell him about their rabbit utopia.

However, these similarities - the setting and the content - only ultimately emphasize how much has changed since the novel's opening. Where George was once full of life - angry and forgiving - now he is a husk of himself, bereft of emotion as he goes through his monologues. What was once a plausible - if far-fetched - fantasy has disintegrated into delusion. He knows what must happen, even as Lennie goes on believing in the rabbits. Whereas in Chapter One we see George and Lennie's "best laid plans," here in Chapter Six we have irrefutable evidence that, just as Robert Burns' poem predicts, these plans have gone awry.

Emphasizing the delusional nature of Lennie's point-of-view, Steinbeck adapts his one experimental narrative gesture in the novel, choosing to depict two hallucinations - first Aunt Clara, and then (more ludicrous still) a giant sardonic rabbit. It is unclear whether we are supposed to understand these hallucinations to be one-time phenomena or regularly recurring. (By the way, the reader may find it a bit unbelievable that this gentle giant, who everywhere else proves incapable of understanding figurative language, is able to imaginatively generate such colorful self-chastisements as "you ain't worth a greased jack-pin to ram you into hell" (112).)

Either way, Chapter Six represents our closest approach to Lennie's experience - his simultaneous fear and love of authority figures, his relentless obsession with the rabbits, and his constant (if confused) regret that he never fails to act in a confused and problematic way. Lennie, social pack animal that he is, has a deep-seated need for discipline and forgiveness. His self-chastisement is quite moving, both because it reveals a degree of self-understanding in Lennie and because it suggests that he is regularly and brutally upset with himself. His remorse hardly counts as a conscience - at no point does he register that he has committed murder, only that he has done yet another inscrutable "bad thing" - but it makes a claim on the reader's sympathy nevertheless.