Of Mice and Men

Dreams Deferred in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men College

In his famous poem “Harlem,” Langston Hughes raises the question, “What happens to a dream deferred?” (line 1), and goes on to offer several possibilities for the consequences of deferring one’s dreams—“Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun? / Or fester like a sore— / And then run?” (Hughes, lines 2-5). John Steinbeck’s 1937 novella Of Mice and Men presents an image that is the epitome of Hughes’ “dream deferred” and works to answer the question of what happens to such dreams. Set in Salinas, California during the Great Depression, the novella centers around the attempts of two farm laborers—George and his mentally handicapped companion, Lennie—to achieve their dream of owning a small farm and “liv[ing] on the fatta the lan’” (Steinbeck 56). Of Mice and Men is frequently read and criticized in the context of the Great Depression, as this is one of the primary forces at work within the story, and is therefore interpreted as a social criticism of both the American Dream and of the broken economic systems that make it impossible to realize. Such a reading is not incorrect; certainly, the Depression and the economic failures that accompanied it play an enormous role in the work. However, to read it only in this light is to...

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