Of Mice and Men
John Steinbeck
Contributed by Joslyn Justiniano
Section 5
Summary

From Lennie stroking his dead puppy in the barn to Curley leading a mob of men to find and kill Lennie

Lennie is alone in the barn on a Sunday afternoon. He is sitting in the hay, stroking his dead puppy’s body. He is asking it why it died, saying “You ain’t so little as mice. I didn’t bounce you hard.” Concerned that George could be angry and will decide not to let him have rabbits on their farm, he begins hiding it in the hay. He plans to say that he discovered it dead but quickly realizes that George will know he’s lying. He feels frustrated, and he curses the puppy for dying. He throws it across the room. Shortly after that, Lennie goes to get the puppy back and continues stroking it. He hopes that George won’t care, as the puppy wasn’t his.

While Lennie is still talking to himself, Curley’s wife comes in. She sits down beside him. He quickly hides the puppy’s body and he says that George instructed him not to talk to her. She assures him that it is perfectly safe to speak to her, stating that the other men are having a horseshoe tournament outside and so they won’t be interrupted. She sees the dead puppy and consoles him about losing his pet, saying that “the whole country is fulla mutts.” She goes on to complain about how lonely she is and how cold the ranch-hands are to her. She confides in Lennie about her dreams of a different life. She says that her mother wouldn’t allow her to join a traveling show when she was fifteen years old. Several years later, she was spotted by a talent scout who wanted to become a Hollywood star. Nothing ended up coming of it, though, and she opted to marry Curley. She dislikes him.

Lennie keeps on talking about rabbits. Curley’s wife asks why he loves animals as much as he does. Lennie explains he likes touching soft things. She tells him she enjoys the same thing, and tells him he can stroke her hair. She warns him that she doesn’t want him to make it messy. However, his enthusiasm leads him to hold her hair too tightly, making the woman frightened. Lennie panics when she cries out. He puts his hand over her mouth, trying to make her quiet. She struggles, and his grip becomes tighter. He shakes her, and her body becomes limp. He has accidentally broken her neck.

In his panic, Lennie tries to conceal Curley’s wife in the hay. He is mainly worried about George being angry with him. Lennie grabs the puppy’s body, and he flees in the direction of the meeting place that George designated at the beginning of the story, which is at the clearing in the woods. Candy arrives looking for Lennie, and he discovers the body. He summons George, who immediately understands what must have happened. George says he hopes that Lennie will just be put in prison and treated decently. However, Candy declares that Curley is certain to set a lynch mob on him. Candy asks if he and George will still be able to purchase the farm, but he reads from George’s face that this will be impossible. George quietly states that he believes he’s always known that the dream would never come true, but as Lennie loved the idea so much, he had begun to believe in it himself.

George is concerned that the other men will assume that he was involved in the death of Curley’s wife, and he tells Candy how to inform them. George will act surprised when Candy tells him the news of the body being found, pretending that he has not already seen it. George leaves, and Candy curses the dead woman for destroying the chance of the dream of their own farm coming true. He soon sets out to tell the rest of the ranch what has happened, with his eyes full of tears. Many people soon gather. George arrives last, wearing his coat buttoned up. Curley orders them to find and kill Lennie. Carlson declares that the gun is missing, and he thinks that Lennie must have stolen it. Curley tells him to go get Crooks’s shotgun. The lynch mob leaves to find Lennie.

Analysis

The scene in which Curley’s wife will die starts in an ominous way. Lennie is holding the dead puppy, stroking it in a way similar to how he did the dead mouse earlier in the book. All the optimistic hopes for the future that the men had cherished would now be destroyed as Lennie’s capacity for inadvertently causing harm again comes to the surface. The reader gets the sense that something terrible is about to happen when Curley’s wife appears and wants to chat with Lennie.

It can be argued that this chapter’s most important development is in the author’s depiction of Curley’s wife. Before this section of the book, readers could have dismissed the idea that she has value as readily as George does. She exposes the fact that she is a manipulator and a flirt. Yet right before her death, Steinbeck is sympathetic in his depiction of the book’s only significant female character. The scene’s focus becomes her loneliness and unhappiness, and she confides in Lennie that she has her own ideas of paradise that are cut off to her because of circumstances. She wishes she had become a movie star, and this has similarity to the men’s dream of the farm. Both dreams are hopes that characters desperately hold onto in the fact of cruel reality.

Like Crooks, Curley’s wife appears to sense that Lennie’s inability to understand things means that she can tell him almost anything. She is able to tell him about how unhappy she is in her marriage, as well as her unfulfilled dreams of being a movie star in “a passion of communication.” Sadly, she doesn’t see the danger of Lennie. Her decision to comfort him about losing his puppy by allowing him to touch her hair leads to her death. It is possible to object to the author’s description of the woman’s corpse, as it seems only when she’s dead that he allows her to have the slightest bit of virtue. He writes that her face is finally free of the marks of unhappiness, and that she now appears “pretty and simple…sweet and young.” There is a great deal in this novella that maligns women, and there is a lot of attention paid to what are believed to be their seductive and troublesome natures. This is why it is disturbing that Steinbeck appears to make the subtle implication that death is the only way a woman can transcend their nature and regain their innocence.

When Lennie flees from the barn, the narrative’s focus shifts to George. George realizes what has happened, and the painful actions he must take become clear in his mind. Similar to the scene involving Candy’s dog, Slim is the voice of reason. He makes it understood that Lennie’s best option now would be to be killed quickly. George knows that if he doesn’t kill Lennie himself, he’ll have to see his friend be attached by a lynch mob. It is this realization that causes him to realize the dream of the farm and a happy life are entirely unobtainable. Candy still clings to hope, and he asks George if it’s still possible they will ever be able to purchase the farm. George’s response shows great insight. We find this difficult and unjust world leaves no room for dreams.

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