Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men: ‘Now what the hell ya suppose is eatin’ them two guys?’

Steinbeck’s novel ends with Carlson(and Curley)  looking after the departure of George and Slim, completely unaware of the magnitude of what has just happened. ‘No w what the hell ya suppose is eatin’ them two guys?‘ Carlson’s incredulous insensitivity is foregrounded by Steinbeck as it gives lasting testament to the  indifference and cruelty of the lives of itinerant workers on ranches at that time. Slim’s awareness of George’s intensely difficult decision to execute his friend Lennie humanely,  in order to prevent a lynching,  gives readers hope of some supportive friendship for George. Slim symbolically helps George by the elbow and leads him ‘up’  towards the ‘highway’ suggesting a positive change for the devastated George. An equal friendship has been formed. This cements it. Perhpas there can be hope in a world riddled in lost dreams and quiet despair.  However Steinbeck does not let Slim’s compassion alter the emotionally arid setting of the novel. This is the dust bowl in every sense:the way of life is bleak and without joy and the workers seem hardened and isolated- imaginatively limited  and resigned to selfish self preservation. Thus Carlson’s bemused question at the end of the narrative leaves the reader in no doubt as to the emotional/moral limitations of most of his characters. Compassion is something to be wondered at almost as if it is aberrant behaviour, something beyond the underst
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