Jamal Johnson 6/2/01Psych & LitMrs. Perkusic
The novel Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck, tells the story of two
men struggling to keep normal lives. George, a medium-sized and smart-
witted man, takes care his travel companion Lenny since Lenny’s Aunt Clara
had died. Lenny, in contrast to George, is a sweet, caring, yet retarded,
large man, who cannot survive on his own and has an uncontrollable
strength. This main characteristic of uncontrollable strength leads Lenny
and George into much trouble in the story.
The author depicts an important detail in the beginning of the story
that foreshadows the downfall of Lenny. Lenny has a liking for furry
objects, such as puppies and mice, and he likes to pet them. The story
begins with George and Lenny traveling and looking for a new job because
Lenny had been accused of sexual harassment in the previous job he had. The
two men end up in California where they reach a farm. Curly, the owner of
the farm, hires both Lenny and George. During their time working on the
farm they both make new friends and enemies. Curly develops a hatred for
Lenny because he sees Lenny as a stupid man who cannot stand up for
himself. Curly also dislikes George because Curly’s wife, who remains
unnamed throughout out the story, flirts with the two men.
In the end, once again, Lenny manages to work himself into some more
trouble. He accidentally snaps Curly’s wife’s neck as he was “petting” her
hair. This infuriates Curly, so Curly sends a hunting party to kill Lenny.
Out of love and with regret, George ends Lenny’s misery before Curly does
by shooting Lenny in the head.
As a childishly simple retarded man, Lenny’s characteristics can
relate to Erik Erickson’s “eight ages of man”. According to Erickson, Lenny
falls under two categories: “Autonomy versus shame and doubt” and “Iniative
In “Autonomy versus shame and doubt,” the characteristics of a child
within the first three years are discussed. This includes the child’s
physical growth and his or her escalating contact with his or her
environment. They learn to control their everyday functions, such as
walking and holding onto things. Lenny pertains to this grouping because he
is an adult yet he still needs to be taught certain things or is needed to
be reminded of things in order to develop adult skills. He is still
learning the basics at his age.
Lenny can also be seen in the category in the group of Initiative
versus guilt. This category explains how the child, from ages three to six,
is learning to take on small responsibilities and challenges. Also, at this
stage, the child may feel a sense of unworthiness, guilt, or resentment if
he/she is does not learn the skills needed to be acquired at his age.
Lenny’s challenge was to keep a job without doing something wrong for once.
He also needed to learn how deal with the men working on the farm who did
not like him. He didn’t understand the adults and know how to relate to
them. Everyone else’s social skills were far beyond of those skills he
possessed. His mind was too rudimentary for the adults. Because of the
injustice some of men on the farm had hurt Lenny’s ego. As a result of
this, Lenny becomes more frustrated and confused.
Today, if a retarded man committed a murder should he be charged as a
sane, full-functioning human being? If Erik Erickson were asked this
question most likely he would have said no depending on the mental age of
the person being committed. According to Erickson Lenny’s mental age would
have been around five years old. The reason for this is that Erickson
believes that between ages three and six a person is learning to take on
small responsibilities and challenges which Lenny surely experiences.
Since the story is focused on Lenny, he basically makes up the story.
Lenny gives the book a mood of sadness and a sense of realism because
people like Lenny exist today. They struggle in their everyday lives trying
to understand the world around them. They are blinded do to their
undeveloped mind and they die with the lack of knowledge about life or the
experience of life.