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Allison’s Class Summary for October 8

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To start the day off, Katherine and Jessica brought their new puppy Volta to show Dr. Foss (which he enjoyed meeting). As Volta left, I found it ironic that puppies were a part of the novella Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Before we started, Dr. Foss said it was going to be laid back kind of day for our class, and that he hoped to end the class a little early. He reminded everyone that there should be no problem with the online quizzes, and he’s ready to draw the line about anyone missing them. After announcements, we went right into the day’s class meeting prompts. Dr. Foss asked us to get into small groups to talk about the first three prompts to Of Mice and Men which focused on Lennie. Afterward, we would come together to talk about other disabled characters. Throughout the prompts, he asked us to think about if Steinbeck invited readers to critique looking at the disabled, and how. Steinbeck did invite the readers to critique disability by looking at the treatment between the disabled and nondisabled. Though most of the characters were in the lower class, Lennie, Crooks, and Candy, were treated differently by their nondisabled peers due to their disability.

One of our first discussions in the small group was the first prompt, which looked at how we (the readers) characterized Steinbeck’s representation of Lennie’s disability. Obviously, Lennie had a mental disability (or as the flap of the book suggested, ‘simple minded.’) One group member said that Lennie, from the way they read it, had a linear mind because he didn’t express any opinions or emotions, but instead, repeated what everyone said to him. When Lennie tried to say something, George silenced him. When George silenced Lennie’s voice, he didn’t object. This made George the superior one manipulating Lenny’s appearance by advertising him. By advertising him, Lennie became a machine. Lennie always talked about their dream, but George would warn him not to do anything bad. When Lennie obeyed, George would say, “Good boy! That’s fine, Lennie! Maybe you’re gettin’ better.” (14) George talked to Lennie as if he was a misbehaved child. Because Lennie stuck with George, he wanted George to tell him what to do. When Curley tried to fight Lennie, some of his childish characteristics came out (putting his hands over his face). It wasn’t until George told him to “get him.” Lennie obeyed and crushed Curley’s hand.  

The second prompt talked about George and Lennie’s relationship and whether it was a good one. Their relationship could be compared to Victor and the Creature from Shelley’s Frankenstein. George and Lennie’s had more of a brotherly bond, while Victor and the Creature have a fatherly-son bond. George felt guilt towards Lennie, but always took advantage of him, while Victor felt disgusted by the Creature. Lennie was simple minded and didn’t know his own strength. The Creature was well educated and knew what he could do; creating cause (he’s evil because he’s physically disabled). George wasn’t afraid of Lennie, and controlled him. Victor feared the Creature’s appearance. To me, George and Lennie’s relationship wasn’t good because George turned Lennie into a machine, treated him like a child, and tried to hide his disability. However, my group members disagreed. They believed that the relationship was altruistic and symbiotic because they both influenced one another. They used Lennie’s, “If you don want me I can go off in the hills an’ find a cave.” (12)  They argued that George alone could have no control because he would just be George, and therefore have no friend or puppet. Even though George complained about how his life would be easier without Lennie, he couldn’t leave him because he felt guilty. They also argued that unlike Victor and the Creature, both Lennie and George were from the lower class, and no hierarchies were between them, which made the “bond” stronger. However, “aesthetic nervousness” is still presented throughout the text, including tension between the characters and the readers because, “…aesthetic nervousness overlaps social justices to disability that themselves often remain unexamined in their prejudice and bias.” (15) When the nondisabled reader looked at Lennie, they noticed lots of cover ups, from George telling him to behave, to Slim trying to forget about Lennie crushing Curley’s hand. The readers hoped that he wouldn’t do anything out of the norm. However, Lennie brought the reader into a reality check when he killed the puppies and Curley’s wife.

The third prompt asked whether we thought about the ending of the novella and whether we bemoan Lennie’s fate while accepting that there’s no place for him. My group mates and I agreed that we couldn’t really bemoan him because he died due to his fantasy. He kept living in a dream by petting anything tactile (which could also represent his child image). When he petted anything soft, he dreamed of petting the rabbits. We do however question whether George did the ethical thing in shooting Lennie. George had no one to turn to because everyone was against them. He had nowhere to turn, but was Lennie no use to him anymore? Perhaps there were social factors (Slim and Carlson, two nondisabled figures) influencing him to detach himself from Lennie by the memory of Candy and his dog.  

When we came back together, we talked about the other disabled characters, and how the nondisabled marginalized them. Candy’s disability was old age, Lennie’s disability was cognitive, Crooks had a physical disability and Curley’s wife was disabled due to being a dependent female. Building on to issue disability was race. Crooks not only had a crooked back, but was also black. Lennie could hide his disability, but Crooks couldn’t. The discussion then turned to the use of the “n” word and what it might have implied. It was exciting because we talked about it the other day in my African American Literature class, discussing how reclaiming the “n” word could still work against one because of its past use and meaning. We questioned whether Steinbeck did this for a reason whether it was supposed to enlighten us. Some argued that it really didn’t have any meaning. It was just what people said. However, being the English majors we are, we like to add ideas to the “n” words and what it might mean for them from the past to today. Some would like to forget those words, but Curley’s wife brought back reality when she said to Crooks, “You know what I can do?” (76) The “n” word, the “r” word, the “c” word, no matter if it’s a good or bad meaning, will still classify someone according to their appearance, therefore separating them from everyone else.  

Before class ended, we wrapped it up by talking about how there are still division within minority groups or classes today. Crooks now have a group to back him up, but there are still not a lot of people defending Lennie’s position. Robert pointed out that the division was just like the show Glee, where a black girl and a gay guy were grouped together because of their “otherness.” We were left to ponder whether these were dynamics between the different images we looked at, or if were those dynamics the same. No matter what, the nondisabled characters in the book had the power to shape the reader’s perception of the disabled character by pointing out their defects.

Word Count: 1,241

Written by library1288

October 15th, 2010 at 9:27 am