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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

Mary Wilson’s Formal Blog Post on Of Mice and Men

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“Crooks said, “I didn’t mean to scare you.  He’ll come back.  I was talkin’ about myself.  A guy sets alone here at night, maybe reading books or thinking or stuff like that.  Sometimes he gets thinking, and he got nothing to tell him what’s so and what ain’t so.  Maybe if he sees something, he don’t know whether it’s right or not.  He can’t turn to some other guy and ast him if he sees it too.  He can’t tell. He got nothing to measure by.””

In Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck creates a situation in which his disabled characters, Lennie and Crooks, are able to connect with one another by sharing past experiences and future ambitions.  By juxtaposing Lennie, a cognitively disabled character, with Crooks, who is considered physically and racially abnormal, Steinbeck offers a perspective on disability which, while laden with certain stereotypes such as infantilization and the evocation of pity, is somewhat progressive in nature.
Cleary, the characterization of Lennie during the Crooks encounter heavily relies upon infantilization.  For instance, while Crooks explains his past to Lennie in a pessimistic style, Lennie seems too fixated upon his dreams and future aspirations about owning land/raising rabbits to directly respond.  While this frustrates Crooks initially, he soon finds comfort in the fact that he could tell Lennie anything and he “wouldn’t remember it anyways.”  Interestingly, while Lennie is infantilized, his child-like mind creates trustworthiness of character.  This is a direct contrast to the prevailing societal view of the cognitively disabled at the time, which was that they are somehow spiritually deviant and not to be trusted.  Thus, while Steinbeck’s infantilization of Lennie is somewhat problematic because of its stereotypical nature, it can also be seen as progressive due to how it enables his character to gain the trust of others, particularly Crooks.
Steinbeck also employs the evocation of pity during the scene between Crooks and Lennie.  For example, when Crooks initially decides to play with Lennie and asks him to suppose what might happen to George during his absence, Lennie’s dramatic and emotional response evokes sympathy from the audience, who also fears what Lennie’s future may hold without George to protect and care for him.  Crooks then goes on to elaborate on his past and current situations,  both of which display themes of  isolation and loneliness that serve to evoke pity.  It is noteworthy that while the pity felt for Lenny stems mainly from his co-dependency on another, the pity that readers feel for Crooks is the result of his complete independence from others.  This juxtaposition, then,  is somewhat enabling in that it shows how the disabled can not be uniformly pitied for any one particular reason.
A final important aspect of the interaction between Lennie and Crooks occurs when Crooks explains how the loneliness he experiences causes him to question his reality.  As illustrated in the quote above, Crooks often sees or hears things that he is unable to determine the origin or nature of due to the fact that he has no companions to offer their viewpoints.  This situation, while clearly evoking pity from readers, also calls into question the origins of mental disability itself.  While Crooks’ physical disability is evidently not created by society (or lack thereof), his mental well-being has clearly degraded as a result of confinement.  As seen in other readings, such as Jane Eyre and The Yellow Wallpaper, the experience of isolation causes madness in the character that otherwise may not have developed.  Crooks’ story, then, offers an extremely progressive view on mental disability as a disease which is not only socially constructed, but often socially created.

Written by mwilson11

October 8th, 2010 at 11:38 am

Julianna Truslow’s Formal Blog Post on John Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men

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“God a’mighty, if I was alone I could live so easy.  I could go get a job an’ work, an’ no trouble.  No mess at all, and when the end of the month come I could take my fifty bucks and go into town and get whatever I want.  Why, I could stay in a cat house all night.  I could eat any place I want, hotel or any place, and order any damn thing I could think of.  An’ I could do all that every damn month.  Get a gallon of whisky, or set in a pool room and play cards or shoot pool.”  Lennie knelt and looked over the fire at the angry George.  And Lennie’s face was drawn with terror.  “An’ whatta I got,” George went on furiously.  “I got you! You can’t keep a job and you lose me ever’ job I get.  Jus’ keep me shovin’ all over the country all the time.  An’ that ain’t the worst.  You get in trouble.  You do bad things and I got to get you out.”  His voice rose nearly to a shout.  “You crazy son-of-a-bitch.  You keep me in hot water all the time.”

Of Mice and Men

Even though in this passage George is putting down Lennie for being so troublesome, George does not truly feel this way about Lennie.  What George really wants is not just a road companion, but someone he can actually do enjoyable things with as well.  George really feels bad for Lennie since he doesn’t understand and isn’t capable of doing the things men his age typically do and society won’t let him.  George does not pity himself missing out on things as much as he pities Lennie missing out on things.

George starts out by listing all the things that he can take part in as a man, but Lennie cannot.  George feels sorry for Lennie that he cannot enjoy the things in life that George can.  This is because Lennie very much still has the rationality of a child and does not understand certain parts of life such as staying all night in the “cat house”.  Another reason George cannot take Lennie along into town to eat in a restaurant or stay in a hotel is due to the fact that when Lennie is put in front of someone new, that someone misjudges Lennie because of his mental disability.  This is seen time and again as he is introduced to new characters within the novel.  George has to continually explain how Lennie has the mind of a child and therefore is ignorant, but not harmful to society (which is ironic).

In the second half of George’s tantrum, George is angry at society and pities the way they see and treat Lennie.  Up to this point in Lennie’s life, he has yet to harm any person, however he has accidently killed numerous mice.  So people have no logical reason to be afraid of Lennie, and yet they are.  It is possible that because Lennie does not understand his own strength, they could be afraid of this if it was ever showcased.  Society is scared of a possibility of a deadly outburst of strength.  Society has forced Lennie to become a self-fulfilling prophesy.  Realistically, people in their past barred themselves off from Lennie because his mental capacity is different.  People in the world do not like to see deviances from the normal so it makes sense that Lennie and George were never able to stay somewhere long.  At the same time, George seems to on occasion misjudge how people are going to react to Lennie and is always on the defensive for that reason.

George is upset that society is unable to accept Lennie the way he is.  Lennie does not have the normal level of brain development, but his brain is still normal.  He thinks in a normal way, but it is more equivalent to a child than it is an adult.  Due to this childlike understanding of the world around him, Lennie is forced to miss out on adult things in life around him not only because of his mental limitations, but also society’s limitations.

Word Count: 486

Written by Julianna Truslow

October 6th, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Matthew Blakley’s Formal Post on John Steinback’s Of Mice and Men

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“Lennie turned his head and looked off across the pool and up the darkening slopes of the Gabilans. “We gonna get a little place,” George began. He reached in his side pocket and brought out Carlson’s Luger; he snapped off the safety, and the hand and gun lay on the ground behind Lennie’s back. He looked at the back of Lennie’s head, at the place where the spine and skull were joined” (100).

Preceding Lennie’s murder, George—while holding Carlson’s Luger—is successful in distracting Lennie with their “fatta the lan’” fantasy. Personally, ambiguity arose throughout the text regarding this plan, because the reader is lead to believe that it is both Lennie and George’s fantasy to have their own land (or life, really). But when such fantasy is used to mesmerize and ultimately become a distraction from Lennie’s death, it is clear that while the success story would create a better life for these nomads, George has really been using it as a mechanism to manipulate and/or alter Lennie’s actions. We see this control from the very beginning of the text when Lennie asks George, “how I get to tend the rabbits,” or, always stricken with anxiety, he repeatedly says things like, “[George] said if I done any more bad things he ain’t gunna let me tend no rabbits now” (16, 83).

It is obvious that though George may care for Lennie, an unhealthy codependent relationship has emerged because Lennie sees George as a God-like figure that controls his fate, and George sees Lennie as a child-like or disabled figure in need of a positive reinforcement system. Lennie’s mental disability is often denounced as him being “jus’ like a big baby,” or like a child (86). However, although their co-dependence is inherently disadvantaging both characters, the relationship is very altruistic. Lennie needs George to create a fantasy that euphemistically sustains his life and George needs Lennie to use as a bargaining tool for employment eligibility. And thus, if you apply this altruistic lens to the text’s ending, both characters get exactly what they want—because of Lennie, George has somewhat steady employment, and because of George, Lennie dies living in his unrealistic fantasy.

With this said, in the end, I offer that Lennie actually kills himself. Though it be unfair seeing as George pulled the trigger, it is Lennie’s lack of self-agency and “dutiful” obedience to George that ultimately murders him. I am tempted to say that Lennie’s mental disability is what kills him, but it would be generalizing, or stereotyping, people with mental disabilities as acting childlike or codependent. Here, I’m aligning these characteristics purely to Lennie’s personality, not his disability. This theme of absent self-agency is actually seen in this text before, with Curley’s wife’s death. Although Curley’s wife’s agency is essentially taken against her will, finally, her death lies in a crossfire between isolation and the fantasy that she “coulda been in the movies . . .” (84).

Written by Matthew

October 6th, 2010 at 4:59 pm