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Lauren Harper
Mrs. Dill
English III
3 June 2015
Like a Distant Star Sending Signals ~John Steinbeck
A distant star does not command attention; however, through a stars greatness, it can
attract generations of life. John Steinbeck empowers his novels with the greatness of a star,
which allows them to educate men and women beyond his time. In Of Mice and Men, John
Steinbeck encourages his readers to end the social abuse toward marginalized people through his
many marginalized characters; thus, helping humans to understand their own humanity.
Steinbeck wrote in a 1938 journal entry: If you understand each other, you will be kind to each
other (Shmoop Editorial Team). Therefore, Steinbeck believes that education and social
awareness are the keys to social acceptance. The fearless writer, John Steinbeck, uses the novel
Of Mice and Men as a literary weapon to combat the social injustices committed against
marginalized people.
Steinbeck portrays the marginalized social group of the mentally handicapped through his
large, robust, and mentally disabled protagonist, Lennie Small. Literary critic Howard Levant
describes Lennie as a reduction of humanity to the lowest common denominatoran
exaggerated, allegorized instance of the division between mind and body (357). Thus, Lennie is
an animal, and Steinbeck is describing to his readers that the mentally disabled are treated like
animals daily. Steinbecks best quality in his novel Of Mice and Men is his ability to portray the
marginalization, and effectively describe social response to the mentally challenged.
Furthermore, Steinbeck makes his readers aware of the fear and stigma surrounding the mentally

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disabled. Steinbeck creates an unsettling feeling that surrounds his character Lennie by
portraying him as clumsy, careless, and powerful. Lennie kills the mice because, the reader is
told, they were too little, but in all actuality Lennie killed them in retaliation to the mouse biting
him or upsetting him in some way (Shmoop Editorial Team). Steinbeck is also creating
awareness of the truth behind the stigma; thus, Steinbeck is showing the reader that they need not
fear the mentally handicap, but to simply be aware of possible dilemmas and how to react to
them. By forcing the reader to understand Lennie Small, John Steinbeck creates empathy for the
mentally disabled rather than fear. The reader can easily forgive Lennie because of his childlike
demeanor, which Steinbeck deliberately uses to create an understanding of the mentally
challenged. Steinbeck understands that while intolerance begets intolerance, the choices of a[n]
understanding society can reduce the unnecessary fear and prejudice towards those otherwise
marginalized and shunned (Disabilities, Illness 539). In careless and thoughtless
discrimination there is a strong, destructive power; however, through Steinbecks
characterization of Lennie, the reader becomes less careless with the discrimination of the
mentally disabled, and hopefully other marginalized groups such as the physically handicapped.
In Of Mice and Men, Candy symbolizes the marginalized group of the physically
handicapped and the aged. Candy is an elderly man who completes basic tasks around the ranch
in Soledad. Steinbeck first introduces the reader to Candy as a tall, stoop-shouldered old man...
[with] no hand (Steinbeck 20). Through Candy, Steinbeck also touches on the social issue of
ageism, which is the discrimination against members of society simply on the basis of their age.
Steinbeck advocates against ageism by creating awareness of the issue through the constant
derogatory comments towards Candy and his old, smelly dog. Candy also lost his arm in an
accident on the ranch rendering him (by stereotype) useless. Candy wants to belong to the group,

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as is obvious with Steinbecks running theme of loneliness, but as an old, disabled, and
marginalized man he is often misunderstood, devalued, and subjugated (Disabilities, Illness
535). To prove Candys desperation for acceptance into the microcosmic society, he grants
Carlson permission to kill his best friend, his dog. Thus, Steinbeck is trying to portray to the
reader the importance of accepting marginalized people into the society. Acceptance is the key to
an idealistic society, which includes all of the currently marginalized groups.
Society has marginalized different races for centuries, and Crooks is the embodiment of
all marginalized ethnic groups in Of Mice and Men. Crooks is the stable buck, or an older black
man that lives in the barn and works with the horses. Candy, who is above Crooks on the social
ladder because he is a white man, first describes Crooks: Ya see the stable bucks a niggergot
a crooked back where a horse kicked himboss gives him hell when hes mad (Steinbeck 20).
The boss is identified as a racist in the novel. The treatment of Crooks also identifies many of the
farm hands as racists. Discrimination due to race knows no bounds; even though, The Native
Americans, the Asian, the Chicano, and the African American components of American culture
compromise precious contributions to the unique voice of this country (Race and Prejudice
6). For example, Crooks reads more, and seems to be more intelligent than most of the farm
hands; however, the skin he was born with will forever place him below whites, that is, unless
society changes. Steinbeck wants his readers to understand that America has never been
homogenous, and thrives on diversities and the unprogrammed contributions of these diverse
ethnic groups (Race and Prejudice 6). Americans should, therefore, stop discriminating based
on ethnicity.

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In contradistinction, the black man, Crooks, is the most
marginalized person on the farm. His isolation is not existential,
but racial. Crooks inability to participate socially with white people
is emblematic of the pervasive racial segregation in America.
When Lennie inquires about his separateness, he responds, Cause
Im black. They play cards in there, but I cant play because Im
black. They say I stink. Well, I tell you, you all of you stink to me
([Steinbeck] 68). Further, he implies that although Lennie does not
fully belong to the more privileged group as a retarded person, he
still faces more prospects and holds a better position than Crooks.
(Lobodziec)

Black citizens are on the lowest rung of the social ladder. Steinbeck wants the reader to see
through Crooks eyes that Crooks is just the same as white man; thus, promoting equality.
Steinbeck also attempts to promote equality in society with women.
Curleys wife provides Steinbeck access to the social issue of misogyny. Curleys wife is
a marginalized woman who does not receive a name in the novel. In Of Mice and Men, male
supremacy is evident, the dependence of wives and children on their fathers, and legal
descent/inheritance through the male line in such a setup, males control most social power
(Vindication 507). However, keep in mind that Steinbeck uses these negative aspects to
advocate against this way of life. Curleys wife does not even want to be with Curley, she wants
to be in Hollywood; however, due to the inability of a woman to financially maintain herself, she
was forced to marry Curley. Women were also supposed to be the more delicate form of the

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human species and were encouraged to behave with childlike obedience, docility, gentleness,
and patience, and to exhibit sexual innocence through modestyPhysically they were to
cultivate bodily weakness (Vindication 507). Steinbeck describes that Curleys wife depends
on Curley for his familys wealth, and she has a weak structure to accommodate the customs of
the time. Thus, women, like all marginalized groups, lose their power and humanity in the novel
Of Mice and Men to advocate against the social injustices that are found in the world. Therefore,
Steinbeck is calling for a change in the world; however, not simply for women, but also for all
marginalized groups such as the impoverished.
Steinbeck portrays the marginalized social group of the homeless or impoverished
through the farm hands of the ranch. Steinbeck shows the readers that all of the farmhands are
poor and when they do have money, they waste it. Thus, Steinbeck is analyzing the stereotypes
associated with the homeless that assumes that poverty is a choice. The farm hands are all
impoverished, and if they did not work on the farm they would be homeless. Each worker in the
bunk house only needs one box for their belongings, which contains everything that they possess.
Therefore, Steinbeck is calling out for a change in for the working class, explaining that the
workers are exploited and suppressed. A persons social standing is entwined in their net
worthprejudice against the impoverished has supplanted the prejudice formerly generated by
the class system (Race and Prejudice 12). Within each marginalized group, there is further
separation between the haves and have-nots. Since, the farm hands are impoverished and
desperate for work they become expendable non humans to the powerful industrialists (Race
and Prejudice 12). The poor are marginalized, and in Of Mice and Men all migrant workers are
poor. However, the upper classes are not assisting the lower classes in anyway, which is why
Steinbeck wishes to see a change here.

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On the opposite end of the class system are the layers of wealth, and Steinbeck uses
Curley and his father to show the suppression of the marginalized groups from the
unmarginalized position. Curleys father is the owner of the ranch in Soledad, and he socially has
the highest standing on the farm, followed by his son Curley. Curley walks around the ranch with
his head in the clouds. He never has any real work, yet he can torment the workers. However,
when he pushes Lennie too far, his pride is crushedalong with his hand. Steinbeck portrays
social class discrimination and oppression[as] the harsh and sometimes dangerous conditions
faced by the poor (Race and Prejudice 14). Steinbeck shows (as a warning) in the scene
where Lennie crushes Curleys hand, the effects of extreme suppression and abuse on
marginalized groups, which in large numbers and with the support of others, are powerful.
Steinbeck knows that the literature of social class discrimination and oppression is still vital to
our ethical evolution (Race and Prejudice 14). Thus, Of Mice and Men focuses on social class
discrimination and oppression to advocate for a change. Steinbeck wishes to also see a change in
the view of marginalized people to reduce their negative effect on the marginalized.
Steinbeck uses Aunt Clara as the embodiment of societys effect on marginalized people.
Aunt Clara was Lennies original care taker who has passed away; however, at the end of the
novel she comes to Lennie in a hallucination. Aunt Clara tells Lennie in his hallucination: I tol
you and tol youMin George because hes such a nice fella an good to you (Steinbeck 101).
Steinbeck uses Aunt Clara to help the reader to understand the way the marginalized people
interpret criticism from the public. In other words, Lennies hallucination gives the reader a
glimpse at how Lennie Small interprets social commentary or views of himself. For example,
peoples lives can be affected not only by physical and mental ailments, but also by the
reactions and reception of others (Race and Prejudice 15). Steinbeck draws his readers in to

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sympathize with his characters such as Lennie to help the readers realize that although these
disabilities are difficult to endure, the negative reactions of society are the cruelest afflictions to
endure. Steinbeck wants the reader to note that Aunt Claras judgement of Lennie destroys his
mental state further, as would any social criticism against a marginalized class from someone
who does not fully understand them. The public decides the fate of the marginalized people, and
the public has the power to change it. The public also has the power to change into a more
accepting state.
Steinbeck wants the readers to parallel themselves with Slim who has the ability to
perceive and understand the marginalized groups. Slim is perceived as the Christ figure of the
novel, he accepts Lennie and understands him, which is exactly what Steinbeck wants each of his
readers to be able to do. Slim is the only character that George tells about Lennies experience in
Weed (Steinbeck 41). Steinbeck portrays to the reader that Slim does not judge Lennie, but rather
he decides to accept him, and attempts to understand him. Steinbeck uses Slim to help the
readers of Of Mice and Men understand that all men are brothers and that it is our duty to watch
over our fellow men and be their keepers (Leaf). Therefore, Steinbeck wants to stop
marginalization and encourages everyone to look out for one another. Slim is the superhuman
embodiment of decency, manliness, and labor who has god-like eyes and whose ear heard
more than was said to him, and his slow speech had overtones not of thought but of
understanding beyond thought (Leaf). Finally, Steinbeck wants his readers to strive to be like
Slim who is the Christ figure that understands the marginalized people.
Steinbeck is a social activist, and he uses his novel Of Mice and Men to combat social
exclusion. In Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck creates many marginalized characters to help men to
understand their brothers. Steinbecks novel Of Mice and Men is the second most frequently

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banned book in the public school curriculum[for its] vulgar and offensive terms (Sova 1).
However, Steinbeck portrays marginalization in a realistic manner. Steinbeck is a fearless writer,
who uses the novel Of Mice and Men as a literary weapon to combat the social injustices
committed against marginalized people.