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 versus guilt”.
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.