Of Mice and Men’s tragic conclusion is heavily foreshadowed from the very beginning of the novella. This foreshadowing emphasizes how George and Lennie’s sad fate is unavoidable, and also contributes to the novella’s broader argument that the lives of working-class people are cruelly limited by their circumstances.
Curley’s first appearance in Of Mice and Men foreshadows that he will pick a fight with Lennie in which Lennie will crush his hand. When he enters the ranch-hand bunkhouse, Curley immediately intimidates and sizes Lennie up. Curley wears a glove to keep his hand soft, foreshadowing how his hand will not remain intact around Lennie, who has a history of accidentally crushing soft things (like the dead mice). George warns that “this Curley punk is gonna get hurt if he messes around with Lennie,” commenting on the disparity between Curley’s small frame and Lennie’s huge body. This instance of foreshadowing reveals that the antagonism between Curley and Lennie comprises their relationship from the beginning. Because Curley is the boss’s son, the power dynamic suggests that aggression and cruelty are how employers relate to their workers, and workers—who are helpless and vulnerable like Lennie—cannot be blamed for acting out when frightened.
From the beginning of the novella, Steinbeck foreshadows that Lennie will accidentally kill Curley’s wife while trying to stroke her hair. In the first section, George scolds Lennie for petting mice until they die. George also mentions that they got chased out of their last town because Lennie “wanted to feel that girl’s dress” and stroked the soft fabric, giving the impression that he raped her. Later, Lennie accidentally kills his puppy while petting it. In addition to creating the sense that Lennie’s fate is inevitable, these instances of foreshadowing prepare the reader to understand Lennie’s innocence. By the time he kills Curley’s wife, the reader knows that Lennie loves to pet soft things and that he tends to accidentally kill the things he pets. As a result, the reader does not suspect that Lennie is capable of deliberate murder.
George’s shooting of Lennie is foreshadowed throughout Of Mice and Men. In Section 2, Slim—who is consistently presented as a humane, trustworthy character—introduces the idea that any creature too weak to survive in a hard world must be killed. He drowns four of his dog’s pups because “she couldn’t feed that many.” From the beginning, Lennie is depicted as similarly weak and incapable. In Section 3, Carlson and Slim force Candy to let them shoot his dog, which has grown old and weak. When Carlson kills the dog, Candy confides to George that he wishes he’d done it himself instead of letting Carlson do it. This comment foreshadows George’s decision to shoot Lennie himself, as he is Lennie’s closest companion. Lennie’s death at George’s hand is a heartbreaking moment for George and for the reader. The conclusion’s heavy foreshadowing suggests that heartbreak is the inescapable consequence of trying to maintain a lasting friendship in the isolating world of the migrant worker.
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