What is depth, and what does it mean? Depth is the extent, the intensity; depth is a distinct level of detail. When someone talks about depth of characterization, they are talking about the level of intensity that someone is using in order to describe a character. John Ernst Steinbeck, in The Pearl, Of Mice and Men, and The Grapes of Wrath describes many of his main characters in great depth.
What is depth, and what does it mean? Depth is the extent, the intensity; depth is a distinct level of detail. When someone talks about the depth of characterization, they are talking about the level of intensity that someone is using in order to describe a character. John Ernst Steinbeck, in The Pearl, Of Mice and Men, and The Grapes of Wrath describes many of his main characters in great depth.
In Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, a story of two traveling laborers who are on their way to a job loading barley at a California ranch. The two most important characters in the novel are George Milton and Lennie Small. They are ordinary workmen, moving from town to town and job to job, but they symbolize much more than that. Their names give us our first hints about them.
One of Steinbeck’s favorite books, when he was growing up, was Paradise Lost by John Milton. In this long poem, Milton describes the beginnings of evil in the world. He tells of Lucifer’s fall from heaven and the creation of hell. He also describes Adam and Eve’s fall from grace in the Garden of Eden.
By giving George the last name of Milton, Steinbeck seems to be showing that he is an example of a fallen man, someone who is doomed to loneliness and who wants to return to the Garden of Eden. Perhaps this is why George is always talking about having his own place and living “off the fat of the land,” as Adam and Eve did before their fall.
Lennie is anything but small physically. He is a big man who is often described with animal images. In the opening scene of the book, his hands are called paws and he snorts like a horse (Steinbeck, Mice 3). Yet Lennie is small on brains and on responsibility. Someone has always taken care of Lennie and done his thinking and talking for him.
First, his Aunt Clara looked after him, and now George does. He is like a child, a term George uses several times in describing Lennie to Slim. Lennie has a child’s short attention span and tendency to hang onto one idea stubbornly–the rabbits he will get to tend. He is innocent and “has no meanness in him.”
In a sense, Lennie and George are both small men. They will never be famous or amount to anything great. Even their dream is a modest one. The ranch George is thinking about costs only $600. They will have just a few chickens and pigs and, of course, rabbits(Steinbeck, Mice 56). They will not have to work really hard.
George and Lennie are practically opposites in the way they look and in their personalities. George is described as small and quick with sharp features. Lennie is described as big, slow-witted, and shapeless of the face. George can comfortably fit into the
ranch hands’ world. He plays horseshoes with the others and goes along to the whorehouse on Saturday night. Lennie plays instead with his puppy in the barn and spends Saturday night in Crooks’ room with the other outcasts – Crooks, Candy, and Curley’s wife. Yet it is very difficult to look at George and Lennie separately.
Over and over, under Lennie’s prompting, George explains that their uniqueness lies in the fact that they are together. As Lennie says (repeating George’s words): “But not us! An’ why? Because… because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why.”
It is said that Sigmund Freud, the famous psychoanalyst, has written that each person has two sides – the ego and the id. The ego is the person’s thinking side, the leading figure within him or her. The id is the physical side of the person, the body, and senses. George is obviously the leader of the two men; he does all of their thinking. He remembers the things that must be remembered and instructs Lennie about them. Lennie, on the other hand, is all body.
He “thinks” with his senses. The most important parts of Lennie’s body are his hands. He likes to touch soft things, and he does so without thinking. That’s why he keeps getting into trouble. Lennie crushes Curley’s hand with his hand and breaks the necks of his puppy and Curley’s wife when his hands get the better of him. It is interesting to note that Lennie gets in trouble only when George is not around. Steinbeck seems to be saying that a body without a mind-controlling it can easily get carried away. A person must be a balance of ego and id.
Another way to look at George and Lennie is scientific. Remember that Steinbeck was also a marine biologist. An important biological relationship is a symbiosis.
Many times in nature two different kinds of plants or animals live in what is called a symbiotic relationship. That means each one needs the other in order to live. George and Lennie need each other in the same way. It is obvious why Lennie needs George. George does his thinking for him and tries to keep him out of trouble. But why does George need Lennie? Lennie is more than just George’s companion who keeps him from being lonely. Lennie makes George special.
As George says to Slim in Chapter 3, “Lennie made me seem God damn smart alongside of him….” He adds, “I ain’t got no people. I seen the guys that go around on ranches alone. That ain’t no good. They don’t have no fun. After a long time they get mean.” George tells Lennie that he could have so much fun without him, going into town and maybe spending his money in a whorehouse. But if he did these things he would be just like all the other nobodies on the ranch. Lennie forces George to keep repeating the vision of the future farm.
George seems bored or annoyed each time he begins to tell the story, but soon he gets more excited himself. Lennie’s enthusiasm keeps the vision fresh and alive. When George spots Curley’s wife’s body in the barn, he says, “I’ll work my month an’ I’ll take my fifty bucks an’ I’ll stay all night in some lousy cat house….” George knows he will be just another ranch hand without Lennie.
One other way that Steinbeck hints at George’s need for Lennie is that whenever George is in the bunkhouse without Lennie around, he plays solitaire. George is basically a loner without Lennie. So Lennie is right then when he says that George takes care of him, and he takes care of George.
There is a third way to look at the relationship of the two men – a biblical way. Remember that the Bible was also a very important influence on Steinbeck’s writing. George and Lennie’s story has some strong echoes of the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis. Do you remember that story? Cain draws Abel into a field and kills him.
When God asks where Abel is, Cain replies, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” George is not really Lennie’s brother, but he is the closest thing to the family that Lennie has. George is clearly Lennie’s keeper. He also is Lennie’s killer. According to the Bible, after Cain kills Abel, he is forced to wander the earth alone as a fugitive, longing for Eden but never getting
there. George too will be a lonely wanderer who no longer has his vision of a garden and paradise without Lennie.
In The Pearl, a story about a poor Indian fisherman, Kino who lives on the Gulf of California with his wife, Juana, and his infant son, Coyotito. They live in a simple hut and depend on nature for survival. Despite the poverty, Kino is happy, honest, and hardworking. He is a dignified pearl diver who works hard to support his family (Steinbeck, Pearl 21).
He is a simple and natural being who functions well in the traditional ways of the village. Kino is conscious of his poverty and knows that money could buy things that he lacks. He hopes to find a pearl that will guarantee him future peace. Like most human beings, he wants to get ahead.
Kino depends on nature for his income. When the waters are rough, he cannot go diving. When the sun sets, his workday ends. The discovery of a great pearl changes Kino’s life. The man who usually hears the “Song of the Family” – the harmonious, soothing message that all is well in life – begins to hear the voice of suspicion, the sounds of danger – the “Song of Evil.” This song is really a powerful internal voice that he hears when danger arises, which links him to his ancestors as a sort of built-in protection against death. It is Steinbeck’s poetic way of referring to Kino’s survival instinct.
On the other hand, Kino’s intelligence and growth in social awareness help him realize that he and other Indians have been exploited by the rich and powerful. At first, instinctively, he senses the danger with the doctor and pearl buyers, but it is only after his brutal encounter with the trackers that he becomes aware of the extent of this exploitation. He comes to realize that human beings will kill in order to gain money and power.
As Kino moves away from his natural habitat, he becomes isolated. With the pearl in hand, he marches toward the city – a symbolic move toward a more complex civilization – in his belief that he can deal with “civilized” people. He lays claim to the benefits of civilization – power, money, an education for Coyotito – but soon realizes, when pursued by the trackers, that he is a victim of the very society in which he hopes to earn a profit.
Some readers believe that Kino brings about his own downfall by going against the forces of nature. Kino loses more than his social innocence in the novel. He learns that he, too, can kill to protect his chance for wealth and power.
Some readers point out that Kino is the exploited but innocent man who loses his innocence when he tries to venture beyond his social boundaries. Others see Kino as the symbol of an honest, hard-working man destroyed by greed. Still, others see him as a man unable to escape his fate.
Kinos, wife Juana is another important character who is immediately pointed out in the first chapter of The Pearl. She is a loving and devoted wife, the stabilizing force in Kino’s life. At first, you may see her simply as subservient. But Juana has great inner strength and determination. For example, when Coyotito is bitten by the scorpion, Juana acts immediately and sucks out the poison. She also insists that they see the doctor – an unheard-of event in the village.
Juana has a strong survival instinct where her family is concerned. When the doctor refuses to treat the baby, Kino responds by ineffectually punching the gate; Juana puts a seaweed poultice on the baby’s shoulder. She responds with the same kind of direct action when she decides that the pearl is a threat to her family. She tries to throw it back in the sea.
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