Unlocking the Symbolism: What Do Hands Symbolize in Of Mice and Men?

When it comes to literature that’s lasted the test of time, it’s always fascinating to take a deeper dive into the symbolism woven throughout the story. And John Steinbeck’s classic novella, Of Mice and Men, is certainly no exception to this. One of the most intriguing symbols within this beloved work is hands and their connotations throughout the narrative. From the very beginning, we see hands used to signify strength, hard work, and even vulnerability, all of which lend further depth to the characters and themes within the story.

Hands are pretty universal, we all have them, we all use them daily to complete tasks and communicate with the world around us. But in Of Mice and Men, hands carry an even greater importance, representing the lives, past and present, of the characters. These characters are living in a time when their hands were their livelihood, which meant that they oftentimes had to do jobs that were physically demanding, grueling, and dangerous just so that they can keep surviving – hands were everything. And as the story unfolds, we see just how much hands can reveal about the people who possess them.

Perhaps one of the clearest uses of hands in Of Mice and Men is in the ways that they signal vulnerability. Characters throughout the novella have injuries, whether minor or major, that are depicted as contributing to their inability to function as fully as they once could. This means that hands can become a difficult reality to manage for some characters, and they can serve as tangible reminders of the limiting circumstances of their lives. At the same time, other characters’ hands are presented as sources of strength and power, showcasing how something as simple as a body part can bear so much weight within a narrative.

Hands as Symbols of Power

In John Steinbeck’s novel, “Of Mice and Men,” hands serve as powerful symbols that reflect the characters’ strength, authority, and dominance in various contexts. From the very beginning, the reader is introduced to the characters’ hands, which reveal much about their personalities and their social status. Here is a closer look at how hands symbolize power in the novel:

  • Physical strength: The hands in “Of Mice and Men” represent physical power and the ability to work hard. This is particularly evident in the character of Lennie, who has enormous strength but is also incapable of controlling it. Lennie’s hands symbolize his incredible physical power, but they also represent his lack of control and his tendency to inadvertently harm others.
  • Social status: Steinbeck uses hands to signify social status, with different characters’ hands reflecting their place in society. For example, Curley’s wife has “full, rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up” but her hands are described as “heavily manicured” and delicate, signaling both her femininity and her social status as the boss’s wife. In contrast, the migrant workers, whose hands are rough and calloused, reflect their low social status and their status as manual laborers.
  • Authority: Steinbeck also uses hands to signal authority and dominance. Curley, the boss’s son, is described as having “a glove fulla Vaseline,” which he uses to keep his hand soft for his wife. This detail suggests that Curley cares more about his own appearance and power than about his wife’s well-being. Similarly, Slim’s hands are described as “God-like” and “capable,” emphasizing his role as a respected authority figure on the ranch.

In addition to these more explicit examples, hands also serve as a recurring motif throughout the novel, conveying deeper themes of power, control, and violence. For example, the image of Lennie’s hand closing too tightly around a mouse, killing it, foreshadows the violent end to come. Similarly, the repeated references to the dream of owning a farm and being able to “live off the fatta the lan'” underscore the characters’ powerlessness and their inability to control their own destinies.

Overall, the hands have multiple symbolic meanings in “Of Mice and Men,” representing both physical strength and social power, as well as authority and dominance. By foregrounding the hands throughout the novel, Steinbeck provides a powerful visual metaphor for the themes of control, violence, and powerlessness that define the lives of his characters.

Hands as symbols of labor

In John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, hands are frequently used as symbols of labor, emphasizing the harsh reality of the Great Depression. The characters in the novel are migrant workers who use their hands to do physically demanding jobs in order to make a living.

  • Strength and skill
  • Calloused hands
  • Bleak existence

The strength and skill of a worker’s hands serve as a direct indication of their capability to work hard. The character of Slim, for example, is respected by others for his skilled hands and is known for being an expert mule driver. On the other hand, Lennie’s strength is overwhelming, but it also leads to dangerous outcomes due to his inability to control his actions.

The calloused, rough hands of the workers reflect the tough and demanding nature of their work. They are a symbol of the hard labor that these characters must endure to survive in a bleak existence where work is their only source of purpose and meaning. The characters in the novel do not have luxuries, and their hands symbolize the effort they must exert to earn a living.

In the novel, Steinbeck uses hands as symbols to highlight the unyielding and unrelenting struggle to survive during the Great Depression. They emphasize the necessity of labor in the characters’ lives and the physical toll it takes on them.

Strong, skilled handsSlimRespected for expertise, hard work
Calloused handsAll workersReflects tough and demanding work, dedication to job
Soft, weak handsCurleyIndicates lack of experience, incompetence, and insecurity

The symbolism of hands in Of Mice and Men serves as a testament to the harshness and difficulty of a life dependent on manual labor. Steinbeck’s use of hands as symbols of labor is a powerful representation of the struggles of the time period and the losses incurred by those who could not keep up.

The significance of Lennie’s hands

In John Steinbeck’s classic novella, “Of Mice and Men,” hands play an important role in the story, representing strength, violence, and even tenderness. One character whose hands are particularly significant is Lennie Small. Here are three reasons why:

  • Physical strength: Lennie’s massive and powerful hands are described as being like the paws of a bear. They enable him to do impressive feats of strength, such as lifting heavy sacks of grain or crushing the hand of another character. However, his strength also makes him dangerous, and he struggles at times to control it.
  • Tactile sensitivity: Interestingly, Lennie’s hands are also incredibly gentle and sensitive. He loves to pet soft things, such as mice or the fur of his friend George’s dog. However, his lack of understanding of his own strength means that he can unintentionally harm the things he loves, including his beloved puppy and the woman he accidentally kills.
  • Symbolism of violence: Lennie’s hands come to symbolize violence and danger throughout the novella. Although he doesn’t mean to hurt anyone or anything, his immense strength means that his actions can result in serious harm. This is exemplified in the way that Steinbeck uses repetition to describe Lennie’s hands, emphasizing their potential for violence and foreshadowing the tragic ending of the novella.

Overall, Lennie’s hands are a central and powerful symbol in “Of Mice and Men”. They represent strength, tenderness, and also violence. Steinbeck masterfully weaves this symbol throughout the novella, reminding us of the dangers that come with immense physical strength and the importance of understanding and controlling it.

Foreshadowing through hand symbolism

Throughout the novella Of Mice and Men, author John Steinbeck uses hand symbolism to foreshadow events and highlight character traits. One particular motif that appears several times is the use of the number four.

  • The first instance of the number four in relation to hand symbolism is when Candy describes his old dog. He says, “He ain’t no good to himself. I wisht somebody’d shoot me if I got old an’ a cripple.” Candy’s dog has four legs, but he is old and crippled, symbolizing the fate that awaits those who outlive their usefulness on the ranch.
  • Later, when Lennie and George are sitting by the Salinas River, Lennie asks George to tell him again about their dream of owning a farm. George lists off all the things they’ll have on the farm – “an’ a bunk house an’ a chicken run an’ a outhouse and a little piece of alfalfa.” Lennie interrupts with the number four, saying, “An’ have rabbits. Go on, George! Tell about what we’re gonna have in the garden and about the rabbits in the cages and about the rain in the winter and the stove and how thick the cream is on the milk like you can hardly cut it. Tell about that, George.” The repetition of the number four highlights Lennie’s childlike insistence on precision and pattern, as well as the fact that the dream is unattainable and ultimately futile.
  • The most significant example of the number four in relation to hand symbolism is the scene in which Lennie accidentally kills Curley’s wife. When she’s trying to shake him off, Lennie gets scared and grabs her hair harder. Steinbeck writes, “And then Lennie’s rage exploded. He shook her then, and he was angry with her. ‘Don’t you go yellin’,’ he said, and he shook her; and her body flopped like a fish. And then she was still, for Lennie had broken her neck.” The number four appears in this scene when Curley’s wife describes why she never made it as a movie star. She says, “I tell you I ain’t used to livin’ like this. I coulda made somethin’ of myself…maybe I will yet. I tried to get in the movies, but I never got nothin’ but the eye. I’d like to get a bunch of purty men to come aroun’ and talk to me that way, but I ain’t never had no chance. They run me out of Weed, and I ain’t never been able to get no more jobs than that one. An’ I tried and tried to get on the radio, but you got to have a partner. Here ain’t a soul in the world cares about me…I met one guy an’ he was kinda nice, but he didn’t want to do nothing like that. Said he was gonna put me in the movies. Says I was a natural. Soon’s he got back to Hollywood he was gonna write to me about it. But that was a long time ago. I never got that letter.” The repetition of the number four here – four unsuccessful attempts at fame, four rejections – echoes the four deaths that occur in the novel (Candy’s dog, Curley’s wife, Lennie, and the dream of the farm).

By using the number four in relation to hand symbolism, Steinbeck creates a sense of inevitability and foreshadows the tragic events that unfold in the novel.

Hands as a Representation of Masculinity

Throughout Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck uses hands as a symbol for masculinity. Hands represent power, strength, and physical labor, all traditionally masculine qualities. This symbolism is particularly evident in the character of Lennie, whose massive and powerful hands are both a blessing and a curse.

  • Physical Strength: Lennie’s hands are a representation of raw physical strength. His ability to easily crush a man’s hand in a handshake reflects his immense power, while his lack of control over his own strength causes devastation and destruction, ultimately leading to the tragic ending of the novel.
  • Manual Labor: Hands also represent manual labor, a traditionally masculine occupation. The work of the characters in Of Mice and Men revolves heavily around manual labor, with the hands being the primary tools for tasks such as chopping wood, driving stakes into the ground, and handling livestock.
  • Vulnerability: Despite their strength, hands are also vulnerable. They can be cut, crushed, or injured in countless ways. This vulnerability is particularly apparent in the character of Curley, whose fear of having his boxing hand damaged reflects his fear of losing his power and masculinity.

Steinbeck reinforces the symbolism of hands as a representation of masculinity through the use of repeated imagery and language. For example, he frequently describes the hands of the male characters in detail, emphasizing their size and strength. The contrast between Lennie’s huge, powerful hands and Curley’s small, well-manicured ones highlights the difference between physical strength and social power.

CharacterDescription of Hands
LennieLarge, powerful, capable of destruction
CurleySmall, well-manicured, a symbol of his social power
CandyOld, worn, a reflection of years of manual labor

The symbolism of hands as a representation of masculinity is central to Of Mice and Men, highlighting the physical strength and vulnerability of the male characters. Steinbeck’s use of this symbolism reinforces the theme of the novel, which explores the isolation and tragedy that can result from a lack of friendship and connection in a world that values only strength and power.

Hands as a means of control

In Of Mice and Men, hands are a symbol of power and control. They represent the ability to work and the strength to hold onto dreams, but they also reveal the capacity for violence and dominance. The theme of hands as a means of control is woven throughout the story, from the manipulation of the weak by the strong to the destruction caused by unchecked power.

  • The control exerted by the ranch owners over the workers is symbolized by their possession of a car, which enables them to control the movements of the men.
  • Curley’s possessive and violent behavior towards his wife is shown through his constant checking up on her and his insistence on wearing a glove filled with Vaseline to keep his hand soft for her. This glove also serves as a symbol of his power over the other men, as they are afraid to confront him because of his father’s status as the owner of the ranch.
  • The dream of owning a piece of land and controlling their own destiny is what keeps George and Lennie going, but their hands also reveal their vulnerability and dependence on others. Lennie’s enormous strength is a double-edged sword that he cannot always control, and George’s small, quick hands are a constant reminder of his power over Lennie.

The violence that erupts in the story is often caused by a lack of control over one’s own hands, as in the case of Lennie and his accidental killing of Curley’s wife. The power struggle between Curley and the other men on the ranch is also reflected in their physical movements and gestures, such as Curley’s constantly flexing bicep and his habit of picking fights with larger men to prove his dominance.

The symbol of hands as a means of control is highlighted in a particularly poignant passage towards the end of the story, when Candy laments the loss of his hand due to an accident and the subsequent loss of his ability to contribute to society. The loss of his hand represents the loss of his power and his usefulness, and reinforces the idea that without control over one’s own destiny and abilities, one is at the mercy of others.

Control over othersThe ranch owners’ possession of a car
Vulnerability and dependenceLennie’s enormous strength and George’s small hands
Violence and power strugglesThe accidental killing of Curley’s wife and Curley’s constant need to prove his dominance
Loss of power and usefulnessCandy’s lost hand

The use of hands as a symbol of power and control adds depth and nuance to the story of Of Mice and Men, reflecting the complex dynamics of power and struggle that exist between individuals and within society as a whole.

The Symbolism of Curley’s Hand Injury

In John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men, Curley’s hand injury serves as one of the most prominent symbols in the story. The injury symbolizes several different aspects of the characters and themes in the novel.

The Number 7

  • In the novel, Curley’s hand injury is repeatedly described as being seven inches long. This specific number carries significant symbolic meaning throughout the story.
  • Throughout history, the number 7 has often been associated with perfection or completion. In the Bible, for example, God creates the world in seven days and then rests on the seventh day, establishing a pattern of seven-day weeks that is still used today.
  • The number 7 also plays a significant role in many cultural traditions, appearing in everything from the seven chakras in Hinduism to the seven wonders of the world.

The fact that Curley’s injury is specifically described as being seven inches long suggests that it is a perfect symbol, perfectly representative of the story’s themes and characters.

A Symbol of Aggression and Insecurity

Curley’s hand injury serves as a symbol of both his aggression and his insecurity. Throughout the novel, Curley is depicted as an aggressive and violent character, prone to starting fights and bullying those weaker than himself.

However, it is clear that beneath this aggression lies an intense insecurity. Curley’s small stature and lack of physical strength make him feel inadequate, and he compensates for this by trying to assert his dominance over others.

Curley’s injuryAggression and insecurity

Curley’s hand injury, then, serves as a symbol of both his aggressive tendencies and his deep-seated insecurities. It is a physical manifestation of the internal conflict that drives his behavior throughout the novel.

The implications of the “glove fulla vaseline” incident

Hands play a crucial role in the symbolism of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. The use of hands as a symbol can be found in the characters’ actions and with the “glove fulla vaseline” incident. Here are some implications of this incident:

  • The power dynamic between George and Lennie. Lennie has a physical strength that George does not have, and the vaseline incident shows how George uses his wits to control Lennie’s strength with the power of his intelligence.
  • The use of deception. George uses the vaseline to deceive Lennie into believing that he can have a puppy, despite the fact that George never plans on letting him keep it. This deception becomes a recurring theme throughout the novel, highlighting the power dynamic between the two characters.
  • The symbolism of the glove. The glove full of vaseline represents the fragility of George and Lennie’s dream. The vaseline represents the ideal, perfect world that they want to live in, but it is fragile and can be easily destroyed.

The “glove fulla vaseline” incident also highlights the theme of unrealistic goals and dreams in the novel. George and Lennie have a dream to own a ranch, but this dream is unrealistic and ultimately unattainable. Like the vaseline, their dream is fragile and easily destroyed. The incident serves as a reminder of the futility of their dream and the harsh reality that they face.

Furthermore, the use of hands as a symbol in Of Mice and Men serves as a representation of the struggle for power and survival. The characters’ hands are their tools for working, fighting, and surviving in a harsh, unforgiving world. By using the “glove fulla vaseline” incident, Steinbeck highlights the harsh realities of this world and the fragility of the characters’ dreams.

Glove Full of VaselineInterpretation
A tool for controlShows the power dynamic between George and Lennie
A symbol of deceptionHighlights the recurring theme of deception in the novel
A symbol of fragilityRepresents the fragile nature of George and Lennie’s dream

In conclusion, the symbolism of hands, specifically the “glove fulla vaseline” incident, in Of Mice and Men serves as a commentary on power, survival, and the fragility of dreams. The incident highlights the harsh realities of the characters’ lives and their struggle to survive in a world that is both unforgiving and indifferent.

The Significance of George’s Hands

Throughout John Steinbeck’s novella, “Of Mice and Men,” various characters’ hands are described in detail, often serving as symbols that represent their roles and personalities. George, one of the main characters, has particularly significant hands that reveal a lot about him.

  • 1. Calloused Hands
  • From the opening scene, we learn that George’s hands are “small and strong” (p. 2). However, they are also described as rough and calloused due to constant manual labor. These calluses indicate that George is a hard worker and has experienced physical hardship throughout his life.

  • 2. Protective Hands
  • George’s hands also symbolize protection, specifically towards his companion, Lennie. Throughout the novella, George is constantly taking care of Lennie, and his hands serve as a physical representation of his role as a caretaker and protector. For example, when George first meets Slim, he carefully places his hand on Lennie’s shoulder to show that he will always be there to support and defend him.

  • 3. Violent Hands
  • Despite his protective nature, George’s hands also have a violent tendency. In the climactic scene where George shoots Lennie, his “hand shook violently” (p. 106). This shaking represents the internal conflict George is experiencing – he knows he needs to protect others from Lennie’s unintentional violence, but he also cares for Lennie and doesn’t want to harm him.

Additionally, it is worth noting that the number 9 appears multiple times in the novella in reference to George’s hands. For example, George has “rested on the bunk, because there were four shelves for the eight hams” (p. 5), implying that he had nine fingers. Additionally, Candy remarks that he has seen “hundreds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches with their bindles on their back an’ that same damn thing in their heads. Hundreds of them. They come, an’ they quit an’ go on; an’ every damn one of ’em’s got a little piece of land in his head. An’ never a God damn one of ’em ever gets it. Just like heaven. Everybody wants a little piece of lan’. I read plenty of books out here. Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land. It’s just in their head. They’re all the time talkin’ about it, but it’s jus’ in their head” (p. 49). The repetition of the word “hundred” in this passage adds up to nine, further linking the concept of George’s hands to the number 9.

CallusesSignify hard work and physical hardship in George’s life
ProtectionRepresent George’s role as a caretaker and defender of Lennie
ViolencePortray George’s internal conflict and struggle to protect Lennie while also caring for him

Overall, George’s hands play an important role in “Of Mice and Men,” symbolizing his hard work, protection, and internal conflict. The repeated appearance of the number 9 in reference to his hands adds an extra layer of depth to the symbolism of this character’s physical attributes.

The symbolism of the final scene involving hands.

One of the most symbolic moments in Of Mice and Men is the final scene, which involves hands. This scene is poignant and emotional, and it is symbolic of many ideas and themes that run throughout the book. Here are some of the key aspects of the symbolism of the final scene involving hands in Of Mice and Men:

  • The power dynamic between George and Lennie – Throughout the book, George is the dominant figure in his relationship with Lennie. However, in the final scene, this power dynamic shifts. As Lennie grows more anxious and agitated, George becomes physically submissive, holding onto Lennie’s hand as a gesture of comfort and protection. This shift in power highlights the complex nature of George and Lennie’s relationship, which is both nurturing and exploitative.
  • The importance of touch – Touch is an important theme throughout the book. Many characters crave physical contact and affection, but they are often denied it. In the final scene, we see George and Lennie’s relationship at its most intimate, as George holds Lennie’s hand and talks to him gently. This moment of connection is poignant and powerful, and it highlights the ways in which touch can be both healing and destructive.
  • The inevitability of tragedy – From the beginning of the book, it is clear that the story will not have a happy ending. The final scene, in which Lennie is killed, is a tragic and brutal moment. However, it is also a moment of catharsis, as George is forced to confront the difficult truths of his relationship with Lennie. The use of hands in this scene highlights the inevitability of tragedy, and the ways in which our actions can have far-reaching consequences.

The importance of hands in the book.

Aside from the symbolism of the final scene involving hands, hands hold significance throughout the entire book. Here are some key points that highlight the importance of hands in Of Mice and Men:

  • Power and control – Hands are often used as a symbol of power and control. Characters like Curley, who is described as having “gloves fulla vaseline” to keep his hands soft for his wife, use their hands to exert control over others. George, on the other hand, is well aware of his physical power over Lennie and uses it to protect him.
  • Physical labor and masculinity – Many of the characters in Of Mice and Men are migrant workers who rely on their physical strength for survival. Their hands are powerful tools that allow them to work hard and endure long hours in difficult conditions. The importance of physical labor and masculinity is a recurring theme throughout the book, and the use of hands underscores this.
  • Vulnerability and sensitivity – Hands can also be a symbol of vulnerability and sensitivity. Characters like Crooks, who is isolated from the other men because of his race, are acutely aware of their own vulnerability. Hands can represent our fragility and our need for protection and affection from others.

A table illustrating the significance of hands in key scenes in Of Mice and Men.

SceneDescriptionSignificance of Hands
The opening sceneGeorge and Lennie are walking to the ranch where they will work. Lennie is holding a dead mouse in his hand.Hands symbolize the characters’ vulnerability and their reliance on each other for support.
Curley’s first appearanceCurley enters the bunkhouse looking for his wife. He is described as having “thin, belligerent nose” and hands that are “delicate in size”.Hands are used to emphasize Curley’s arrogance and his physical weakness.
The fight between Lennie and CurleyCurley initiates a fight with Lennie and ends up with a crushed hand.Hands are used to show the characters’ physical power and their ability to harm others.
The final sceneGeorge comforts Lennie with words and touch. He holds onto Lennie’s hand as he shoots him.Hands are used to signify the characters’ emotional connection and their shared vulnerability.

In conclusion, hands are an important symbol in Of Mice and Men, representing power, vulnerability, and physical labor. The use of hands in the final scene highlights the complex nature of George and Lennie’s relationship and the inevitability of tragedy. By paying attention to the use of hands throughout the book, readers can gain a deeper understanding of its themes and messages.

What do Hands Symbolize in Of Mice and Men? FAQs

1) What do Lennie’s hands symbolize in Of Mice and Men?

Answer: Lennie’s hands symbolize his immense strength, which becomes problematic as he accidentally harms or kills animals and people due to his inability to control his own strength.

2) What do Curley’s wife’s hands symbolize in Of Mice and Men?

Answer: Curley’s wife’s hands symbolize her longing for attention and affection, as she constantly tries to flirt with the ranch workers and touch their clothes or hair to feel closer to them.

3) What do Slim’s hands symbolize in Of Mice and Men?

Answer: Slim’s hands symbolize his leadership and authority, as he is respected by the other ranch workers for his physical strength, mental acuity, and calm demeanor.

4) What do Crooks’ hands symbolize in Of Mice and Men?

Answer: Crooks’ hands symbolize his isolation and inferiority, as his crooked spine and injured hand make him physically vulnerable and socially excluded from the white ranch workers.

5) What do George’s hands symbolize in Of Mice and Men?

Answer: George’s hands symbolize his responsibility and protectiveness towards Lennie, as he often has to handle the consequences of Lennie’s actions and make decisions for both of them.

6) What do Candy’s hands symbolize in Of Mice and Men?

Answer: Candy’s hands symbolize his age and physical decline, as he lost one of his hands in an accident and feels useless and dependent on others.

7) What do the rabbits’ hands symbolize in Of Mice and Men?

Answer: The rabbits’ hands symbolize Lennie’s dream of owning a small farm with George and tending to rabbits, which gives him comfort and hope in a harsh and unjust world.

Closing Thoughts: Thanks for Reading!

I hope this article has helped you understand the symbolic significance of hands in Of Mice and Men. From the raw power of Lennie’s hands to the delicate touch of Curley’s wife’s hands, each character’s hands reveal their personality, desires, and struggles. Whether you are a fan of John Steinbeck’s literary masterpiece or a student analyzing its themes and motifs, I invite you to visit again later for more insights and articles. Thanks for reading!