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Of Mice and Men (1937) reaches its tragic conclusion. In chapter 6, the source of so many of the story’s problems is eliminated: Lennie. It’s tragic because Lennie never meant any harm to anyone and because the one to end his life is George, the only one who understood him.
Overview - Chapter 6
Brief Summary of Chapter 6
|Characters in Chapter 6||Lennie, George, Slim, Curley, Carlson, Curley's Wife (mentioned), Aunt Clara (delusion), rabbit (delusion)|
|Setting in Chapter 6||A clearing in rural California, on the road to the ranch|
|Style in Chapter 6||3rd-person narrator|
|Literary Devices and Themes in Chapter 6||Mercy, shattered dreams, no control over nature or self, death|
It’s a beautiful late afternoon in the woods outside of the ranch. It’s filled with animals like snakes and herons, and a peaceful wind rustles the trees. In this tranquil scene, Lennie emerges at his and George’s campsite from chapter 1. It’s where George told him to go if Lennie got into trouble. Lennie drinks water from the pond.
Lennie congratulates himself for remembering to come here. However, he thinks George will “give him hell” for what he did. Lennie suggests to himself that he could go live in a cave. As he talks to himself, “out of his head” comes his Aunt Clara. Aunt Clara, speaking in his voice, tells him how nice George has been to him. She tells Lennie that he just weighs George down.
Next, Lennie experiences a delusion of a rabbit. Like Aunt Clara, this rabbit talks to him in his own voice. The rabbit says he’ll never tend any rabbits because he doesn’t deserve it. The rabbit says George will come, beat him with a stick, and abandon him.
George warned Lennie not to drink from still water in chapter 1. So it's possible the water made him sick, or it's possible that Lennie hallucinates regularly or in times of stress.
Distressed by his hallucinations, Lennie calls out for George, who appears. Lennie is ecstatic and grateful that George came and doesn’t hurt him. George is the opposite of excited. George is wooden, and something weighs heavily on his mind. He’s tired, and when he sits down next to Lennie, he thinks about how he could do more of what he wanted without Lennie.
Like in chapter 1, Lennie tries to get George to stay with him. George “bites,” but it’s clear he doesn’t mean what he says this time. Lennie asks George to tell him about how they are special and will go buy some land. Lennie says they should do it now, right now.
Meanwhile, George has told Lennie to take off his hat and look across the water. He pulls out Carlson’s luger, which he stole. He raises the gun, shakes, lowers it, raises it, shakes, steadies it, and shoots Lennie in the back of the head, just as Lennie is saying they should do it right now.
Carlson killed Candy's dog as a mercy killing with the same gun. What do you think happened here?
Curley, Carlson, and Slim, who were about to find them anyway, come running out of the brush to find Lennie dead and George standing over him. Carlson asks if Lennie had the gun. Emotionally drained, George says yeah, he did. Carlson asks if he took it and shot him the struggle. George says yeah, he did.
Slim immediately can tell what really happened, though, and leads George off, telling George that he had to do it. He offers to buy George a drink. Confused, Carlson asks Curley what’s “eating” those two.
The dream is already over by the time this chapter starts. The tragedy is that Lennie doesn't realize it—only George does. George never breaks the illusion for Lennie, killing him instead.
Of Mice and Men chapter 6 takes the story full circle, both literally and thematically.
Chapter 1 begins with Lennie and George walking down the road toward the ranch. They are fleeing Weed. It’s late afternoon for them, the woods are full of life, and Lennie takes a drink from a pond. After that, George and Lennie camp at a well-worn campsite, where George tells Lennie that they are special and will one day have some land together. On this land, Lennie will be able to tend rabbits.
Chapter 6 begins on the same road, at the same time of day, with a description of the wildlife. Lennie, who is fleeing the ranch, takes a drink of water from a pond. He stops at the same campsite from chapter 1, and George appears. George tells Lennie that they are special and will one day have some land together. On this land, Lennie will be able to tend rabbits.
In chapter 6, though, instead of earnestly giving Lennie another chance, George kills Lennie, severing their bond. This has a deeper thematic significance.
In the article covering chapter 1, one of the themes discussed is:
People do not have control over their worlds. Lennie has no control over his strength, which is why things went so poorly in Weed. Lennie’s lack of control has obstructed his and George’s dream of freedom.
In chapter 6, this theme returns.
Lennie’s lack of control over his strength has caused things to go downhill again. Like before, a lynch mob follows him. George’s need to look after Lennie continues to obstruct his dream of freedom.
Chapter 6 complicates this, though, because George now “makes the choice” to pursue this freedom by killing Lennie. But is it actually a "choice," or did he have to? In other words...
Did George have no choice but to kill Lennie?
This is the question of the entire story. Here’s a chart with anecdotal evidence to support each stance.
|George chose to kill Lennie:||George had to kill Lennie:|
George took the luger, knowing he might or will kill Lennie.
If George didn’t kill Lennie, Curley would have.
George pulled the trigger.
Because Lennie couldn’t control himself, he was doomed from the start.
Killing Lennie is attractive to George in the sense it allows him to be free.
Killing Lennie might bring him the peace that he never found.
First, think back to chapter 4 and what Crooks said about dreams and death. Crooks’ quote might be the single most illuminating quote in the story with regard to Steinbeck's question, "Is the dream achievable?"
I seen hunderds 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. Hunderds 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. … Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land."
Crooks equates getting real land with really finding heaven. In other words, however people end up, it will never be anywhere happy.
It’s no accident that Crooks is also the most well-read. In many ways, he speaks to the times, which are hard.
Crooks' perspective is only one side of the coin, though. Consider again the description of Curley’s wife after she is killed in chapter 5.
Curley’s wife lay with a half-covering of yellow hay. And the meanness and the plannings and the discontent and the ache for attention were all gone from her face. She was very pretty and simple, and her face was sweet and young."
Here, the reader sees that maybe there is something peaceful about death. Curley’s wife is angelic after dying, despite what Crooks said about never ending up anywhere happy.
As you think about these two perspectives, the puppies that Slim killed, and the dog Carlson killed, consider the following:
Was killing Lennie merciful?
In this context, merciful would be acting in a way to decrease somebody's pain.
Steinbeck pulls no punches in Of Mice and Men, and these are the essential questions of the story. There's no right answer, either.
The themes become even darker and more engrossing when you combine the two essential thematic questions posed:
For instance, say you believe that George had no choice but to kill Lennie. In this case, can you really call what George did merciful? After all, isn’t mercy a choice?
Here are two interesting sides to take, based on these questions:
Here are three powerful quotes from the chapter and small descriptions of each. All of these quotes relate to the themes presented previously: that many people don't have control of their lives and that death might be the only peace some people can find.
An' I got you. We got each other. that's what, that gives a hoot in hell about us!"
This quote is something Lennie says to George. However, no matter how special the two are, there are limits to what the world is willing to tolerate. Perhaps there is even a limit to what George is willing to tolerate.
Sure, right now. I gotta. We gotta."
George mutters this just before he shoots Lennie. It’s in response to Lennie saying, “Le's do it now. Le's get that place now." This quote really puts George’s “choice” into perspective. Does he have to? Does he not?
George and Lennie each refer to a different action being "now." Lennie refers to going to get that farm. George refers to killing Lennie.
You hadda, George. I swear you hadda. Come on with me."
Slim is portrayed as brilliant and understanding, and he says George had to do it. Does he have the final say in the story?
Regardless of what Steinbeck intended to say, the reader is left to make the decision for themselves.
In the final chapter, Lennie and George meet at the clearing from chapter 1. George shoots Lennie before the hunters find him.
George uses Carlson's luger, which he stole, to kill Lennie.
He tells them the same old story: he and Lennie will have a farm and Lennie will tend rabbits. This time, it is a lie.
It depends on the edition, but it's only about 10% of the novella. It's quite short.
He drinks from a pool of water and hallucinates his Aunt Clara and a rabbit, both of which talk in his voice.
What does Lennie drink at the beginning of chapter 6?
In what order does Lennie experience his delusions?
Aunt Clara, rabbit
Who stole Carlson's gun?
George shoots Lennie after a scuffle. True or false?
False. There's no scuffle. George shoots Lennie in the back of the head.
Who understands what really happened at the end?
Chapter 6 circles back to what earlier chapter?
What is the answer to the following question posed by the novella:
Did George have no choice but to kill Lennie?
There's no right answer. This is debatable.
Which is not a major theme in Of Mice and Men?
When Lennie says at the end of the novel, "Le's do it now," to what does he refer?
He and George should go get that farm right now.
When George says at the end of the novel, "Sure, right now. I gotta," to what does he refer?
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