Imagine being diagnosed with an incurable, fatal disability that’s uncontrollable. Imagine being restrained to only thinking a certain way because of some defect that occured at some point in time. Imagine being humiliated in front of many people over something unmanageable and being constantly made fun of just because of something that isn’t considered normal. Imagine being disabled. There are over a million people with some kind of disability. In John Steinbeck’s novel, Of Mice and Men, the main character, Lennie Small, is disabled. Though, Lennie’s disability is unsaid, it’s clear that he struggles with some intellectual infirmity. When Lennie first met everyone that worked there, he was automatically questioned. As days went by, the workers he accompanied, made fun of him. Not only do situations, alike from this, occur in this novel, but they occur in real life as well. People with disabilities are seen as different individuals by many and though the disabled do not choose the way they are, society still finds ways to alienate them.
Disability is very prominent now, just as it was during the time of the Great Depression. The novel takes place during the Great Depression and in a small town where Lennie, and his friend, George Milton, are on a search for a job. Both men find a job at a barn with several other workers. In Lennie’s case, he suffers from an unknown disability and is always being ridiculed because of it from the people he works with and, occasionally, from his good friend, George. Similarly, disabilities are often seen as a deficiency in society, that hence, adds to the stereotype that leads to the discrimination against the disabled.
Disability has restricted Lennie from thinking and acting logically--more so, like a “normal human being”. Unfortunately, he struggles even more with what everyone thinks of him. During a situation where he’s doing something he doesn’t understand, he panics and has the ability to do severe damage. Because of this, he has become very close to getting into lots of trouble, which is why Lennie and George are always discovering new workplaces. Lennie, in George’s eyes, is merely a bother and is the reason they are both poor and homeless. Before their interview with their new boss, George tells Lennie that “if [the boss] finds out what a crazy bastard you are, we won’t get no job, but if [the boss] sees ya work before he hears ya talk, we’re set” (Steinbeck 6). George calling Lennie names makes him seem even more less of a person. Though Lennie may not understand it, it displays how much disrespect Lennie receives on a day to day basis. Lennie is being seen as more of an asset then an actual human being. Despite the fact that he has a disability, Lennie is a hard worker and a lot stronger than all the men, yet that’s that’s all he’s given credit for. The people he is associated with only allow him to work there for his strength and ability to move heavy objects easily; otherwise, Lennie wouldn’t be working there. Lennie’s work ethic is the only kind of respect he gets around the barn.
Similarly, George constantly tells Lennie what to do and how to act in certain situations because he is scared of what the other workers will think of Lennie and himself. George, certainly, likes to get inside of Lennie’s head to make sure he remembers to do as he is told. George wants his first impressions at the new job to go well and to do that, he believes it is best for Lennie to simply stand there and say nothing. He is always reminding him of his place in society an what he’s supposed to do. Lennie is only cooperating because he is threatened by the fact that, if he doesn’t do something right, he won't get to have their dream future with George, and more specifically, tend to the rabbits on their future farm. To get Lennie to remember, he says “‘Now when we go see the boss, what you gonna do?’ ‘I...I’ Lennie thought. His face grew tight with thought. ‘I...ain’t gonna say nothin’. Jus’ gonna stan’ there’” (Steinbeck 6). It is evident that Lennie is treated differently by each person throughout the novel. George makes most of Lennie’s decisions before he can make them himself. George does this so he is sure that Lennie won’t get himself into trouble because of his intelligence level. George is making it seem like Lennie is even more useless because he can’t even make his own decisions or let alone have the right to disagree with George. Lennie is told one thing and is expected to abide by it; if not, then he would get into trouble and not be able to tend to the rabbits. Not only does this occur in the novel, but likewise, in real life, people with disabilities are always considered less than in a society filled with “normal” people. These normal people want to feel superior over the people that struggle so they know that they are less than everyone else, which, thus, results in making disabled people’s decisions and telling them what to do because they don’t have the physical and mental ability to disagree.
Part of Lennie’s disability is that he has tendencies of touching and petting soft things and he enjoys petting dead mice because they are soft. George notices that Lennie is carrying a mouse and takes the mouse and throws it away. Afterward, Lennie starts crying because of George’s actions and when George “heard Lennie’s whimpering cry and [he] wheeled about. ‘Blubbering like a baby! Jesus Christ! A big guy like you [Lennie]!’ Lennie’s lip quivered and tears started in his eyes” (Steinbeck 9). Again, because Lennie doesn’t know right from wrong or what is too far, he didn’t understand why George takes the mouse and throws it into the lake. Lennie can assume that George is mad at him for taking the mouse. George using words like “blubbering” and “whimpering” and “baby” aren't very dignified. A mixture of name calling and harassing clearly reveals that Lennie and many other disabled people are being constantly made fun of for something they are not capable of fixing. His word choice in this scenario is stating that George is not solicitous and that Lennie is indeed a “baby” who doesn’t know how to control his emotions during certain simple situations. Societally, people don’t particularly feel sympathetic towards a disabled person, but more often think they’re pathetic for not being able to function like an average human being. Though it’s true that disabled people don’t think the same way everyone else does, but it should not be something people constantly criticize them for. People don’t realize that disabled people are suffering the most in the world; they can’t think in an intellectual way or like an intellectual would. In Lennie’s case, he is always contradicting his actions and doesn’t understand what he’s supposed to do in certain situations. Internally, this is a conflict for him because it’s always a constant battle with himself and his disability. In society, Lennie would automatically be viewed variously by other human beings and since society views him this way, he feel he can’t live up to the world’s expectations of what a normal person is.
Not only do people disapprove of Lennie and make fun of him, but they also don’t treat like a normal person, making him feel meagerly less than. In the novel, George and a few other workers were playing horseshoes and while doing so, Lennie was stuck inside the barn because no one wanted him to play with them. From inside the barn, Lennie could hear “the clang of horseshoes on the playing peg and the shouts of men playing, encouraging, jeering. But in the barn it was quiet and humming and lazy and warm. Only Lennie was in the barn…” (Steinbeck 84). Lennie’s disability results in him being excluded from the soiree with everyone, including his good friend, George. Unfortunately, Lennie is prone to causing trouble and no one, including George, wants him around because of it. It’s clear that everyone acquainted with Lennie does not want to be associated with him, which is why he is excluded from spending any extra time with any of the workers. When George and Lennie first came to the barn, George was worried that Lennie would get them both fired. Now that they’ve all been working on the barn, George still doesn’t want to acknowledge Lennie as a real human being, and let him play horseshoes with him and everyone else. Lennie’s personality alone is what makes him a person. Similarly, humans see disabled people alike from the way the workers view Lennie. People only acknowledge people with disabilities for their weakness, not for what they are good at.
It is human nature to look down upon those that are different than normal. Each person’s perception of normal is different from one another and when someone cuts the boundary, it results in discrimination. Some people tend to flout the disabled because of their own personal weaknesses and insecurities. Society will inveigle and look down upon the handicap to better themselves and make themselves feel better, even despite the fact that disabled people are suffering the most. People will pick on someone that they consider “lower than them” to feel more superior because they know they can’t do anything about it. Also, society perceives people with disabilities as useless, powerless, and inefficient human beings, which subsidize to the ideology that leads to the discrimination against the disabled. Humans need to realize that disabled people are still people; they have feelings and society should not continue to criticize them for something uncontrollable. Hence, it’s confirmed that the fact that the disabled are considered “different” is what leads to the discrimination against them.
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