John Steinbeck’s, Of Mice and Men, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, The Great Gatsby, share a theme of dehumanization. Dehumanization is portrayed through two opposite social classes, the wealthy and the working class, and the ways in which women are treated by men. Of Mice and Men is a novel about George and Lennie, two migrant farmers, who have been hired to work at a farm after being chased out of their last job. The Great Gatsby is concerned with its protagonist, Jay Gatsby, and his devotion to rising into the upper class to impress Daisy Buchanan who left him because he was poor.
In the end, characters from both novels are either dehumanized due to their class or because of their gender. Throughout Of Mice and Men, the wealthy upper class dehumanizes the lower working class by manipulating and taking advantage of them. Curley’s wife lives a life in luxury on the farm with no work and plenty of free time. She wanders around the farm claiming that she is looking for her husband, but in reality she is exerting her power over the workers. When Crooks, one of the workers, talks back to Curley’s wife, she threatens, “I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny” (Steinbeck 79).
Steinbeck emphasizes that she could not only have him falsely condemned, but doing so would be no trouble at all. Crooks then, “reduces himself to nothing” and replies, “Yes, ma’am” with a “toneless” voice because he knows that it is true. Steinbeck’s diction further advocates the theme of dehumanization, particularly when he describes Crooks’ voice as “toneless”. Crooks’ monotonous response indicates that he has accepted his role as unimportant and voiceless. Instead of then walking away, Curley’s wife continues to take advantage of his inferiority by “waiting for him to move so that she could whip at him again”.
This short exchange demonstrates how the rich gain satisfaction from abusing the helpless. Earlier in the story, George, Lennie, and Candy, another planter, decide to pool their savings together in order to purchase a farm and be their own bosses. At the end of their conversation, George wisely adds, “Don’t tell nobody about it, Jus’ us three an’ nobody else. They li’ble to can us so we can’t make no stake” (60), George understands that if their current boss discovered the plan they composed, he would take advantage of the high dependence they have on their next pay checks and fire them.
The wealthy class will do whatever it takes to prevent the impoverished from becoming prosperous. On the other hand, in Of Mice of Men, Curley’s wife can also be the victim of dehumanization rather than the oppressor. She is often portrayed as a metaphor for problems in the story because she is a woman. Steinbeck expresses this by purposely not giving her a name. Her only identifier is her marriage to Curley, whom she rarely talks to. That identifier is a large reason for why George loathes her. When George and Lennie first meet Curley’s wife, George refers to her as “poison”, a “piece of jail bait”, and a “rattrap” (32).
He utilizes words that compare her to inanimate objects of disdain that give the sense that she is not a lady or even an actual person, but again a metaphor for problems. In addition, George commands Lennie to “let Curley take the rap” rather than ordering Lennie not to go after Curley’s wife. George uses the word “let” because no one looks for trouble with Curley’s wife, but some one has to tolerate her and that unfortunate soul, in George’s eyes, should be Curley. Then when Lennie accidentally kills her, the main concern is not her, but how to keep Lennie from getting in trouble.
Anything that is tied to Curley’s wife can only mean danger. Similarly, The Great Gatsby contains multiple examples of the wealthy dehumanizing the poor. When Nick, the narrator, and Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband, visit the valley of ashes to see Tom’s mistress, Myrtle, they also encounter Myrtle’s husband, George Wilson, a poor car mechanic. George inquires when Tom will be selling him a car with a tone of desperation in his voice. Tom, sensing this desperation, threatens to “sell it somewhere else after all” (Fitzgerald 25). George quickly tries to take it back but his voice fades off with submission.
Fitzgerald effectively chooses the words “faded off” to characterize George’s reply because like Crooks in Of Mice and Men, it supports the notion that some of the lower class workers recognize that arguing back with the upper class is useless. It is apparent that Tom enjoys dangling this sale over him because George is depending on it. Later in the novel when Nick and Daisy are visiting Gatsby’s house, Gatsby calls his servant, Klipspringer, over to play them some music. When the servant walks in, Nick immediately notices that Gatsby had him change his attire to make him look more presentable for Daisy.
Klipspringer explains that he was sleeping but Gatsby interrupts to ask him if he plays the piano and then interrupts him again when Mr. Klipspringer tries to admit that he is out of practice. Gatsby commands that he not “talk so much” and just play (95). Gatsby’s request that he not “talk so much” connects back to the voiceless characteristic that Crooks in Of Mice and Men understands to pertain to himself. In this short conversation, Gatsby is attempting to help Klipspringer understand that this characteristic pertains to him as well by not allowing him to finish a single sentence.
Much like Of Mice and Men, in The Great Gatsby women are dehumanized to unimportant and frequently ignored roles. When Gatsby and Tom Buchanan have their altercation on the subject of Daisy, she tries to add in her own opinion “with a visible effort”, crying out that she “won’t stand this! ” and begs to leave (133). However, both of these remarks are completely ignored with no response from anyone. Fitzgerald emphasizes that Daisy is being ignored by having her cry out opinions “with a visible effort” and then following that with a response that makes it appear as if no one even hears her.
Later in the novel, Wilson starts to go insane and treats Myrtle inhumanely. When his neighbor hears a loud disturbance coming from Wilson’s house, Wilson calmly explains to him that it is just his “wife locked up there” (137). Wilson is treating her more like an animal than a human being. In the next sequence, Myrtle is hit by an oncoming car that ends her “tremendous vitality”. It is very ironic that in the end, Myrtle dies when she was so full of life, yet Daisy will continue her life as an insignificant and overlooked wife.
In the passage illustrating her death, Fitzgerald forcefully uses pronouns to describe Myrtle’s mangled body to suggest that “she” is just another poor girl from the valley of ashes whose death will create little impact on the world. In Of Mice and Men, Curley’s wife finds it remarkably effortless to threaten the farmers because of their low position on the farm’s hierarchy. However, it is just as easy for her to become the victim of dehumanization being that she is a woman. She is perceived less as a person and more as a metaphor for problems.
Likewise, in The Great Gatsby, Tom Buchanan and Jay Gatsby express signs of disrespect for the working class, such as George Wilson and Mr. Klipspringer. Also, Myrtle and Daisy often find themselves continually treated inhumanely and seen as unimportant. John Steinbeck conveys the dehumanization of the lower class through manipulation, and the dehumanization of women by using Curley’s wife as a literary device to prove a point. F. Scott Fitzgerald also uses manipulation as a tool to dehumanize the working class, and he dehumanizes the women by frequently characterizing them as voiceless.