The american dream

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Notes on Of Mice and Men, the Great Depression, and the American Dream

  • American Dream: the idea that by working hard, every person, regardless of race, religion, social class, etc, can lead a happy, successful life; the idea that ANYONE can come from “nothing” and become “something”

  • What seem to be the necessary elements of the American Dream?

  • The concept of the American Dream became popular during the Great Depression and it remains a part of our culture today

  • Examples of those who have attained their “American Dream”?

  1. Chris Gardner (Pursuit of Happyness)

  2. Kobe Bryant

  3. Barack Obama

  4. Jay-Z

  5. J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter)

  • Is the American Dream possible for everyone? Does everyone in America have an equal chance to be successful and achieve their personal goals?

  • Many people believe that the American Dream is not available to everyone – that it is just a DREAM

  • Obstacles to the American Dream?

  • Race, economic class, ethnicity, religion

  • Examples of those who HAVE NOT attained their American Dream?

  • The American Dream can A) motivate people to achieve their goals and/or b) frustrate people when they see that some people have achieved their goals while they still have not

  • The American Dream is the focal point of many American novels/plays: A Raisin in the Sun, The Great Gatsby, Death of a Salesman, and Of Mice and Men


  • Written by John Steinbeck, who was born in 1902 in Salinas, California, which is also the setting of the novel

  • The setting of Of Mice and Men is called an integral setting because the time and place are essential to the story – the story would not be possible if it were set somewhere else

  • Of Mice and Men takes place on a farm during the Great Depression era in the United States, when the American Dream seemed more of a fantasy/dream than a reality

  • Why did the American Dream seem like a fantasy during the Great Depression?

  • Of Mice and Men tells the story of two migrant farmers, George Milton and Lennie Smalls, who move to a new ranch in order to make money to buy their own property

  • Through these two characters, Steinbeck illustrates how challenging and often unrewarding the life of migrant farmers could be

  • The book also discusses the difficulty of achieving one’s American Dream, whatever the dream might be

Some historical background to the novel…

  1. After World War I, there was an increase in farming activity in Middle America (Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma).

2. The increase in farming activity across the Great Plains states caused the soil to erode.

3. The farm land becomes wasted after overuse. The once fertile farm land became known as the Dust Bowl.

5. California becomes the new location for people to begin working toward their American Dreams.

4. Many farmers from these states moved out west to California in search of better farm land.

6. Despite high expectations, very few found it to be the land of opportunity and plenty of which they dreamed.  WHY NOT?


  • Remember: Of Mice and Men takes place during the Great Depression

  • T
    1. The American economy starts to decline.

    2. People are forced to farm more to produce larger quantities of crops to earn the same amount of money.

    3. Farmers had to purchase more land to raise more crops
    he Great Depression was a significant cause of the creation of the Dust Bowl:

4. The increase of farming placed a larger burden on the land

  • The Great Depression lasted from 1929-1940s and ended with the beginning of WWII

  • The depression originated in the United States, starting with the stock market crash of October 29, 1929 (known as Black Tuesday), but quickly spread to almost every country in the world

  • During the Great Depression, the unemployment rate rose to about 25%

  • Between 1929 and 1932 the income of the average American family was reduced by 40%, from $2,300 to $1,500.

  • The Great Depression impacted Americans’ lifestyles and attitudes: feelings of optimism and security disappeared

  • People expressed feelings of despair, frustration, and hopelessness

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go askew.”

5 words: American Dream, Of Mice and Men, the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, fantasy versus reality

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