How Does Steinbeck present different types of Strength and Weakness?

In Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck portrays many strengths and weakness in a wide spectrum. In the pecking order of the ranch, Curley has most power, and is a bully. His wife has no identity, and is terrible lonely, but she too kicks down. Cruelty and abuse of power characterises the bulk of the novel, with the most noticeable exception of George and Lennie.

Lenny is physically the strongest character in the book. He is ‘as strong as a bull’ and is frequently compared to strong animals – ‘bear like’ and when he crushes Curley’s hand in his massive ‘paw’. George tells the boss and also Slim about Lennie’s amazing strength: other guys can’t keep up and he can lift massive weights of . However he has a weakness as well, although we aren’t sure how it happened he is mentally retarded. We know this because of quotes that are childish and his naivety.,’I remember about the rabbit.’

Despite Lennie’s physical strength, he is gentle and cowed by George at the start of the book. The violence of George’s language is almost abusive – ‘crazy bastard’ is repeated, and George seizes the mouse. This catches the reader’s interest into the contrast of how someone so strong and big could be controlled, and why the mood is so extreme. We later see George as more of a parent, ‘Lennie looked helplessly at George’, and the semantic field of children/helplessness is often used for Lennie ‘‘Blubbering like a baby’. So we understand George is exasperated, not abusive. He later talks to Slim about abusing his power over Lennie in Auburn – where he told him to ‘jump in’ and Lennie ‘clean forgot’ he couldn’t swim’ and was so ‘grateful’ to him after, George says “I ain’t done nothin’ like that no more”. He cares for Lennie. This care is most clearly seen in contrast to Curley’s reaction to Lennie. 
When Curley is hitting lennie in the face George tells lennie ‘let him have it ‘ ‘let him have it lennie’ This then exhibits lennies strength as he crushes curleys hand in his ‘paw’. We can see George cares for him as he was urging him on to stand up for himself and hit curly. Curley is powerful and this makes him cruel – whereas George is compassionate. Curley is ‘handy’, like a ‘terrier’ that won’t let go until Lennie’s face is covered in ‘blood’, he’s shrieking in ‘terror’. Curley is portrayed with active, violent verbs ‘stabbing’ and ‘slashing’ at Lennie.

Curlys wife, who theoretically should have a lot of power being Curleys wife, doesn’t. This mainly to the fact she is the only women on the farm leading her to being a target for verbal abuse, possibly because the other men are jealous as they don’t have a wife. She’s both below and above them, and they direct violent sexist comments like ‘looloo’, ‘tart’ at her, saying ‘she got the eye’. She has power over them through her sexual allure, but it frightens them. George says she’s ‘poison’, ‘trouble’ ‘jailbait’ and a ‘rattrap’: this violent language shows how weak he feels when she’s around. Yet, she’s desperately lonely and they have no respect for her, though they fear her.

Unlike Curley, Slim has natural authority. Steinbeck portrays him using the semantic field of religion: ‘confession’, with hands like ‘a temple dancer’ and makes even Curley bow to his authority as Carlson says Curley better not go for Slim. When Curley’s hand is crushed, Slim makes him keep quiet and at the end of the novel he counsels George to take the hard course and shoot Lennie.
Moreover many physical weaknesses are displayed throughout the novel. Disability is one of the main themes, not only does Lennie come under this but Crooks and Candy.  Crooks although considered the lowest authority on the farm possesses. He is intelligent and reads ‘has a copy of the Californian law code.’ In addition he also has a strong sense of his rights, which is partially a weakness at the same time as he is black. Back in 1937 black people had no rights. Crooks also expresses a physical weakness as well, his bad back which does allow him to do strong physical labour. One of the most ironic weaknesses of them all is Candy, although working on a farm is 99% labour Candy doesn’t have a hand. When the workers can’t work, they’re no use and Candy says “I wisht someone’d shoot me”.

In conclusion, Steinbeck wrote that he wrote Of Mice and Men to show the triumph of the human spirit against “weakness and despair” that friendship and kindness is the “great rally flag of hope”. He questions traditional ideas of strength, and shows that power should not be abused – but that it’s easily done. He shows that cruelty breeds more cruelty and so George’s compassion towards Lennie stands out even more brightly.

Steinbeck said when he wrote the book that he wanted to celebrate: greatness of heart and spirit’; ‘gallantry [nobility] in defeat’; ‘courage, compassion, and love.’ are key in the ‘endless war against weakness and despair’ and to celebrate ‘hope.’

Other ideas to include:
Strength of character and moral fibre: George manages to do the right thing at the end, where Candy didn’t have the guts.
loneliness as weakness in the book
never have the ability to fulfil their dreams, lack power, trapped
is cruelty a strength or a weakness: it’s mixed
Curley – afraid, feels like he’s got something to prove
Curley’s wife: ‘a bindle stiffs – a nigger an’ a dum dum and a lousy ol’ sheep’  ‘I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny.’
Candy – old, feeble ‘I ain’t much good with on’y one hand’, ‘I ought to of shot that dog myself’
Candy’s dog – ‘lame’ ‘blind’ 

Please note, this essay was done under exam quotations so some of the quotes are a bit wobbly. I’d rate this low A grade.