Liniment is medicine applied to the skin, also known as ‘balm’, usually to relieve aches and stiffness. Liniment is not as thick as cream or lotion and must be rubbed into the skin to be effective.
Of Mice and Men depicts many different kinds of people who are disadvantaged or isolated in various ways. Ranch workers are generally poor and have little hope for the future, distrusting other workers and keeping to themselves, in a world too harsh to really be able to achieve anything without help. Lennie is disadvantaged because of his mental health problems; he is treated as stupid, and would have struggled in the world if George had not looked after him. Candy is old and injured and will soon be dismissed from the ranch, with even worse prospects for the future than the others. Still worse off is Crooks, the black man who is segregated from the others due to his skin colour. The others might hate the bunkhouse, but at least they are allowed company and basic rights. Crooks is denied these. Finally, there is Curley’s wife, who is expected to remain on her own, inside the house, and is immediately judged a flirt and a tramp if she tries to talk to anyone besides her husband.
All these people are disadvantaged and desperately lonely in their separate ways, and each has a dream that is unlikely to ever come true. Each is pushed around by circumstances beyond their control. Out of all of them, only Lennie will move beyond the boundaries that separate them. Lennie is the reason George has a dream based on comradeship, and it is because of this that Candy reaches out to them. Lennie visits Crooks because he does not understand the societal forces that keep the others away from him, and Lennie’s presence there draws Candy. Lennie is also the only one willing to talk to Curley’s wife as to another human being. It is ironic that Lennie is the driving force that brings people together, and yet he is also the most passive and least autonomous character in the story. Appropriately enough, as Lennie is the one holding the dream together, when Lennie is gone so is the dream.
This is an important speech. Just as he did with Crooks, John Steinbeck first showed the prejudice of the other characters towards Curley’s wife, and now explores her own feelings about that prejudice. As with Crooks, the deepest problem caused by segregation and other people’s suspicion is the loneliness that it brings on the excluded person. Curley’s wife simply wants to talk to people, but if she does so she is seen to be flirting or causing trouble. Curley’s jealousy and the other men’s fear puts her into an isolated position, and if she attempts to break out of this position she is blamed.
Curley’s wife’s loneliness is shown as the deepest and most hopeless of all the characters. The ranch workers can talk to each other and form friendships. Candy can come in on George and Lennie’s dream. Crooks suggested coming in on the dream too, but then pulled himself back when George demonstrated his prejudice towards the black man. For Curley’s wife, however, there isn’t even the possibility of making a friend or joining in with the others’ dreams. She had her own dreams of how life should be, like George and Lennie, but hers were even less achievable. She is truly alone in a way that none of the men are, and she will never be accepted.