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CHAPTER 6: DEATH AT THE RIVER
The final scene is set in the same place as the first scene, along the banks of the Salinas River. Even the time of day is almost the same. The story has now made a full circle. The location may be the same, but Steinbeck's description of the setting is quite different. Look carefully for those differences. Look particularly for images of death. There are lots of them.
George had always intended that the brush along the riverbank be a haven for Lennie and him should anything go wrong. But this "new" place doesn't seem so safe. Instead of lizards, rabbits, and deer, we see a water snake gliding along like a submarine, looking for prey. The snake becomes the victim of a heron that "lanced down and plucked it out by the head, and the beak swallowed the little snake while its tail waved frantically." We also saw a heron in the first scene, but it was flying away, not attacking. Instead of "a little wind," we now have a "rush of wind" that gusts through the trees. The leaves are no longer green; they are brown and rotting.
Just as in Chapter 1, man (Lennie) invades nature. But this time Lennie doesn't drink with trust and glee. He barely touches his lips to the water. Lennie has come to wait for George and reassurance that everything will be okay.
As we have seen, Steinbeck's setting descriptions at the beginning of each chapter not only set the scene but create atmosphere as well. The atmosphere here is obviously one of trouble and death.
Even Lennie senses that he has done something really bad this time. Lennie may not be fully human, but his primitive human conscience begins to trouble him. He is haunted by two strange visions. First his Aunt Clara appears to accuse him of not listening to George and of making George's life miserable. She presents Lennie with one of his alternatives-going off by himself. Then Aunt Clara fades away and is replaced by a giant rabbit that says Lennie "ain't fit to lick the boots of no rabbit." The rabbit suggests another alternative-getting beaten by George or deserted by him. Lennie begins to cry for George, and his friend suddenly appears.
NOTE: THE VISIONS
Lennie's two visions give us an interesting insight into his feelings of guilt. Neither Aunt Clara nor the giant rabbit mentions the killing of the girl or the puppy. Lennie isn't really guilty of murder because he isn't responsible for his actions. Lennie's guilt lies more in his failure to live up to the human side of his character, his desire for friendship and a sense of responsibility.
It is interesting that neither vision is included in the play version of Of Mice and Men. Perhaps Steinbeck felt that a play audience would not understand or appreciate the presentation of Lennie's lack of guilt.