* Disclaimer: Everything
here is just my opinion. If you disagree with me, that's fine,
just as long as you can explain yourself. Still, it's good to see
my interpretation, as you get marks for showing knowledge of varying
Of Mice and Men
There are a number of different novels that you can
study for the Literature exam (which leads to the
exam paper being something of a novel itself!) but for this website,
we'll be revising Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. This novel
can also be studied for controlled assessment, which
makes it a good one to look at...
was born in Salinas, California, 1902. Many of his books are set in
America, and Of Mice and Men is just one example. Before he
became an author, he worked as a construction labourer and caretaker,
which is probably where his inspiration for his books came from.
Depression (History dudes click here) formed the background to many
of his novels. 34 million Americans suffered from the GD, and unemployment
was as high as 26% in 1934.
in a name? Of
Mice and Men actually
refers to a poem by Robert Burns,
To a Mouse. This poem basically
is talking about how both men and mice can suffer equally. The name brings
humanity down from their aloof position - saying they don't have any
more control over their lives than mice.
Milton - He
takes care of Lennie. He's "small" but is "quick" with "strong
features" and "restless eyes" - showing he's
Small - George's "opposite".
He's mentally disables, but unlike his name suggests is actually "a
huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes, sloping shoulders".
Lennie is constantly referred to using animal references, such as "the
way a bear drags its feet" to show his understanding is no greater
than an animal. Like a bear, he is huge and strong, but has no control.
ranch worker, but he's created as "godlike", a "master
of the ranch" with "wisdom beyond understanding. And of
course, he's "a nice fellow". Slim is the character the
writer uses to portray his own voice, as when Slim makes a decision,
that decision holds.
Wife - She
is never named in the story, which is significant, because it sums
up her status in the story and in society at large: she is simply
a possession belonging to Curley, not a person in her own right.
reading the Quotes, think how they tie into some of these themes in
|“Both were dressed
in denim trousers and in denim coats with brass buttons. Both wore
black shapeless hats and both carried tight blanket rolls.”
of “both” stresses this quote. It shows that in them
wearing the same, they are not just like one another, but also
like every other ranch worker out there. They are symbolic of them.
|“small and quick” “restless
eyes and sharp, strong features”.
||These are quotes describing
George. They create him as intelligent, with eyes that are constantly
moving to take in the things around him.
|“Behind him waked
his opposite: a huge man, shapeless of face”.
||This already shows Lennie
to be less intelligent, “shapeless of face” is the
kind of expression a very young child might have, despite him being
dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws”.
Lennie to an animal conveys the strength and massiveness of him,
but also shows his lack of intelligence and control, the same as
|“snorting the water
like a horse”
is furthered with the same technique throughout the story. Here
it shows again his little understanding. He doesn’t realise
the water might be bad, just drinks because he’s thirsty.
You gonna be sick like you was last night.’”
a relationship between the pair – George telling him off
like a concerned parent. It also shows that Lennie is unable to
retain info, as he can’t remember even being sick. This has
probably happened many times before.
|“Lennie, who had
been watching, imitated George exactly.”
shows that Lennie admires and looks up to George. Again the image
of a child is created.
|“‘I forgot,’ Lennie
said softly. ‘I tried not to forget’”.
||The suggestion earlier
is cleared that Lennie can’t retain info. It also shows that
he too is frustrated by his own simplicity, creating sympathy for
pet him with my thumb while we walked along’”.
||This explains Lennie’s
thing for soft things, he just wants to pet them. It’s very
much a comfort thing, like a child might carry round a blanket.
give me that mouse or do I have to sock you?’”
||Lennie is enormous at
the side of George, yet George socking him is a real threat. Again
this shows Lennie’s simplicity, as he’d never think
to fight back. He isn’t mean at all.
|"Slowly, like a
terrier who doesn't want to bring a ball to its master, Lennie
shows their relationship, that George is the "master". Lennie
is described as a small terrier, weak, and despite his unwillingness, is unable to do anything but comply.
|"pretty soon they
bit my fingers and I pinched their heads a little and then they
were dead -- because they were so little".
doesn't understand how the mice died, or that he's responsible
for it. It shows he doesn't do things through meanness.
if I was alone I could live so easily." "You can't
keep a job an' you lose me ever' job I get".
|George's patience snaps,
showing that their relationship isn't always easy.
|"You get into trouble".
that the events to come are inevitable, as Lennie has been in trouble
so many times before.
"he looked ashamedly
into the fire".
"I want you to stay
George is ashamed
after he shouts, showing his guilt, and that he didn't really
the nasty things he said to Lennie.
to convince Lennie to say, furthering this.
|"Maybe you wouldn't kill
||He thinks a dog being
bigger is less likely to be killed. This shows inevitability, that
Lennie can kill anything.
|"somebody'd shoot you
for a cayote".
||George cares about Lennie.
"George's words became
deeper. He repeated his words rhythmatically, as though he's said
them many times before".
"You know it all".
shows that the dream is special to them, because they've said
it so many times.
Lennie remembers it, who can't remember anything, showing how
important it is.
The very first
section of Of Mice and Men is devoted to Lennie and George,
in which both their characters are created. They are almost opposites,
with George's "sharp, defined" features and Lennie's "shapeless
is created from the moment we see him, as he rushes for the water,
lapping it up "like a horse". He has no understanding over
the situation, and drinks just because he's thirsty. George quickly
chastises him, explaining how the water could be "bad" and
make Lennie "sick, like last night". This shows that Lennie
doesn't take in, or understand what George says, as he has learned
nothing from the previous incident (which we assume has happened many
the novel, Lennie is likened to animals, using similes and metaphors.
As he's first introduced, he "walked heavily, dragging his feet," "the
way a bear drags his feet". Already mentioned is the horse simile.
Why does Steinbeck use this technique? It's another way of creating
Lennie's mental disability. He is very strong, however, just
like a bear or other animal, he has little control over his strength
As we've already
seen, George tries to take care of Lennie. In their relationship, George
is in control, while Lennie is just like a little kid. We see many,
many examples of this throughout the novel, and just one example is, "like
a terrier who doesn't want to bring a ball to its master". Another
simile compares Lennie to an animal, though this one shows him as
something small, and though unwilling, unable to do anything about
it. At the same time, it calls George the "master".
to make is that George threatens to "sock" Lennie, and despite
his gigantic size, Lennie never even thinks to fight back. This once
more shows his simplicity, and in a more subtle hint that as Slim and
George say, he "ain't mean".
Why does George
stick with Lennie? When his frustration peeks, he says himself, "God
a’mighty, if I was alone I could live so easy". However,
his anger soon fades, and "he looked ashamedly at the fire".
This shows his guilt, and that in reality, he didn't mean all the nasty
things he said about being stuck with Lennie.
companionship from being with Lennie. While their relationship first
started with him knowing Lennie's Aunt Clara (any conspiracy theories?)
and going round with Lennie once she'd died, their relationship grew,
to a point where he needs Lennie, just as Lennie needs him.
talk about the dream, he explains this. "Guys like us, that work
on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world". However, George
isn't like this because he has Lennie, to talk to, to take care of,
and to be admired by. Alongside
Lennie, George feels "smart" - the reason he once played
tricks on Lennie.
their relationship, George makes the ultimate sacrifice for Lennie
at the end. Death is the easy option. George will have to live and
work as one of the "loneliess guys in the world" for the
rest of his life. More on that later.
and his dog
Friendship is a strong issue
in the novel, and a lack of it. Even Slim finds it "funny how
you an' 'im string along together" -- talking about George and
Lennie. The boss thinks George must be "takin' his pay" (Lennie's)
because he "never seen one guy take so much trouble for another
Candy and his dog are another
key instant where the lack of friendship is shown. Their relationship
mirrors George and Lennie's in many respects, such as Candy's had the
dog "from a pup". Candy gets companionship just from having
the dog around - much as George does Lennie - and remembering the olden
days, "the finest sheepdog".
However, the other ranch workers
don't understand this relationship. Carlson thinks that just because
the dog is "old" and useless, it should be put out of its
misery. Candy tries to protest to this, tries to make them understand
how long they've been together and what the dog means to him, but none
of the others understand. Even "Godlike" Slim agrees with
Carlson, and Candy, with no other alternative, is forced to submit.
In the early
stages of the book, she is presented through the eyes of the other
characters, in very unflattering terms like "tramp" and "bitch".
Only innocent Lennie has a less negative response, "She's perty," for
which George hastily reprimands her. George fears that she will get
them into trouble and calls her "jailbait": he has seen
too many women like her, married women who seduce men and get them
is aware of the power of her attractiveness and aims to use it to her
advantage: she always dresses in "red" and is "heavily
made out". We might interpret this unflatteringly and as evidence
of her promiscuous status, as she has no reason to be so dressed up
on a ranch; equally, as the colour red represents both lust and danger,
the latter being apt foreshadowing for later events in the story.
from our first meeting with her, Steinbeck hints that there is more
to her than George's harsh stereotype. She is described in the narrative
as a "girl", which suggests her youth and her innocence,
which are picked up later when she tells Lennie that a director told
her she was "a natural" actor and "soon's he got back
to Hollywood he was gonna write to me about it.” She never got
a letter, however, and the little episode suggests how gullible she
is: that she was taken in by a man who was flattering her, presumably,
to just have sex with her.
hint that might make us feel sympathetic towards Curley's wife is the
fact that she hurries away in agitation when Slim tells her Curley
is heading for the house. This is where she should really be, a prisoner,
and will probably be punished by Curley for being elsewhere, and we
know that Curley can be very violent.
But it is
not until she finally has an opportunity for extended speech that we
really feel sorry for her. With Lennie, she reveals another side to
her character, a softer, more compassionate part of her which "consoled"
Lennie when she heard about the death of the puppy. In this section,
we hear the injustice of her situation. Her dreams have been crushed:
her "coulda" is repeated throughout - could have -
could suggesting possibility, but the terrible have suggesting
that hope has been crushed. Her most optimistic utterance, "Maybe
I will yet," is tainted by the adverb "darkly", suggesting
that she would have to do something drastic, something terrible, to
escape her situation.
And really, when we think about the context in which she lives, what
could she do? In the midst of Depression,
she, as the son of a farmer, is in a relatively comfortable position,
financially. Even if she were to divorce (which was a very difficult
thing to achieve in those days), where would she go? How would she support
herself? Single women, hit by the Depression, had it even harder than
single men; unemployed men were able to seek relief, but a woman rarely
did the same for fear of being publicly condemned and shamed. And women
who tried to work were also condemned, as they were seen to be stealing
the jobs men were entitled to. In such a difficult circumstance, what
was left for women to do but disappear into the background? “I’ve
lived in cities for many months broke, without help, too timid to get
in breadlines,” wrote Meridel LeSueur. “I’ve known
many women to live like this until they simply faint on the street from
privations, without saying a word to anyone. A woman will shut herself
up in a room until it is taken away from her, and eat a cracker a day
and be as quiet as a mouse.” So there is nowhere for Curley's Wife
to go, and marrying Curley (or someone as equally horrible) was probably
her only option when she was still single.
We see, too, that Curley's Wife is forced into a role clearly unsuited
to her. The two spheres of gender
were acute in the Great Depression, with the men going out to earn
the money, and the women staying to care for the family. The man would
for a wage, while the woman would carefully manage the house's
budget to ensure her family survived. There was a lot of pressure on
woman. Curley's Wife clearly doesn't seem to fit this image. While
she is a wife and is clearly expected to be in the house, she and Curley
do not have
a close relationship. Her constant wanderings to find Curley suggest
an attempt to break free from the housewife's role, and her clothing
again is ill fitting with the expectation of her playing a dutiful housewife.
On the surface, she appears little more than a prostitute, an occupation
which thrived during the economic difficulties, and which was ironically
pinned down as a cause of the Depression, in popular opinion,
rather than a resulting factor. Even her broken dream - to
be an actress - suggests that she is attempting to break from the conventional
sphere of the woman; no matter how naive her dream, it is essentially
a working woman's dream, not a housewife's. Her appearance and
her dream harken back to the earlier 'good
the 'Roaring '20s', when women won the right to vote and began entering
the workforce, and were able to begin openly
acknowledging their sexual desires: yet, ten years later, this same
liberality is used to beat women down and pin them as the cause of
clothing, then, perhaps, is a sign of the still prevalent inequality
Curley's wife is undeniably cruel to Crooks, but by the end of the novel,
after hearing her speak to Lennie, can we really be surprised by her
attitude to Crooks?