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'Of Mice and Men' and Powerful Emotions - John Steinbeck

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Rob Mason

on 7 April 2015

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Transcript of 'Of Mice and Men' and Powerful Emotions - John Steinbeck

'Of Mice and Men' - John Steinbeck

The Great Depression - 1930's.
The Great Depression meant that the economy was extremely weak in the USA during the 1930's. This lead to high unemployment, which, in turn, lead to migrant (traveling) farmers going from farm to farm searching for work.

Farmers mainly travelled alone!

This is crucial to the theme of
in 'Of Mice and Men' because the ranch workers were constantly on the move, they never had the opportunity to create real, emotional friendships/ relationships. People tended to be disconnected from one another.
made people

Which character does this remind you of?

= George and Lennie
Steinbeck further observes this in the character of George and Lennie, who travel around together, in part, in order to stave off loneliness.
George acknowledges this when he states
Guys like us are the loneliest guys in the world.....With us, it ain't like that...."
This is rare for the period of time which is seen when Slim remarks:

"Ain't many guys travel around together."
A further consequence of LONELINESS is that is made people want to DREAM - to escape their lives.

The Great Depression - 1930s
During these harsh economic times, America had very little legislation ( laws) in place that would protect the living conditions of its citizens. There was no Welfare state.
This meant that everyone was left to fends for themselves which, in turn, meant that only the strong survive.

This social / historical context is reflected in the novel through the theme of
There are many instances in the novel whereby those that are deemed 'weak' in some war and/ or cannot manage independently are either

Can you think of 3 examples to support the above statements?
Candy's DOG
Old -
"Stiff with reheumatism"
and no longer useful - is KILLED off. Candy's only possession that means anything to him, is taken and shot - thus displaying that there is no room for sentiment in this type of society.
Slim's Dog
When Slim's dog has puppies, the four smallest puppies are taken and drown by Slim.
KILLED. Although Killed by Lennie ( Not for being weak) -she is another character who is considered to be dispensable. She has no purpose in this type of society.
He cannot manage independently in a responsible way and so is killed off in this brutal society which provides no provision for those who are mentally weak.
Those that are deemed 'WEAK' in some way or who cannot manage independently are either REJECTED or KILLED OFF!
The Smallest were taken because they were deemed weak and would struggle to survive independently
Ageism : Candy is Rejected from his type of harsh society. He is rejected because he is no longer useful - Old and Disabled. They Kill his dog without his consent and he knows that there is no future for him.
"When they can me here, I wisht somebody'd shoot me"
How do you think Steinbeck uses his characters
to convey ideas about America in the 1930's?

In the 19TH Century, America was a country which, initially, welcomed the poor and disadvantaged people of the world. People believed it was land for taking ( free or very cheap)
as the frontier expanded and pushed further and further west.
People could own their own land - be free, independent -not struggle to make ends meet or see their earnings get wasted aware each month due to the cost of living. This was what attracted people to America. However, by the early 1900s, there was no more frontier - America was now fully occupied - all the way out west including -CALIFORNIA ( where the novel is set.)
Thus Steinbeck is reflecting that the dream was bound to end in disappointment.
Dream of owning land...
By the early 1900's -
America was fully occupied, but the dream of
owning land remained very popular in the 1930s.
Steinbeck conveys this through George & Lennie talking
endlessly about their dream house/farm.

Crooks is used by Steinbeck to warn us that this dream was a) very
popular and b) unlikely to come true. Crooks observes,
"I seen hundreds
of men with land in their head...nobody gets to heaven and nobody gets
no land."
Although the dream does not come true at the end of the novel Steinbeck is reflecting a general truth that people NEED to dream.
It offers
( Candy )
wife's Dream...
This also represents a sense of wanting to
escape from a harsh, lonely, uninviting environment. She has clearly had an unhappy home life otherwise Curley's wife would not have been so quick to blame her mother or in a rush to escape.
She tells Lennie,

"Well, I wasn't gonna stay no place where...they stole your letters....so I married Curley."
Her dream represents the GROWING INFLUENCE OF HOLLYWOOD, however just like the ranch workers dream of owning land - it had very little chance of becoming reality.
The men are working without
anything to show for it. They have
v few possessions, they live in a
shared area, they are constantly
moving on from place to place in a rootless existence.

The money they have is, invariably, immediately spent on cheap sex, gambling and alcohol.

Many have a dream - seen by crooks' observation that he's seen
with the same dream of owning land and yet this dream never has any chance of coming true as
"ever' time a whore-house or a blackjack game took what it takes."
This can be seen with G&L who despite having the dream - only saved
"Ten bucks."
P - Point: Begin your paragraph with an explanation of the point you wish to make.....e.g....
E -Evidence: Now support your statement with evidence from the text.......e.g....
E - Explain: Finally you must explain what the evidence reveals. How
does it prove your point?
America was born through a history
of slavery. Despite being officially abolished
, prejudices remained strong.
, a law was passed in America which
started that black people should be separate but equal. This law remained in place until the
The reality, however, was that black people were separate and
This can be seen in the character of Crooks, who is kept separate from all the other ranch workers : -
" They play cards in there, but I can't play because I'm black."
We see the bitterness when Steinbeck portrays
him as taking "pleasure" in his torture of Lennie.
He wants Lennie to feel as lonely as he does.
Loneliness felt by Crooks -
"A guy goes nuts"
Sexism : Curley's Wife
Curley's wife is a character used by Steinbeck in order to demonstrate the effects of sexism in America at the time.
1921 - Women had only just received the right to vote. Before they were denied a political vote giving them any say on how the country should run.
As with Racism, a change in law does not necessarily mean a change in attitudes. Women were still treated like second class citizens.
This is seen in the
case of Curley's wife.
She is never given a
proper name throughout
the entire novel - she is merely referred to as a
man's wife - a possession.

Her treatment as a woman is further seen in the way she is totally isolated. A woman was perceived to have one of two roles - Housewife or prostitute.
Society's treatment of women at this time leads to the theme of loneliness for Curley's wife. It is the loneliness which indirectly kills her - we see her turn to Lennie for company
Imagine Curley's wife in a modern day context - surely her life would have been completely different?
Besides Aunt Clara, prostitutes are the only other women mentioned in the novel - they have a very limited purpose. This further highlights a lack of proper human relationships/ emotional connections in the novel.
Women are seen as a source of trouble!
To make the characters come alive/ seem realistic!

His poetic style uses detailed description and striking, effective metaphors, similes and imagery:

The metaphor : ‘
the heron jacked itself clear of the water,’

The similes:
‘in and out of the beam flies shot like rushing stars
’ and ‘…
as silently as a creeping bear’

The imagery: on p105
‘the tops of the mountains seemed to blaze with increasing brightness’
when Steinbeck describes the sun setting, heralding the end for Lennie and a new dawn for George.

Poetic Language
Steinbeck’s style is economic; he uses every word carefully. His descriptions are highly detailed, showing that he is an excellent observer, especially of natural things, such as landscapes and animals.

He creates the setting for each ‘scene’ with vivid description, and takes care to describe the atmosphere as well
(eg ‘The silence came in to the room and the silence lasted…’
(when describing the shooting of Candy’s dog). Another example is after the death of Curley’s wife:
‘…a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. Sound stopped and movement stopped…’)
His style is simple and straightforward, with few long sentences. It is a combination of poetic and realistic.

Steinbeck's style:

Harsh and hard language that is typical of the ranch workers.
Use of images, simile, metaphor and personification
Linking imagery
Foreshadowing of events that create a dark mood and atmosphere

It can be a challenge to write about but being able to focus on the language of the writer is the key way to achieve the highest possible grades in all your exams. Writing about style shows the ability to look beyond the text and the story and to be more critical and analytical about the writer’s work. Simply retelling the plot is dull and will not get marks.


Tight and controlled he uses every
word carefully.
Lots of key details to help set the scene and atmosphere.
He often uses the five senses.
His style is simple and straightforward.

Steinbeck also uses natural symbolism in the structure of the book. Form example,
one water snake escapes death at the beginning, but. another gets eaten at the end of the novel.
Steinbeck uses this idea to show the cruelty
and unpredictability of nature and the natural cycle, and that fate also treats man in the same way.

Steinbeck also links images closely, and uses this to reinforce the idea of man being linked closely to nature (and fate), and being unable to escape.
For example, Candy is linked to his dog... ‘the ancient dog walked lamely in.. gazed about with mild, half-blind eyes’
; and ‘
scratching his wrist and looking blindly into the lighted room’.
Both show the pathos of old age, and reveal Steinbeck's compassion for the people he has chosen to write about.

See quotation
on Curley's
Wife's death!
Descriptive: #The red light dimmed on the coals...The sycamore leaves whispered in a little night breeze." P.35
Colloquial Language
"It's brighter 'n' a bitch out there."
Language seems ironic. Slim compared to royalty, yet first words colloquial. Emphasized his down to earth.
" Tell you what...hell of a nice fella." p.39.
Language gives a clue about characters- e.g. way Candy repeats himself to highlight a lack of education.
Chronological order:
•The plot progresses chronologically, i.e. in the order in which it actually happens.

It has a
circular Structure
- What does this mean?
" A watersnake glided smoothly up the pool, twisting its periscope head from side to side: and it swam the length of the pool and came to the legs of a motionless heron that stood in the shallows. A silent bead and beak lanced down and plucked it out by the head, and the beak swallowed the little snake while its tail waved frantically.
A far rush of wind sounded and a gust drove through the tops of the trees like a wave. The sycamore leaves turned up their silver sides, the brown dry leaves on the ground scudded a few feet. And row on row of tiny wind waves flowed up the pool's green surface."

Why are there no chapter divisions?

Probably because in such a short novel Steinbeck does not want to break up the flow of the text. Chapter divisions might also reduce the feeling of inevitability in the novel.
"Evening of a hot day started the little wind to moving among the leaves. The shade climbed up the bills toward the top. On the sand - banks the rabbits sat as quietly as little grey, sculptured stones....A stilted heron laboured up into the air and pounded down- river......
The day was going fast now. Only the tops of the Gabilan mountains flamed with the light of the sun that had gone from the valley. A watersnake slipped along on the pool, its head held up like a little periscope. The reeds jerked slightly in the current. "
Give an example
of descriptive
or poetic language
used by Steinbeck.
Give a example
of the colloquial
language used
by characters.
What is the
effect of the
colloquial language
February 27, 1902

Of Mice and Men
December 20, 1968


Candy and his dog - parallel to George and Lennie:
" I ought to of shot that dog myself George." P.89
Candy tells George. At the end George knows it's his responsibility to shoot Lennie.

Violence In Nature:
" A silent head and beck lance down and plucked it out by the head,
and the beak swallowed the little snake while its tail waved frantically." + "A far rush of wind sounded and a gust drove through the tops of trees like a wave." p.140
Descriptions symbolise violence in nature and prepare reader for Lennie's death.

Curley's wife and Light:
"Both men glance up, for the rectangle of sunshine in the doorway was cut off." p.53
Light symbolises hope. When she makes her first appearance she blocks G's and L's light, just as later she indirectly ends their hope of dream becoming true.
"We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome."

– John Steinbeck

"The discipline of the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty."
– John Steinbeck
FUN FACT: Steinbeck's 1st draft of 'Of Mice and Men'
was eaten by his dog.
FUN FACT: Steinbeck did not write with pens. He preferred to use pencils and often used 60 a day.
Robbie Burns
There is a parallel here with
G & L joyful fantasy of a farm
of their own, and its all-too predictable destruction at the
end of the story.
Perhaps the is also meant to suggest to us how unpredictable our lives are, and how vulnerable to tragedy.
The title of the book comes from a poem by the 18th century Scottish poet Robbie Burns. It is about a mouse which carefully builds a winter nest in a wheat field, only for it to be destroyed by a ploughman.

The mouse had dreamed
of a safe, warm winter and
is now faced with the harsh
reality of cold, loneliness
and possible death.

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promised joy!

- Robbie Burns

* It is written in Scots dialect.
Does this remind you of any characters?
(The best laid schemes of mice and men
Often go wrong
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
Instead of promised joy!)
This is perhaps, most seen in the character of Carlson:
He has no friends/ no companionship
It has made him insensitive.
For example this is witnessed when Carlson wants to kill Candy's dog. When he is about to kill the dog, he doesn't even think try bury it; Slim has to tell him to
"Take a shovel" . p.
We again see Carlson's insensitivity at the end of the novel. At this point George has shot Lennie and Slim attempts to comfort George. Carlson then remarks to Curley,
" Now what the hell ya suppose is eatin' them two guys?" p.149
Steinbeck is demonstrating his lack of compassion and understanding because he has led a life of loneliness.

In pairs discuss
your understanding
of the poem
Full transcript