Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men



Of Mice and Men


In Cornell notes, answer the questions for each chapter. I will collect the study guide, along with other activities and notes completed during the unit when we complete the book.

There are several major themes Steinbeck explores in Of Mice and Men, including:

  • Man vs. Society
  • Man vs. Himself
  • Friendship
  • Loneliness and Alienation
  • Loyalty and Sacrifice
  • Dreams

We will explore these themes in each chapter within our Cornell notes.

Chapter 1

  1. In your Cornell notes, write a quote that fits one of the books major themes, using MLA citation. In another sentence, explain how/why your quote supports the theme
  2. Steinbeck failed to write chapter titles. Write your own title for this chapter, and then write a separate sentence explaining why you chose this chapter.

Next, answer the following questions:
1.  Where did the bus drop the two men off? 
2.  How is George described? 
3.  How is Lennie described? 
4.  What does Lennie do with the water that makes him proud of himself? 
5.  What does Lennie not have in his pocket? 
6.  Why does Lennie not have it in his pocket? 
7.  What does Lennie take out of his pocket that gets him yelled at by George? 
8.  What did Lennie want to do with this item? 
9.  Where are George and Lennie going? 
10.  From where are George and Lennie coming?
11.  When they get to where they are going, what does George tell Lennie to do? 
12.  Why did George and Lennie leave the last place they were at? 
13.  When Lennie goes out to get wood for a fire, what does he bring back that George takes away? 
14.  Who used to give Lennie mice? 
15.  Why did she stop giving Lennie mice? 
16.   What does Lennie want with his dinner that they don’t have? 
17.  What does George imply happened in Weed with the girl? 
18.  What dream does George and Lennie share? 
19.  Where does George tell Lennie to go if he gets in trouble? 

Chapter 2

  1. In your Cornell notes, write a quote that fits one of the books major themes, using MLA citation. In another sentence, explain how/why your quote supports the theme
  2. Steinbeck failed to write chapter titles. Write your own title for this chapter, and then write a separate sentence explaining why you chose this chapter.

Next, answer the following questions:

1.  According to the old man, why was the boss mad at George and Lennie? 
2.  What does George find in the box by his bed and what does he assume? 
3. Describe the “stable buck.”  What physical attributes does he have?  What does the boss use him for? 
4.  Describe the fight between the “stable buck” and Smitty. 
5.  What is Lennie’s last name?
6.  What does the boss suspect George of doing to Lennie?  What makes him think this? 
7.  What reason does George give for taking care of Lennie?
8.  What is George’s last name? 
9.  Who is Curley? 
10.  What does the swamper tell George about Curley’s left hand? 
11.  Describe Curley’s wife.   
12.  Why does she come into the bunkhouse? 
13.  Describe Slim.  What is his job on the ranch?  What are some of his character traits? 
14.  What did Slim do to four of his pups?  Why? 
15.  What does Lennie want George to ask Slim? 

Chapter 3

  1. In your Cornell notes, write a quote that fits one of the books major themes, using MLA citation. In another sentence, explain how/why your quote supports the theme
  2. Steinbeck failed to write chapter titles. Write your own title for this chapter, and then write a separate sentence explaining why you chose this chapter.

Next, answer the following questions:

1.  What does Slim say he would have done to the dog if he hadn’t given it to Lennie? 
2.  What does Slim say he finds funny? 
3.  George says if he were really smart he would be doing what? 
4.  What is the story behind why Lennie and George travel together? 
5.  What can the reader infer about Lennie’s childhood and family life? 
6.  What did George do once that made him stop playing jokes on Lennie? 
7.  What card game does George play? 
8.  What does George tell Slim happened in Weed? 
9.  What sneaky thing does Lennie try to do? 
10.  What game has the other guys been playing while George and Slim talk?
11.  What is Carlson’s problem and what does he tell Candy to do? 
12.  What reasons does Carlson give for wanting Candy’s dog shot? 
13.  What does Whit show Slim? 
14.  What does Carlson say he has? 
15.  What does Slim tell Carlson to take with him when goes to shoot Candy’s dog?  Why?
16.   Whit says that George and Lennie must have come to work.  What reason does he give? 
17.  What does Whit invite George to do “tomorrow” night? 
18.  Why don’t the guys visit Clara’s house instead of Susy’s? 
19.  Why does George say he will go and get a drink but that he isn’t going to pay for a flop? 
20.  What is Curley looking for? 
21.  What does Curley think Slim is doing? 
22.  What is Slim really doing in the barn? 
23.  Who has been listening to and finally interrupts George and Lennie’s conversation about the ranch? 
24.  For what reason would the people sell the ranch for only $600? 
25.  How did Candy get $250? 
26.  What is George afraid will happen to them if others find out they are going to buy a ranch?
27.  What does Candy tell George he wishes he had done? 
28.  Why was Lennie smiling? 
29.  About what does Curley think Lennie smiling about? 
30.  What happens between Curley and Lennie? 

Chapter 4

  1. In your Cornell notes, write a quote that fits one of the books major themes, using MLA citation. In another sentence, explain how/why your quote supports the theme
  2. Steinbeck failed to write chapter titles. Write your own title for this chapter, and then write a separate sentence explaining why you chose this chapter.

Next, answer the following questions:

1.  What are two books that Crooks owns?
2.  How does Crooks react to Lennie when he comes to visit? 
3.  For what reason did Lennie come to the barn? 
4.  Where is George? 
5.  What do we learn about Crooks family?  
6.  What does Lennie tell Crooks, even though he probably shouldn’t have? 
7.  What is Crook’s opinion of George and Lennie desire to get land? 
8.  About what did Candy want to talk to Lennie? 
9.  Where is George’s money going, according to Crooks. 
10.  Who visits Crooks, Candy, and Lennie? 
11.  What do we learn about Curley’s wife? 
12.  Before Curley’s wife leaves, what does she notice about Lennie? 
13.  What does Curley’s wife say she could have done to Crooks?
14.  What is the last thing Crooks says to Candy? 

Chapter 5

  1. In your Cornell notes, write a quote that fits one of the books major themes, using MLA citation. In another sentence, explain how/why your quote supports the theme
  2. Steinbeck failed to write chapter titles. Write your own title for this chapter, and then write a separate sentence explaining why you chose this chapter.

Next, answer the following questions:

1.  What day and time is it at the beginning of chapter 5? 
2.  What is Lennie doing in the barn by himself? 
3.  Why does Lennie think that he might not get to tend the rabbits?
4.  Who visits Lennie in the barn?
5.  According to Curley’s wife, why isn’t anyone going to leave the horseshoe tournament? 
6.  According to Curley’s wife, how come she didn’t get into show business?
7.  What can we infer is the reason Curley’s wife married Curley?
8.  What plan does Lennie have to avoid getting in trouble?
9.  What did Lennie lose that he wishes he had now? 
10.  For what does Curley’s wife yell at Lennie?
11.  What did Lennie do to Curley’s wife?
12.  Who finds Curley’s wife? 
13.  What does Candy hopefully ask George? 
14.  What favor does George ask of Candy?
15.  What does Carlson think happened to his Luger? 



Chapter 6

  1. In your Cornell notes, write a quote that fits one of the books major themes, using MLA citation. In another sentence, explain how/why your quote supports the theme
  2. Steinbeck failed to write chapter titles. Write your own title for this chapter, and then write a separate sentence explaining why you chose this chapter.

Next, answer the following questions:

1.  Where is Lennie hiding? 
2.  With whom does Lennie have his first imaginary conversation?
3.  With whom/what does Lennie have his second imaginary conversation?
4.  What story does George tell Lennie?
5.  What does he do while telling him this story?



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Of Mice and Men | Introduction

Of Mice and Men is a novel set on a ranch in the Salinas Valley in California during the Great Depression of the 1930s. It was the first work to bring John Steinbeck national recognition as a writer. The title suggests that the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry, a reference to Robert Burns's poem "To a Mouse." Of Mice and Men was selected for the Book of the Month Club before it was officially published, an honor that encouraged 117,000 copies of the novel to be sold before its official publication on February 25, 1937. Critical response to the novel was generally positive. There were, however, critics who were offended by the rough earthiness of the characters and their lives. By April 1937, the book was on best-seller lists across the country, and it continued to remain a top seller throughout that year. Steinbeck said that he was not expecting huge sales, and he was surprised by the substantial checks he received from his agents. In fact, Steinbeck became a celebrity with the publication of his novel, a status that he feared would negatively affect his work. Steinbeck conceived Of Mice and Men as a potential play. Each chapter is arranged as a scene, and each scene is confined to a single space: a secluded grove, a bunkhouse, and a barn.

With the success of the novel, Steinbeck worked on a stage version with playwright George Kaufman, who directed the play. Of Mice and Men opened on Broadway in New York City on November 23, 1937, with Wallace Ford as George and Broderick Crawford as Lennie. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive, and the play ran for 207 performances, winning the prestigious New York Drama Critics' Circle Award. The action of the novel occurs over the course of three days. Steinbeck created the novel's two main characters, George Milton and Lennie Small, to portray victims of forces beyond their control. George and Lennie are two migrant agricultural workers on a California ranch who share a dream of owning their own farm someday. They take jobs at a ranch where their hopes are at first raised but then destroyed by a tragic accident. Steinbeck depicts George and Lennie as two innocents whose dream conflicts with the realities of a world dominated by materialism and greed. Their extraordinary friendship distinguishes them from other hopeless and lonely migrant farm workers. The novel portrays a class of ranch workers in California whose plight had been previously ignored in the early decades of the twentieth century. In fact, George and Lennie are like mice in the maze of modem life. The great friendship they share does not prove sufficient to allow them to realize their dream. As a young man, Steinbeck learned about migrant laborers, usually unmarried men recruited to work during harvest seasons, from his own experience as a worker on company-owned ranches. With Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck became a master craftsman, ready to write his masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath the following year.


Steinbeck drew heavily from his own experiences. Four of his novels, Tortilla Flat, Of Mice and Men, In Dubious Battle, and The Grapes of Wrath, and several short stories are set in and around his hometown of Salinas, California. Reflecting his own love of central California, these stories take place in towns, ranches, and valleys that lie between the Gabilan Mountains and the coastal Santa Lucia Mountains.

Steinbeck was also acutely aware of the social and economic problems of the times. Having lived during the Great Depression of the 1930s, during bread lines and soup kitchens, during labor unrest and escalating unemployment, he was spared the suffering that befell so many. But he knew first hand the problems that they faced.

Before the Great Depression, and between sessions at Stanford University, Steinbeck worked at odd jobs on California ranches. During one summer early in his college career, Steinbeck bucked barley on a ranch just south of Salinas. These experiences exposed him to the lower strata of society and provided him with material that would later appear in his novels of the 1930s.

Tortilla Flat (1935) drew on his experiences with Californian migrant workers living on the outer fringes of society. This was his first attempt to rouse an audience’s pity for the conditions of transient laborers, but it was not to be his last.

Steinbeck continued to speak for the exploited man with In Dubious Battle (1936). This controversial novel was an account of migrant workers caught in a California labor strike. Steinbeck had witnessed up close the intolerable conditions under which these men were forced to work. He had seen certain groups who were badly hurt by the system in which they lived. In the novel he tried to create something meaningful from the behavior of these exploited people who were not able to speak for themselves.

Of Mice and Men (1937) maintains this focus on the migrant worker, here portraying his elusive dream of owning his own land. This is the same dream shared and lost by so many of the Depression era.

Following Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck continued his research into migrant worker conditions by spending four weeks with them, sharing in their living and working routines. He published several feature articles that reported on the dismal conditions he found. Steinbeck also drew from this experience while writing his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Grapes of Wrath (1939).


John Steinbeck Biography
Born February 27, 1902, in Salinas, California, not far from the setting of his novel Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck was the grandson of a German immigrant on his father’s side (whose name was originally Grossteinbeck), and of an Irish immigrant on his mother’s side. Both his father and his grandfather had been independent businessmen who owned and operated their own flour mill. His father also served as county treasurer for 11 years before retiring. Steinbeck’s mother was the daughter of a California rancher. She was a schoolteacher.
John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck

As educated people of some affluence, Steinbeck’s parents offered their children a variety of cultural experiences. The family regularly attended plays and concerts. Listening to their parents read was a customary after-dinner ritual for the Steinbeck children. Books were often prized holiday gifts.

From boyhood, John Steinbeck dreamed of being a writer. This youthful aspiration was not simply a dream, though. It was the goal that shaped his life. Even as a boy he spent part of each day writing. While the rest of the neighborhood slept, he sat in his room working for hours on short stories, which he submitted only anonymously. His early material was often rejected, but he remained undaunted.

After making “B’s” through high school, Steinbeck entered Stanford University. He attended college there for five years, but he never completed requirements for graduation. Constantly working on his fiction, Steinbeck took several college writing courses and published a few pieces in Stanford’s literary journals, but when he submitted his creative works to magazines, he still received only rejections.

He left Stanford at the age of 23 and moved to New York, hoping to become a writer. He got a job as a reporter but was ultimately dismissed since he was, admittedly, not very good at it. Somewhat discouraged, Steinbeck returned to California where he took on various odd jobs, all the while continuing to work on his fiction.

Following Steinbeck’s 1930 marriage to Carol Henning, he experienced his most successful decade. During their marriage, which lasted for a little over 10 years, Steinbeck came into his own as a writer and produced some of his best fiction. One reason was that early in the marriage, Carol allowed him to focus exclusively on his art. While he remained home writing, she worked to support them both.

Although he was writing diligently, Steinbeck won neither financial success nor critical acclaim with his early novels: Cup of Gold (1929), The Pastures of Heaven (1932), and To a God Unknown (1933). But all of this changed with the publication of Tortilla Flat (1935), which brought him immediate fame and wealth. This was to be the first of his best-sellers. The following year In Dubious Battle (1936) was published. Success, financial and critical, followed with the publication of Of Mice and Men (1937). The novel was produced on Broadway later that same year, and it won the Drama Critics’ Circle Award. The Grapes of Wrath (1939) won Steinbeck the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and a place in the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

But Steinbeck did not confine himself to the arena of fiction. Already practiced in publishing articles for newspapers, he wrote his first non-fiction book—Sea of Cortez (1941)—with his longtime friend Ed Ricketts. The book is based on the time Steinbeck spent with Ricketts on the Gulf of California collecting marine specimens.

With the beginning of a new decade came several endings for Steinbeck. In the late 1930s came the deterioration of Steinbeck’s marriage to Carol. In 1942, Carol divorced him. The next year he married Gwyndolen Conger Verdon and moved to New York. While this five-year marriage did give him his only two children, Tom and John, it marks the point at which the quality of his fiction began its decline.

Following his second marriage, and the move from his native California, Steinbeck published nearly a dozen novels. Though each of these show merit, on the whole, none match the excellence of his works of the 1930s. He continued, however, to follow the “drive” he had identified in a letter to his publisher: “making people understand each other.”

The Moon Is Down (1942), like Of Mice and Men, was written as a novel-play. As with Of Mice and Men, it was intended to illuminate a facet of the world Steinbeck’s audience did not understand. The novel focused on World War II and the Nazi occupation of Scandinavia.

As his personal contribution to the war cause, Steinbeck wrote Bombs Away (1942) for the Army Air Corps. Steinbeck’s wartime efforts were highly successful. The book was successful in helping to recruit soldiers, and royalties from the movie were contributed to the Air Corps. Later, for six months in 1943, Steinbeck took a more active role in the war, and served as the New York Herald Tribune war correspondent in the European war zone.

Cannery Row (1945) depicts a group of men who, instead of being displaced by society, have deliberately detached themselves from the social system. It is set in the pre-war 1930s and reflects his continued concern with social deviants.

The Pearl (1947) appeared first as a motion picture script. Steinbeck though, was reportedly not eager to continue in this medium. The Pearl was subsequently revised into a long magazine story and then a book. Steinbeck has called this his “folk tale” and likens it to a parable. The plot of this short novel is loosely based on a true story Steinbeck heard while he was in Mexico working on his Sea of Cortez. An account published in Sea of Cortez describes a young Indian’s discovery of “the Pearl of the World.” Ironically his good fortune, an assurance of physical and religious security, only brings him misery, and the story ends with the young Indian throwing the cursed pearl back into the sea.

Two of Steinbeck’s final novels—East of Eden (1952) and The Winter of Our Discontent (1961)—mark a return to the past. East of Eden returns to his familiar California setting as he portrays the fictional account of his mother’s family. The Winter of Our Discontent focuses on the superiority of things of the past.

During the 1950s, Steinbeck continued to express his social and political views, but in a new way. He helped write speeches for the 1952 and 1956 presidential campaigns. He even served as advisor to President Johnson. For his advisory services during the years of the Vietnam conflict, Steinbeck was awarded the United States Medal of Freedom in 1964.

Continuing to experiment with narrative forms, Steinbeck published several non-fiction forms late in his career. A Russian Journal (1948) is an account of his travels in Russia. Travels with Charley (1962) records his thoughts while traveling the country with his dog, Charley. He also published The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951) which included a biographical sketch of Ricketts, his valued friend who had died a few years earlier. Once There Was a War (1958) was his publication of wartime dispatches.

Though Steinbeck never again recaptured the glory of the 1930s, his stature as one of America’s foremost novelists remained. In 1948 he was elected to the American Academy of Letters. In 1962 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. He had won his place in American literary history.

He had also found happiness in marriage. Steinbeck married Elaine Scott in 1950. They were together, happily according to Steinbeck, until his death in late 1968.



Of Mice and Men, with its highly restricted focus, is the first of Steinbeck's experiments with the novel-play form, which combines qualities of each genre. The novel thus needed few changes before appearing on Broadway. The story is essentially comprised of three acts of two chapters each. Each chapter or scene contains few descriptions of place, character, or action. Thus, the novel's strength lies in part in its limitations. Action is restricted usually to the bunkhouse. The span of time is limited to three days, sunset Thursday to sunset Sunday, which intensifies the sense of suspense and drama.

Point of View
The point of view of the novel is generally objective—not identifying with a single character—and limited to exterior descriptions. The third-person narrative point of view creates a sense of the impersonal. With few exceptions, the story focuses on what can be readily perceived by an outside observer: a river bank, a bunkhouse, a character's appearance, card players at a table. The focus on time, too, is limited to the present: there are no flashbacks to events in the past, and the reader only learns about what has happened to Lennie and George before the novel's beginning through dialogue between the characters. Thoughts, recollections, and fantasies are expressed directly by the characters, except when Lennie hallucinates in Chapter 6 about seeing a giant rabbit and Aunt Clara.

Set in California's Salinas Valley, the story takes place on a large ranch during the Great Depression. The agricultural scene in California in the 1930s, particularly in Salinas Valley, was dominated by large collective farms, or "farm factories," owned by big landowners and banks. These farm factories employed hundreds of workers, many of whom were migrants. Small farms of a few hundred acres, such as the one Lennie and George dream about, were relatively scarce. On the large farms, low wages for picking fruit and vegetables often led to economic unrest. In September 1936, thousands of lettuce workers in the Salinas Valley went on strike over low wages. The situation grew tense, and an army officer was brought in to lead vigilantes against the strikers. The strike was crushed within a month. Steinbeck covered the strike as a reporter for the San Francisco News.


The most important symbol in the novel is the bank of the Salinas River, where the novel begins and ends. In the story's opening, when George and Lennie come to the riverbank, it serves as a symbol of retreat from the world to a natural state of innocence. In this first scene, George tells Lennie that he should return to this riverbank if there is trouble at the ranch where they plan to work. The riverbank is a "safe place" for the two characters. A second symbol is the rabbits: Lennie repeatedly asks George to tell him about the rabbits, which, when they are mentioned, also come to symbolize the safe place that George and Lennie desire and dream about. The fundamental symbol is the dream itself: "a little house and a couple of acres and a cow and some pigs." This ideal place keeps the two men bonded to each other and offers hope, however briefly, to two other men whom George and Lennie will meet the next day at the ranch. When George and Lennie arrive at the ranch, the bunkhouse and farm symbolize the essential emptiness of that world, offering only minimal physical security.

Foreshadowing, where events subtly hint at things to come, serves to heighten suspense in the novel. Lennie's rough handling of the mice and the puppy, the shooting of Candy's old dog, the crushing of Curley's hand, and the frequent appearances of Curley's wife all foretell future violence. Steinbeck tells the reader about the mice and puppy, as well as the scene in which Lennie breaks the bones in Curley's hand, so that when Lennie kills Curley's wife it is completely believable and convincing—and seemingly inevitable—that this could happen. Also, at the very beginning of the book, the reader learns that George and Lennie had to leave Weed because Lennie got into trouble when he tried to touch a girl's dress. The incident in which Candy's dog is shot also foreshadows George's shooting of Lennie, an ironic comparison of the value placed on the life of a dog and a man.


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Composed By:
Jen Bennett, Amanda Catherman, Katie Dauka, Melissa Musial
Frontloading Of Mice and Men through background knowledge of John Steinbeck
Why is studying the author before reading the text valuable?
I have included literary articles that I believe to be useful sources to use in the classroom before delving into the reading of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Before each article I have prepared a brief synopsis explaining the value of the article and how it can become a meaningful tool to help students engage with the novel. While studying a text I find it useful to provide information about the author as well as the time period and society of which the author belongs so that students may begin to access their own background knowledge which they may critically connect to the author’s background and textual evidence.
Who is John Steinbeck? (Particularly in relation to Of Mice and Men)
• John Steinbeck was born in Salinas Valley California on February 27th, 1902.
• Salinas Valley is the setting of many of Steinbeck’s novels; it is the both the setting for the opening and closing scenes of Of Mice and Men
• Steinbeck was not part of a “literary community”, a fact that is often used against him by critics, he was part of a lower class agricultural community
• He grew up a laboring man, raised by his German father and Irish mother
• Steinbeck attended Stanford University
• Of Mice and Men was published in 1937, a time when migrant farm workers in Salinas Valley were struck very hard during the Great Depression
• Essentially Of Mice and Men is about normal, characteristically unimportant people whom are based off of real people in Steinbeck’s life. He originally planned to title the novel Something that Happened
• Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 for his novel The Winter of Our Discontent
• Aside from being a novelist, Steinbeck was also a journalist, having traveled to Vietnam to report about the nature of the war
• Steinbeck also worked intimately with the administration of President Lyndon Johnson
• John Steinbeck died on December 20th, 1968 in Sags Harbor, New York. He
Preceded two sons, Thom and John as well as his third wife, Elaine
• There is a Steinbeck society which began publication of the Steinbeck Quarterly in 1968
• 2002 represented a year in which there was a Centennial Celebration of Steinbeck
• When asked by the Associated Press whom his favorite authors were, Steinbeck replied Faulkner and Hemingway (1962)
Steinbeck “The Naturalist”
According literary critic John Ditsky Steinbeck is often categorized as a “naturalist”. A term coined to reflect a deterministic view of human nature as subject to physical and psychological influences so strong as to deny the possibility of “free” moral choice” (26). Other authors often placed in this category include Stephen Crane, Theodore Dreiser, and Frank Norris.
Steinbeck’s Form
Steinbeck called his creation Of Mice and Men, a “play novelette”. Each section was meant to be a scene of a play performed by actors. This explains why there is a lack of what critics refer to as “detail” and an abundance of dialogue. The novel is read much like a script of a play. John Ditsky remarks of another interest of form in Steinbeck’s novels termed exemplary action. He explains, “In the most successful example, Of Mice and Men, the tragic outcome for his flesh-and-blood characters might well disguise the fact that in killing Lennie to save him from a lynching, George is in effect committing suicide, though he goes on living; he has murdered the other half of a symbiotic cellular relationship, and in phalanx terms no longer participating in an evolving organism” (30).
From Conversations with John Steinbeck ed. Thomas Fensch
Books and Bookmen, England (October, 1958)
Interviewer: Mr. Steinbeck, you sound like an “angry young man.”
Steinbeck: Well, I was, and sometimes maybe I still am.
Then you approve of angry young men?
Oh, surely. I think any young man or any man who isn’t angry at one time or another is a waste of time. No, no. Anger is a symbol of thought and evaluation and reaction: without it what have we got? I’m tired of non-angry people. I think anger is the healthiest thing in the world (66).
John Steinbeck Says Changes Put World in Shock, Hal Boyle 1961
NEW YORK-AP-“The whole world is in a state of shock,” said author John Steinbeck. “That is why people don’t think.” “You can’t think when you’re in a state of shock.”
“Again we’re seeing the breakup of old forms of authority-religious, governmental, even parental-before new ones are established,” he said puffing cheerfully on a pipe in the study of his east side home. “That’s why people are so restless and worried. They don’t know what to tie to.”
“I may run out of gas, but not out of ideas as ideas have pups. It’s when your not doing anything that you don’t have ideas” (77).
John Steinbeck: Novelist at Work, Lewis Gannett 1945
“Please feel free to make up your own facts about me as you need them. I can’t remember how much of me really happened and how much I invented…..Biography by its very nature must be half fiction” (28).
1962 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech
Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it and it has not changed except to become more needed. The skalds, the bards, the writers are not separate and exclusive. From the beginning, their functions, their duties, their responsibilities have been decreed by our species…….the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man’s proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit-for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion, and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation. I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature.
For more great information on Steinbeck I recommend consulting the following sources
Bloom, Harold. John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men: Bloom’s Notes. Broomall: Chelsea House
Publishers, 1999.
Conversations with John Steinbeck. Ed. Thomas Fensch. Mississippi: University Press, 1988.
Ditsky, John. John Steinbeck Life, Work, and Criticism. Fredericton: York Press, 1985.
John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Ed. Michael Goodman. Woodbury: Barron’s Educational
Series, 1984.
Schmitz, Anne-Marie. In Search of Steinbeck. Los Altos: Hermees Publications, 1978.
Who is John Steinbeck?
A Letter From Steinbeck
This letter can be useful to use in the classroom because it portray an actual letter that Steinbeck writes. In response to a woman questioning his use of symbolism in The Winter of Our Discontent, Steinbeck replies, “I can only suggest that you work out the answers yourself, since my interpretation would not be the same as yours.” I think this would be valuable for students to view because they can come to an understanding that interpretations are open to everyone, and there is generally not one “correct answer”. It would take pressure off of students to connect only with the author’s view, and give them freedom to be creative in their inferences.
John Steinbeck’s Re-Vision of America
Yoshinobo Hakutani
American Literature, Vol. 58, No. 2 (May, 1986), 303-305
This article gives teachers a taste of John Steinbeck’s use of the theme “American Dream” in his novels. He particularly portrays a loss of the American Dream in his novels Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath. A teacher may use this as a source to provide background knowledge for themselves, and possible consider having students compare Steinbeck’s “American Dream” to the “American Dream” instilled in citizens today. How has society changed since the 60’s? Are there similar characteristics between the “American Dream” of today and the “American Dream” of the past?
John Steinbeck: Naturalism’s Priest
Woodburn O. Ross
College English, Vol. 10, No.8 (May, 1949), 432-438
This article can be a useful tool for a teacher who wants to introduce the concept of the Naturalist movement into the classroom. Woodrow O. Ross gives a description about the nature of naturalist writings, as well as providing accounts from many authors he that he claims fall into this category. He describes how many of Steinbeck’s novels fall in the era of the Great Depression which account for many underlying themes of social reform. I feel it is important to educate students on the ideas of social reform so that they may further be able to see some of the ways Steinbeck relates these ideas in Of Mice and Men. This article shows Steinbeck as not only an author, but a scientist, social reformist, naturalist, and realist.
John Steinbeck
Burton Rascoe
The English Journal, Vol. 27, No 3 (Mar., 1938), 205-216
In this article Burton Rascoe places a strong emphasis on the detailed relationship of Lennie and George. He explains, “In the novel and in the play the relationship between George and Lennie is a paradigm of all the nonphysical, nonsexual (let us use the so tritely inadequate and now almost meaningless word “spiritual” to help out in indicating the meaning) emotions, concerns, and aspirations in the world” (210). The article was published in 1938 and it is interesting to see a view point of Of Mice and Men coming from a writer who actually lived during the time Steinbeck wrote the novel. I think it is important for students to see pieces from the times the novel was written to develop a better understanding of the setting of the novel. It will help them to become less detached to the setting, characters, plot, and themes. I would not suggest simply asking students to read the article, but offering certain passages and scaffolding class discussions as a frontloading tool before introducing the novel.
John Steinbeck’s Promised Lands
Kinereth Meyer
Like Kate Chopin and William Faulkner, John Steinbeck has often been referred to as a regional writer. I believe introducing the characteristics of regional writing is very important when attempting to teach Steinbeck’s work. Writers that produce work from their own native lands have certain qualities to their writings that make them stand out as different. Steinbeck’s work is largely set in the Salinas Valley where he spent a large portion of his life. This article touches on some of these aspects, as well as highlighting other regions of Steinbeck’s interests that have influenced his work.
Of Mice and Men: Actors in a Play
Elizabeth McMurray
This article explains the significance of the form of Of Mice and Men. The novel became a play the same year in which it was released. Steinbeck intended to write the novel in a different form which he entitled a “play novelette.” This article can provide background knowledge for a teacher who may want to bring to the attention of her students specific characteristics that make this form unique. For instance, the intense use of dialogue (which is often criticized and challenged in schools) is significant because it was intended to resemble a script for actors.
Lennie - A large, lumbering, childlike migrant worker. Due to his mild mental disability, Lennie completely depends upon George, his friend and traveling companion, for guidance and protection. The two men share a vision of a farm that they will own together, a vision that Lennie believes in wholeheartedly. Gentle and kind, Lennie nevertheless does not understand his own strength. His love of petting soft things, such as small animals, dresses, and people’s hair, leads to disaster.
George - A small, wiry, quick-witted man who travels with, and cares for, Lennie. Although he frequently speaks of how much better his life would be without his caretaking responsibilities, George is obviously devoted to Lennie. George’s behavior is motivated by the desire to protect Lennie and, eventually, deliver them both to the farm of their dreams. Though George is the source for the often-told story of life on their future farm, it is Lennie’s childlike faith that enables George to actually believe his account of their future.
Candy - An aging ranch handyman, Candy lost his hand in an accident and worries about his future on the ranch. Fearing that his age is making him useless, he seizes on George’s description of the farm he and Lennie will have, offering his life’s savings if he can join George and Lennie in owning the land. The fate of Candy’s ancient dog, which Carlson shoots in the back of the head in an alleged act of mercy, foreshadows the manner of Lennie’s death.
Curley’s wife - The only female character in the novel, Curley’s wife is never given a name and is only referred to in reference to her husband. The men on the farm refer to her as a “tramp,” a “tart,” and a “looloo.” Dressed in fancy, feathered red shoes, she represents the temptation of female sexuality in a male-dominated world. Steinbeck depicts Curley’s wife not as a villain, but rather as a victim. Like the ranch-hands, she is desperately lonely and has broken dreams of a better life.
Crooks - Crooks, the black stable-hand, gets his name from his crooked back. Proud, bitter, and caustically funny, he is isolated from the other men because of the color of his skin. Despite himself, Crooks becomes fond of Lennie, and though he derisively claims to have seen countless men following empty dreams of buying their own land, he asks Lennie if he can go with them and hoe in the garden.
Curley - The boss’s son, Curley wears high-heeled boots to distinguish himself from the field hands. Rumored to be a champion prizefighter, he is a confrontational, mean-spirited, and aggressive young man who seeks to compensate for his small stature by picking fights with larger men. Recently married, Curley is plagued with jealous suspicions and is extremely possessive of his flirtatious young wife.
Slim - A highly skilled mule driver and the acknowledged “prince” of the ranch, Slim is the only character who seems to be at peace with himself. The other characters often look to Slim for advice. For instance, only after Slim agrees that Candy should put his decrepit dog out of its misery, does the old man agree to let Carlson shoot it. A quiet, insightful man, Slim alone understands the nature of the bond between George and Lennie, and comforts George at the novel’s tragic ending.
Carlson - A ranch-hand, Carlson complains bitterly about Candy’s old, smelly dog. He convinces Candy to put the dog out of its misery. When Candy finally agrees, Carlson promises to execute the task without causing the animal any suffering. Later, George uses Carlson’s gun to shoot Lennie.
The Boss - The stocky, well-dressed man in charge of the ranch, and Curley’s father. He is never named and appears only once, but seems to be a fair-minded man. Candy happily reports that he once delivered a gallon of whiskey to the ranch-hands on Christmas Day.
Aunt Clara - Lennie’s aunt, who cared for him until her death, does not actually appear in the novel except in the end, as a vision chastising Lennie for causing trouble for George. By all accounts, she was a kind, patient woman who took good care of Lennie and gave him plenty of mice to pet.
Whit - A ranch-hand.
The novel opens with the description of a riverbed in rural California, a beautiful, wooded area at the base of “golden foothill slopes.” A path runs to the river, used by boys going swimming and riffraff coming down from the highway. Two men walk along the path. The first, George, is small, wiry, and sharp-featured, while his companion, Lennie, is large and awkward. They are both dressed in denim, farmhand attire.
As they reach a clearing, Lennie stops to drink from the river, and George warns him not to drink too much or he will get sick, as he did the night before. As their conversation continues, it becomes clear that the larger man has a mild mental disability, and that his companion looks out for his safety. George begins to complain about the bus driver that dropped them off a long way from their intended destination—a ranch on which they are due to begin work. Lennie interrupts him to ask where they are going. His companion impatiently reminds him of their movements over the past few days, and then notices that Lennie is holding a dead mouse. George takes it away from him. Lennie insists that he is not responsible for killing the mouse, that he just wanted to pet it, but George loses his temper and throws it across the stream. George warns Lennie that they are going to work on a ranch, and that he must behave himself when they meet the boss. George does not want any trouble of the kind they encountered in Weed, the last place they worked.
George decides that they will stay in the clearing for the night, and as they prepare their bean supper, Lennie crosses the stream and recovers the mouse, only to have George find him out immediately and take the mouse away again. Apparently, Lennie’s Aunt Clara used to give him mice to pet, but he tends to “break” small creatures unintentionally when he shows his affection for them, killing them because he doesn’t know his own strength. As the two men sit down to eat, Lennie asks for ketchup. This request launches George into a long speech about Lennie’s ungratefulness. George complains that he could get along much better if he didn’t have to care for Lennie. He uses the incident that got them chased out of Weed as a case in point. Lennie, a lover of soft things, stroked the fabric of a girl’s dress, and would not let go. The locals assumed he assaulted her, and ran them out of town.
After this tirade, George feels sorry for losing his temper and apologizes by telling Lennie’s favorite story, the plan for their future happiness. The life of a ranch-hand, according to George, is one of the loneliest in the world, and most men working on ranches have no one to look out for them. But he and Lennie have each other, and someday, as soon as they manage to save enough money, they will buy a farm together and, as Lennie puts it, “live off the fatta the lan’.” They will grow their own food, raise livestock, and keep rabbits, which Lennie will tend. This familiar story cheers both of them up. As night falls, George tells Lennie that if he encounters any trouble while working at the ranch, he is to return to this clearing, hide in the bushes, and wait for George to come.
The clearing into which Lennie and George wander evokes Eden in its serenity and beauty. Steinbeck wisely opens the novel with this idyllic scene, for it creates a background for the idealized friendship between the men and introduces the romanticized dream of farm life that they share. The opening pages establish a sense of purity and perfection that the world, which will prove to be cruel and predatory, cannot sustain. Steinbeck also solidly establishes the relationship between George and Lennie within the first few pages of dialogue. Their speech is that of uneducated laborers, but is emotionally rich and often lyrical.
Because George and Lennie are not particularly dynamic characters (neither of them changes significantly during the course of the narrative), the impression the reader gets from these early pages persists throughout the novel. Lennie’s and George’s behavior is relatively static. Lennie’s sweet innocence, the undying devotion he shows George, and his habit of petting soft things are his major defining traits from the opening pages to the final scene. Just as constant are George’s blustery rants about how much easier life would be without the burden of caring for Lennie and unconvincing speeches that always end by revealing his love for and desire to protect his friend.
Some critics of the novel consider George, and especially Lennie, somewhat flat representations of purity, goodness, and fraternal devotion, rather than convincing portraits of complex, conflicted human beings. They charge Steinbeck with being excessively sentimental in his portrayal of his protagonists, his romanticization of male friendship, and in the deterministic plot that seems designed to destroy this friendship. Others, however, contend that any exaggeration in Of Mice and Men, like in so many of Steinbeck’s other works, is meant to comment on the plight of the downtrodden, to make the reader sympathize with people who society and storytellers often deem unworthy because of their class, physical or mental capabilities, or the color of their skin.
Whether or not these issues constitute a flaw in the novel, it is true that Steinbeck places George, Lennie, and their relationship on a rather high pedestal. Nowhere is this more clear than in the story George constantly tells about the farm they one day plan to own. This piece of land represents a world in which the two men can live together just as they are, without dangers and without apologies. No longer will they be run out of towns like Weed or be subject to the demeaning and backbreaking will of others. As the novel progresses and their situation worsens, George and Lennie’s desire to attain the farm they dream about grows more desperate. Their vision becomes so powerful that it will eventually attract other men, who will beg to be a part of it. George’s story of the farm, as well as George and Lennie’s mutual devotion, lays the groundwork for one of the novel’s dominant themes: the idealized sense of friendship among men.
True to the nature of tragedy, Steinbeck makes the vision of the farm so beautiful and the fraternal bond between George and Lennie so strong in order to place his protagonists at a considerable height from which to fall. From the very beginning, Steinbeck heavily foreshadows the doom that awaits the men. The clearing into which the two travelers stumble may resemble Eden, but it is, in fact, a world with dangers lurking at every turn. The rabbits that sit like “gray, sculptured stones” hurry for cover at the sound of footsteps, hinting at the predatory world that will finally destroy Lennie and George’s dream. The dead mouse in Lennie’s pocket serves as a potent symbol of the end that awaits weak, unsuspecting creatures. After all, despite Lennie’s great physical size and strength, his childlike mental capabilities render him as helpless as a mouse.
Steinbeck’s repeated comparisons between Lennie and animals (bears, horses, terriers) reinforce the impending sense of doom. Animals in the novel, from field mice to Candy’s dog to Lennie’s puppy, all die untimely deaths. The novel’s tragic course of action seems even more inevitable when one considers Lennie’s troublesome behavior that got George and Lennie chased out of Weed, and George’s anticipatory insistence that they designate a meeting place should any problems arise.
The next day, Lennie and George make their way to the ranch bunkhouse, where they are greeted by Candy, an aging “swamper,” or handyman, who has lost his right hand. The bunkhouse is an unadorned building where the men sleep on “burlap ticking” and keep their few possessions in apple boxes that have been nailed to the walls. George is dismayed to find a can of lice powder in his bunk, but Candy assures him that he’s in no danger of being infested, since the man who slept there before George was remarkably clean. George asks about the boss, and Candy reports that although the boss was angry that George and Lennie did not arrive the previous night as he had expected them to, he can be a “pretty nice fella.” Candy relates how the boss gave the men a gallon of whiskey for Christmas, which immediately impresses George.
The boss appears and questions the pair about their late arrival. George blames it on the bus driver, who, he claims, lied to them about their proximity to the ranch. When the boss asks about their skills and previous employment, George speaks for Lennie to prevent him from revealing his lack of intelligence. When Lennie momentarily forgets George’s instructions and speaks, George becomes visibly nervous. Their behavior strikes the boss as suspicious, and he asks why George feels the need to take such good care of his companion. He wonders if George is taking advantage of a man who lacks the faculties to take care of himself. George replies that Lennie is his cousin and was kicked in the head by a horse when he was young, so George has to look out for him. The boss remains suspicious and warns George not to try to pull anything over on him. Nonetheless, they are assigned to one of the grain teams, working under a man named Slim.
Once the boss leaves the bunkhouse, George berates Lennie for having spoken up. Candy overhears George telling Lennie that he is glad they are not actually related. George warns Candy that he doesn’t appreciate other people sticking their noses in his business, but Candy assures him that he minds his own business and has no interest in their affairs. An ancient, half-blind sheepdog accompanies Candy, an animal that the old man has raised since it was a puppy. Soon enough, Curley, the boss’s son, a small young man who wears a Vaseline-filled work glove on his left hand and high-heeled boots to distinguish himself from the laborers, joins them. Curley, an aggressive and malicious ex-boxer, immediately senses that he might have some fun at Lennie’s expense, and begins to demand that “the big guy talk.” After Curley leaves, Candy explains that Curley loves beating up big guys, “kind of like he’s mad at ’em because he ain’t a big guy.” Curley’s temper has only gotten worse since his recent marriage to a “tart” who enjoys flirting with the ranch-hands.
Candy leaves to prepare wash basins for the men who will soon return from the fields, and George tells Lennie to steer clear of Curley, because fighting the “bastard” will likely cost them their jobs. Lennie agrees, assuring George that he doesn’t want any trouble. George reminds him again of the meeting place they agreed on should anything go wrong. At that moment, Curley’s wife, a pretty, heavily made-up woman with a nasal voice, appears. She claims to be looking for her husband and flirts with the two men and Slim, the skilled mule driver, who passes by outside. Slim tells her that Curley has gone into the house, and she hurries off. Lennie speaks admiringly of how “purty” the woman is, and George angrily orders him to stay away from “that bitch.” Lennie, suddenly frightened, complains that he wants to leave the ranch, but George reminds him that they need to make some money before they can buy their own land and live their dream.
Slim enters the bunkhouse. His talents make him one of the most important and respected men on the ranch. There is a “gravity in his manner,” and everyone stops talking and listens when he speaks. He converses with Lennie and George, and is quietly impressed by their friendship, appreciating the fact that they look out for one another. The men are joined by Carlson, another ranch-hand. Carlson asks about Slim’s dog, which has just given birth to nine puppies. Slim reports that he drowned four of the puppies immediately because their mother would have been unable to feed them. Carlson suggests that they convince Candy to shoot his old, worthless mutt and raise one of the pups instead. The triangle rings for dinner, and the men filter out of the bunkhouse, with Lennie suddenly excited by the prospect of having a puppy. As George and Lennie prepare to leave, Curley appears again, looking for his wife, and hurries off angrily when they tell him where she went. George expresses his dislike for Curley, and comments that he is afraid he will “tangle” with Curley himself.
Once George and Lennie arrive at the bunkhouse, the difficulties of the lives they lead become starkly apparent. There are few comforts in their quarters; the men sleep on rough burlap mattresses and do not own anything that cannot fit into an apple box. George’s fear that lice and roaches infest his bunk furthers the image of the struggles of such a life. This section also immediately and painfully establishes the cruel, predatory nature of the world. Carlson’s belief that Candy should replace his old dog with a healthy newborn puppy signals a world in which the lives of the weak and debilitated are considered unworthy of protection or preservation. The ranch-hands’ world has limited resources, and only the strongest will survive. As Slim, who voluntarily drowns four of his dog’s nine puppies, makes clear, there is little room or tolerance for the weak, especially when resources are limited. Throughout the course of the novel, nearly all of the characters will confront this grim reality. Not only does the ranch represent a society that does not consider the welfare of its weaker members, but it also stands as one in which those who hold power wield it irresponsibly.
Though the boss seems fair-minded, treating his men to whiskey at Christmas and giving Lennie and George the benefit of the doubt, he is an unimportant character. Instead, his son Curley embodies authority on the ranch. In the novel’s vision of the world, Curley represents the vicious and belligerent way in which social power tends to manifest itself. Given Curley’s temperament, he serves as a natural foil—a character whose emotions or actions contrast with those of other characters—for both the gentle Lennie and the self-assured Slim. Whereas Curley is plagued by self-doubts that cause him to explode violently, Slim possesses a quiet competence that earns him the respect of everyone on the ranch. Like Curley, Slim stands as an authority figure. The men on the ranch look to him for advice, and, later, even Curley will deliver an uncharacteristic apology after wrongly accusing Slim of fooling around with his wife. Slim’s authority comes from his self-possession; he needs neither the approval nor the failure of others to confirm his stature. Curley’s strength, on the other hand, depends upon his ability to dominate and defeat those weaker than him.
George and Lennie immediately feel the threat that Curley’s presence poses. To avoid getting into trouble with Curley, they promise to stick even closer to each other than usual. Their friendship is rare and impressive. Slim, who wonders why more men don’t travel around together and theorizes that maybe it’s because everyone is scared of everyone else, appreciates the closeness of their friendship. In the novel as a whole, Steinbeck celebrates and romanticizes the bonds between men. The men in Of Mice and Men dominate the ranch and long, more than anything else, to live peaceful, untroubled lives in the company of other men. The only female character who has an active role in the book is Curley’s wife, who, significantly, Steinbeck never names, and identifies only in reference to her husband. Other female characters are mentioned in passing, but with the exception of the maternal Aunt Clara, who cared for Lennie before her death, they are invariably prostitutes or troublemakers.
Even with all of its concern for treating with dignity the lives of the socially disempowered, Of Mice and Men derogatorily assigns women only two lowly functions: caretakers of men and sex objects. Regardless of their place in the real world, the novel altogether dismisses women from its vision of paradise. Female sexuality is described as a trap laid to ensnare and ruin men. George and Lennie imagine themselves alone, without wives or women to complicate their vision of tending the land and raising rabbits. Much like a traditional, conservative Christian interpretation of the myth of man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the novel presents women as a temptation leading to man’s fall from perfection.
At the end of the workday, Slim and George return to the bunkhouse. Slim has agreed to give one of the pups to Lennie, and George thanks him for his kindness, insisting that Lennie is “dumb as hell,” but is neither crazy nor mean. Slim appreciates George’s friendship with Lennie, saying that it is a welcome change in a world where no one ever “seems to give a damn about nobody.” George confides in Slim the story of how he and Lennie came to be companions. They were born in the same town, and George took charge of Lennie after the death of Lennie’s Aunt Clara. At first, George admits, he pushed Lennie around, getting him to do ridiculous things, such as jumping into a river even though he didn’t know how to swim. After watching his friend nearly drown, George felt ashamed of his behavior. Since that day, he has taken good care of his companion, protecting him even when he gets in trouble. For example, in Weed, the last town where they worked, Lennie wanted to touch the fabric of a girl’s red dress. When she pulled away, Lennie became frightened and held on to her until George hit him over the head to make him let go. The girl accused Lennie of rape, and George and Lennie had to hide in an irrigation ditch to escape a lynch mob.
Lennie comes into the bunkhouse, carrying his new puppy under his coat. George berates him for taking the little creature away from its mother. As Lennie returns the puppy to the litter, Candy and Carlson appear. Carlson begins to complain again about Candy’s dog, saying that it stinks and that it “ain’t no good to himself.” He urges Candy to shoot the animal. Candy replies that he has had the dog for too many years to kill it, but Carlson continues to pressure him. Eventually Slim joins in, suggesting that Candy would be putting a suffering animal out if its misery. Slim offers him a puppy and urges him to let Carlson shoot the dog. Another farmhand, Whit, enters and shows Slim a letter written by a man they used to work with published in a pulp magazine. The short letter praises the magazine. As the men marvel over it, Carlson offers to kill the dog quickly by shooting it in the back of the head. Reluctantly, Candy gives in. Carlson takes the dog outside, promising Slim that he will bury the corpse. After a few awkward moments of silence, the men hear a shot ring out, and Candy turns his face to the wall.
Crooks, the black stable-hand, comes in and tells Slim that he has warmed some tar to put on a mule’s foot. After Slim leaves, the other men play cards and discuss Curley’s wife, agreeing that she will make trouble for someone; as George says, “She’s a jailbait all set on the trigger.” Whit invites George to accompany them to a local whorehouse the following night. Whit discusses the merits of old Susy’s place over Clara’s, it being cheaper and having nice chairs, but George comments that he cannot afford to waste his money because he and Lennie are trying to put together a “stake.” Lennie and Carlson come in. Carlson cleans his gun and avoids looking at Candy. Curley appears looking for his wife again. Full of jealousy and suspicion, he asks where Slim is. When he learns that Slim is in the barn, he storms off in that direction, followed by Whit and Carlson, who hope to see a fight.
George asks Lennie if he saw Slim with Curley’s wife in the barn, and Lennie says no. George warns his companion against the trouble that women cause, and then Lennie asks him to describe the farm that they hope to buy. As George talks, Candy listens and becomes excited by the idea of such a beautiful place. He asks if the place really exists. George is guarded at first, but soon says that it does and that the owners are desperate to sell it. Overcome with hope, Candy offers to contribute his life’s savings if they allow him to live there too. Since he is old and crippled, he worries that the ranch will let him go soon. The men agree that after a month of work at this ranch, they will have enough money saved to make a down payment on the house. George tells the other two not to tell anyone else about their plan. As they hear the other men’s voices approaching, Candy says quietly to George that he should have shot his old dog himself, and not let a stranger do it.
Slim, Curley, Carlson, and Whit return. Curley apologizes to Slim for his suspicions, and then the other men mock him. Knowing that Slim is too strong to be beaten in a fight, Curley looks to vent his rage elsewhere. He finds an easy target in Lennie, who is still dreaming of the farm and smiling with childlike delight. Though Lennie begs to be left alone, Curley attacks him. He throws several punches, bloodying Lennie’s face, and hits him in the gut before George urges Lennie to fight back. On George’s command, Lennie grabs Curley’s right hand and breaks it effortlessly. As Slim leads Curley away to a doctor, he warns him not to have George and Lennie fired, or he will be made the laughingstock of the ranch. Curley consents not to fire them. George comforts Lennie, telling him that the fight was not his fault and that he has nothing to fear. Lennie’s only fear is that he will not be allowed to tend the rabbits on their farm. George assures him that he will.
During George’s conversation with Slim, Steinbeck establishes the origins of Lennie and George’s relationship in a few broad strokes. Theirs is a childhood relationship grown into a rare adult companionship. After years of torturing and taking advantage of his friend, George had a moral awakening, realizing that it is wrong to make a weaker living being suffer for sport. This conviction runs counter to the cruel nature of the world of the ranch-hands, in which the strong hunt down and do away with the weak. In this section, the death of Candy’s dog testifies to the pitiless process by which the strong attack and eliminate the weak. Candy’s dog, although no longer useful at corralling sheep, is of great importance to the old swamper. Candy’s emotional attachment to the dog is clear. Regardless, allowing the animal to live out its days is not an option in this cruel environment. Carlson insists that the animal’s infirmity makes it unworthy of such devotion. The most comfort he can offer is to assure Candy that he will kill the dog mercifully and quickly. When Slim, the novel’s most trusted source of wisdom, agrees, he only confirms that their world is one that offers the weak and disempowered little hope of protection.
Nearly all of the characters in Of Mice and Men are disempowered in some way. Whether because of a physical or mental handicap, age, class, race, or gender, almost everyone finds him- or herself outside the structures of social power, and each suffers greatly as a result. Inflexible rules dictate that old men are sent away from the ranch when they are no longer useful and black workers are refused entrance to the bunkhouse. While the world described in the novel offers no protection for the suffering, there are small comforts. Lennie and George’s story is one such reprieve. The power of their vision of a simple life on an idyllic little farm rests in its ability to soothe the afflicted. In the opening chapter, this vision acts like a salve for Lennie and George after their tumultuous departure from Weed; now, it rouses Candy out of mourning for his dog. As soon as the lonely old man overhears George and Lennie discussing their plans, he seems pitifully eager to join in this paradise. Talking about it again also manages to calm and comfort Lennie after his upsetting run-in with Curley. Despite the fact that with Candy’s help the possibility of purchasing the farm grows more real for George and Lennie than ever before, it is clear that tragic events will intervene. George’s story will prove to be only a temporary escape from the world’s troubles, not a cure.
Steinbeck advances the narrative toward the inevitable tragedy through many instances of foreshadowing in this section. The story of Lennie’s behavior in Weed and his performance in the fight with Curley establish his tendency to exert great strength when confused and frightened. Combined with George’s earlier observation that Lennie kept accidentally killing mice while petting them, these events heavily anticipate Lennie’s deadly interaction with Curley’s wife in the novel’s climactic scene. Furthermore, the method by which Carlson kills Candy’s dog, with a painless shot to the back of the head, sadly mirrors the way George will choose to murder his dearest friend. It is no coincidence that soon after George confides to Slim that he has known Lennie since childhood, Candy pathetically says that he could never kill his dog, since he has “had him since he was a pup.” Most significant is Candy’s quiet comment to George that he wishes he had shot his old dog himself and not allowed a stranger to do it, a distinct foreshadowing of the decision George will make to kill Lennie himself rather than let him be killed by Curley and the others.
The next evening, Saturday, Crooks sits on his bunk in the harness room. The black stable-hand has a crooked back—the source of his nickname—and is described as a “proud, aloof man” who spends much of his time reading. Lennie, who has been in the barn tending to his puppy, appears in the doorway, looking for company. Crooks tells him to go away, saying that if he, as a black man, is not allowed in the white quarters, then white men are not allowed in his. Lennie does not understand. He innocently reports that everyone else has gone into town and that he saw Crooks’s light on and thought he could come in and keep him company. Finally, despite himself, Crooks yields to Lennie’s “disarming smile” and invites him in.
Soon enough, Lennie forgets his promise to keep the farm a secret and begins to babble cheerfully about the place that he and George will buy someday. Crooks does not believe him, assuming that the fantasy is part of Lennie’s mental disability. He tells Lennie about his own life, recounting his early days on a chicken farm when white children visited and played with him. Still, he says, he felt keenly alone even then. His family was the only black family for miles, and his father constantly warned him against keeping company with their white neighbors. The importance of this instruction escaped Crooks as a child, but he says that he has come to understand it perfectly. Now, as the only black man on the ranch, he resents the unfair social norms that require him to sleep alone in the stable. Feeling weak and vulnerable himself, Crooks cruelly suggests that George might never return from town. He enjoys torturing Lennie, until Lennie becomes angry and threatens Crooks, demanding to know “Who hurt George?” Crooks hastily backs down, promising that George will come back, and begins to talk about his childhood again, which returns Lennie to his dreams of owning the farm. Crooks bitterly says that every ranch-hand has the same dream. He adds that he has seen countless men go on about the same piece of land, but nothing ever comes of it. A little piece of land, Crooks claims, is as hard to find as heaven.
Candy eventually joins them, entering Crooks’s room for the first time in all of the years they have worked together. Both men are uncomfortable at first but Candy is respectful and Crooks pleased to have more company. Candy talks to Lennie about raising rabbits on the farm. He has been busy calculating numbers and thinks he knows how the farm can make some money with rabbits. Crooks continues to belittle their dream until Candy insists that they already have the land picked out and nearly all the money they’ll need to buy it. This news piques the black man’s interest. Shyly, Crooks suggests that maybe they could take him along with them. But Curley’s wife appears and interrupts the men’s daydreaming.
Curley’s wife asks about her husband, then says she knows that the men went to a brothel, cruelly observing that “they left all the weak ones here.” Crooks and Candy tell her to go away, but instead she starts talking about her loneliness and her unhappy marriage. Candy insists that she leave and says proudly that even if she got them fired, they could go off and buy their own place to live. Curley’s wife laughs at him, then bitterly complains about her life with Curley. She sums up her situation, admitting that she feels pathetic to want company so desperately that she is willing to talk to the likes of Crooks, Candy, and Lennie. She asks what happened to her husband’s hand, and does not believe the men when they insist that he got it caught in a machine. She teases Lennie about the bruises on his face, deducing that he got injured in the scuffle with Curley.
Fed up, Crooks insists that she leave before he tells the boss about her wicked ways, and she responds by asking if he knows what she can do to him if he says anything. The implication is clear that she could easily have him lynched, and he cowers. Candy says that he hears the men coming back, which finally makes her leave, but not before she tells Lennie that she is glad he beat her husband. George appears, and criticizes Candy for talking about their farm in front of other people. As the white men leave Crooks, he changes his mind about going to the farm with them, calling out, “I wouldn’ want to go no place like that.”
This section introduces the character of Crooks, who has previously only made a brief appearance. Like the other men in the novel, Crooks is a lonely figure. Like Candy, a physical disability sets him apart from the other workers, and makes him worry that he will soon wear out his usefulness on the ranch. Crooks’s isolation is compounded by the fact that, as a black man, he is relegated to sleep in a room in the stables; he is not allowed in the white ranch-hands’ quarters and not invited to play cards or visit brothels with them. He feels this isolation keenly and has an understandably bitter reaction to it.
The character of Crooks is an authorial achievement on several levels. First, Crooks broadens the social significance of the novel by offering race as another context by which to understand Steinbeck’s central thesis. The reader has already witnessed how the world conspires to crush men who are debilitated by physical or mental infirmities. With Crooks, the same unjust, predatory rules hold true for people based on the color of their skin. Crooks’s race is the only weapon Curley’s wife needs to render him completely powerless. When she suggests that she could have him lynched, he can mount no defense. The second point to note about Crooks’s character is that he is less of an easily categorized type than the characters that surround him. Lennie might be a bit too innocent and Curley a bit too antagonistic for the reader to believe in them as real, complex human beings.
Crooks, on the other hand, exhibits an ambivalence that makes him one of the more complicated and believably human characters in the novel. He is able to condemn Lennie’s talk of the farm as foolishness, but becomes seduced by it nonetheless. Furthermore, bitter as he is about his exclusion from the other men, Crooks feels grateful for Lennie’s company. When Candy, too, enters Crooks’s room, it is “difficult for Crooks to conceal his pleasure with anger.” Yet, as much as he craves companionship, he cannot help himself from lashing out at Lennie with unkind suggestions that George has been hurt and will not return.
Crooks’s behavior serves to further the reader’s understanding of the predatory nature of the ranch-hands’ world. Not only will the strong attack the weak but the weak will attack the weaker. In a better world, Crooks, Lennie, and even Curley’s wife might have formed an alliance, wherein the various attributes for which society punishes them—being black, being mentally disabled, and being female, respectively—would bring them together. On the ranch, however, they are pitted against one another. Crooks berates Lennie until Lennie threatens to do him physical harm; Crooks accuses Curley’s wife of being a tramp; and she, in turn, threatens to have him lynched. As she stands in the doorway to Crooks’s room looking over at the men, she draws attention to their weaknesses. Deriding them as “a nigger an’ a dum-dum and a lousy ol’ sheep,” she viciously but accurately lays bare the perceptions by which they are ostracized by society. Like Crooks, Curley’s wife displays a heartbreaking vulnerability in this scene, readily and shamelessly confessing her loneliness and her unhappy marriage. But because she is as pathetic as the men who sit before her, she seeks out the sources of their weakness and attacks them.
It is Sunday afternoon and Lennie is alone in the barn, sitting in the hay and stroking the dead body of his puppy. He talks to himself, asking the animal why it died: “You ain’t so little as mice. I didn’t bounce you hard.” Worrying that George will be angry and will not let him raise the rabbits on their farm, he starts to bury it in the hay. He decides to tell George that he found it dead but then realizes that George will see through this lie. Frustrated, he curses the dog for dying and hurls it across the room. Soon, though, Lennie retrieves the puppy, strokes it again, and reasons that perhaps George won’t care, since the puppy meant nothing to George.
As he talks to himself, Curley’s wife enters and sits beside him. He hastily hides the puppy and tells her that George ordered him not to speak to her. She reassures him that it is safe for him to talk to her, pointing out that the other men are occupied with a horseshoe tournament outside and will not interrupt them. She discovers the puppy and consoles him about its death, declaring that “the whole country is fulla mutts.” She then complains about her loneliness and the cold treatment she gets from the ranch-hands. She tells Lennie about her dreams of living a different life. She reveals that her mother denied her the opportunity to join a traveling show when she was fifteen and then, years later, a talent scout spotted her and promised to take her to Hollywood to become a movie star. When nothing came of it, she decided to marry Curley, whom she dislikes.
Lennie continues to talk about his rabbits, and she asks him why he likes animals so much. Lennie replies that he likes to touch soft things with his fingers. She admits that she likes the same thing, and offers to let him stroke her hair. She warns him not to “muss it,” but he quickly becomes excited and holds on too tight, frightening her. When she cries out, Lennie panics and clamps his strong hands over her mouth to silence her. The more she struggles, the tighter his grip becomes, and he shakes her until her body goes limp. Lennie has broken her neck.
The barn goes still as Lennie realizes what he has done. He tries to bury Curley’s wife in the hay, worrying chiefly that George will be angry with him. Taking the puppy’s body with him, he flees toward the meeting place that George designates at the novel’s opening, the clearing in the woods. Candy comes looking for Lennie and finds the body. He calls George, who realizes immediately what has happened. George expresses the hope that maybe Lennie will just be locked up and still be treated well, but Candy tells him that Curley is sure to have Lennie lynched. Candy asks George if the two of them can still buy the farm, but sees from George’s face that the idea is now impossible. George says quietly that he thinks he knew all along that it would never happen, but because Lennie liked the idea so much, he had started to believe it himself.
George worries that the other men will think that he had something to do with the death of Curley’s wife, so he instructs Candy how to inform them. George will pretend that he has not seen the body and act surprised when Candy delivers the news. George exits, and Candy curses Curley’s wife for destroying their dream of a farm. After a few moments, his eyes full of tears, he goes to alert the rest of the ranch. A crowd soon gathers. George comes in last, with his coat buttoned up. Curley demands that they find Lennie and kill him. Carlson reports that his gun is missing, and assumes that Lennie must have taken it. Curley orders them to fetch Crooks’s shotgun, and the mob sets off after Lennie.
The scene in the barn begins ominously, with Lennie holding his puppy, now dead, and stroking it in the same way he stroked the dead mouse at the beginning of the novel. All sense of optimism for the farm or the freedom the men would have on it dissolves now that Lennie’s unwittingly dangerous nature has reasserted itself. When Curley’s wife appears and insists on talking with Lennie, the reader senses that something tragic is about to ensue.
Perhaps the most significant development in this chapter is Steinbeck’s depiction of Curley’s wife. Before this episode, the reader might dismiss her as easily as George does. She shows herself to be a flirt, a conscious temptress, and a manipulator. However, in the final moments before her death, Steinbeck presents his sole female character sympathetically. Her loneliness becomes the focus of this scene, as she admits that she too has an idea of paradise that circumstances have denied her. Her dream of being a movie star is not unlike George’s fantasy of the farm; both are desperately held views of the way life should be, which have long persisted despite their conflict with reality.
Curley’s wife seems to sense, like Crooks (who notes earlier that Lennie is a good man to talk to), that because Lennie doesn’t understand things, a person can say almost anything to him. She confesses her unhappiness in her marriage, her lonely life, and her broken dreams in “a passion of communication.” Unfortunately, she fails to see the danger in Lennie, and her attempt to console him for the loss of his puppy by letting him stroke her hair leads to her tragic death. One might take issue with Steinbeck’s description of her corpse, for only in her death does he grant her any semblance of virtue. Once she lies lifeless on the hay, Steinbeck writes that all the marks of an unhappy life have disappeared from her face, leaving her looking “pretty and simple . . . sweet and young.” The novel has spent considerable time maligning women, and much has been made of their troublesome and seductive natures. It is disturbing, then, that Steinbeck seems to subtly imply that the only way for a woman to overcome that nature and restore her lost innocence is through death.
Lennie’s flight from the barn shifts the focus of the narrative to George. As George realizes what Lennie has done, the painful mission that he must undertake becomes clear to him. Here, as in the earlier scene with Candy’s dog, Slim becomes the voice of reason, pointing out that the best option for Lennie now is for him to be killed. George understands that he has a choice: either he can watch his friend be murdered by Curley’s lynch mob or he can do the deed himself. With this realization, the idea of the farm and the good life it represents disappears. Candy clings to that idealized hope, asking George if they can still buy the farm, but George’s response is among the most insightful and realistic responses in the novel. There is no room for dreaming in such a difficult and inhospitable world.
In the same riverbed where the novel began, it is a beautiful, serene late afternoon. A heron stands in a shaded green pool, eating water snakes that glide between its legs. Lennie comes stealing through the undergrowth and kneels by the water to drink. He is proud of himself for remembering to come here to wait for George, but soon has two unpleasant visions. His Aunt Clara appears “from out of Lennie’s head” and berates him, speaking in Lennie’s own voice, for not listening to George, for getting himself into trouble, and for causing so many problems for his only friend. Then a gigantic rabbit appears to him, also speaking in Lennie’s own voice, and tells him that George will probably beat him and abandon him. Just then, George appears. He is uncommonly quiet and listless. He does not berate Lennie. Even when Lennie himself insists on it, George’s tirade is unconvincing and scripted. He repeats his usual words of reproach without emotion. Lennie makes his usual offer to go away and live in a cave, and George tells him to stay, making Lennie feel comforted and hopeful.
Lennie asks him to tell the story of their farm, and George begins, talking about how most men drift along, without any companions, but he and Lennie have one another. The noises of men in the woods come closer, and George tells Lennie to take off his hat and look across the river while he describes their farm. He tells Lennie about the rabbits, and promises that nobody will ever be mean to him again. “Le’s do it now,” Lennie says. “Le’s get that place now.” George agrees. He raises Carlson’s gun, which he has removed from his jacket, and shoots Lennie in the back of the head. As Lennie falls to the ground and becomes still, George tosses the gun away and sits down on the riverbank.
The sound of the shot brings the lynch party running to the clearing. Carlson questions George, who lets them believe that he wrestled the gun from Lennie and shot him with it. Only Slim understands what really happened: “You hadda, George. I swear you hadda,” he tells him. Slim leads George, who is numb with grief, away from the scene, while Carlson and Curley watch incredulously, wondering what is “eatin’ them two guys.”
Once again, the scene opens on the clearing in the woods, with the riverbed and its surroundings described as beautiful and idyllic toward the end of a day. Many details are repeated from the book’s opening passages, such as the quality of the sunlight, the distant mountains, and the water snakes with their heads like “periscopes.” This time, however, even the natural beauty is marred by the suffering of innocents. Steinbeck vividly describes a large heron bending to snatch an unsuspecting snake out of the water, then waiting as another swims in its direction. Death comes quickly, surely, and to the unaware. When Lennie appears, the fate that awaits him is obvious.
The final scene between George and Lennie is suffused with sadness, even though Lennie retains his blissful ignorance until the end. To reassure Lennie, George forces himself through their habitual interaction one last time. He claims that he is angry, then assures him that all is forgiven and recites the story of their farm. For George, this final description of life with Lennie, of the farm and the changes it would have brought about, is a surrender of his dreams. The vision of the farm recedes, and George realizes that all of his talk and plans have amounted to nothing. He is exactly the kind of man he tried to convince himself he was not, just one among a legion of migrant workers who will never be able to afford more than the occasional prostitute and shot of liquor. Without Lennie, George relinquishes his hope for a different life. Lennie was the only thing that distinguished his life from the lives of other men and gave him a special sense of purpose. With Lennie gone, these hopes cannot be sustained. The grim note on which the novel closes suggests that dreams have no place in a world filled with such injustice and adversity.
The other men who come on the scene see only the body of a half-wit who killed a woman and deserved to die. Only Slim, the wisest and most content man on the ranch, understands George’s profound loss and knows that George needs to be consoled. Carlson and Curley watch Slim lead George away from the riverbank; their complete puzzlement is rooted more in ignorance than in heartlessness. Carlson and Curley represent the harsh conditions of a distinctly real world, a world in which the weak will always be vanquished by the strong and in which the rare, delicate bond between friends is not appropriately mourned because it is not understood.
Historical Perspective
This section looks at the historical background of Of Mice and Men. It seeks to help explain the culture of the book by looking at the time it was written in and the situations (namely the Great Depression) that affected the characters.
Included in this section are:
• The text of Robert Burns’s To a Mouse, from which the title of Steinbeck’s book is derived.
• Two public domain photographs. The first shows a migrant mother surrounded by her children. The second shows migrant men in their barracks playing a game of checkers, much as the men in Of Mice and Men sat around and played cards.
• An essay on the migrant experience from the Library of Congress.
• A short paragraph on the changing economy of agriculture during the 1930s and 1940s.
• A firsthand account of migrant life by John Steinbeck.
• An overview of The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck. This book goes hand-in-hand with Of Mice and Men. This book (there is also a highly acclaimed film version) more closely details the life and times of mirants during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression.
• A list of citations
The Full Text of To A Mouse
Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim'rous beastie,
O, what panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murd'ring pattle!
I'm truly sorry Man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An' fellow-mortal!
I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen-icker in a thrave
'S a sma' request:
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
An' never miss't!
Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's winds ensuin,
Baith snell an' keen!
Thou saw the fields laid bare an' wast,
An' weary Winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell.
That wee-bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou's turn'd out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald.
To thole the Winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld!
But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!
Still, thou art blest, compar'd wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear
• bickering brattle: hurrying scamper.
• pattle: plowshare.
• A daimen icker in a thrave: an occasional ear in twenty-four sheaves of grain.
• big: build.
• snell: bitter.
• But house or hald: Without house or home.
• thole: bear.
• cranreuch cauld: hoar-frost.
• thy lane: thyself alone.
• a-gley: amiss.
Portrait shows Florence Thompson with several of her children. Photograph taken by Dorothea Lange. Public domain.
Men in recreation hall at Tulare FSA Camp, Visalia, California, 1940. Photo by Arthur Rothstein, Farm Security Administration. Public domain.
The Migrant Experience
A complex set of interacting forces both economic and ecological brought the migrant workers documented in this ethnographic collection to California. Following World War I, a recession led to a drop in the market price of farm crops and caused Great Plains farmers to increase their productivity through mechanization and the cultivation of more land. This increase in farming activity required an increase in spending that caused many farmers to become financially overextended. The stock market crash in 1929 only served to exacerbate this already tenuous economic situation. Many independent farmers lost their farms when banks came to collect on their notes, while tenant farmers were turned out when economic pressure was brought to bear on large landholders. The attempts of these displaced agricultural workers to find other work were met with frustration due to a 30 percent unemployment rate.
At the same time, the increase in farming activity placed greater strain on the land. As the naturally occurring grasslands of the southern Great Plains were replaced with cultivated fields, the rich soil lost its ability to retain moisture and nutrients and began to erode. Soil conservation practices were not widely employed by farmers during this era, so when a seven-year drought began in 1931, followed by the coming of dust storms in 1932, many of the farms literally dried up and blew away creating what became known as the "Dust Bowl." Driven by the Great Depression, drought, and dust storms, thousands of farmers packed up their families and made the difficult journey to California where they hoped to find work. Along with their meager belongings, the Dust Bowl refugees brought with them their inherited cultural expressions. It is this heritage that Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin captured on their documentation expedition to migrant work camps and other sites throughout California.
Why did so many of the refugees pin their hopes for a better life on California? One reason was that the state's mild climate allowed for a long growing season and a diversity of crops with staggered planting and harvesting cycles. For people whose lives had revolved around farming, this seemed like an ideal place to look for work. Popular songs and stories, circulating in oral tradition for decades (for more on this topic see "The Recording of Folk Music in Northern California" by Sidney Robertson Cowell), exaggerated these attributes, depicting California as a veritable promised land. In addition, flyers advertising a need for farm workers in the Southwest were distributed in areas hard hit by unemployment. An example of such a flyer, publicizing a need for cotton pickers in Arizona, is contained in Charles Todd's scrapbook. Finally, the country's major east-west thoroughfare, U.S. Highway 66 -- also known as "Route 66," "The Mother Road," "The Main Street of America," and "Will Rogers Highway" -- abetted the westward flight of the migrants. A trip of such length was not undertaken lightly in this pre-interstate era, and Highway 66 provided a direct route from the Dust Bowl region to an area just south of the Central Valley of California.
Although the Dust Bowl included many Great Plains states, the migrants were generically known as "Okies," referring to the approximately 20 percent who were from Oklahoma. The migrants represented in Voices from the Dust Bowl came primarily from Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri. Most were of Anglo-American descent with family and cultural roots in the poor rural South. In the homes they left, few had been accustomed to living with modern conveniences such as electricity and indoor plumbing. The bulk of the people Todd and Sonkin interviewed shared conservative religious and political beliefs and were ethnocentric in their attitude toward other ethnic/cultural groups, with whom they had had little contact prior to their arrival in California. Such attitudes sometimes led to the use of derogatory language and negative stereotyping of cultural outsiders. Voices from the Dust Bowl illustrates certain universals of human experience: the trauma of dislocation from one's roots and homeplace; the tenacity of a community's shared culture; and the solidarity within and friction among folk groups. Such intergroup tension is further illustrated in this presentation by contemporary urban journalists' portrayals of rural life, California farmers' attitudes toward both Mexican and "Okie" workers, and discriminatory attitudes toward migrant workers in general.
Todd and Sonkin also held recording sessions with a few Mexican migrants living in the El Rio Farm Security Administration (FSA) camp. Unfortunately, the glass-based acetate discs on which the Spanish-language musical performances were recorded did not survive. However, photos from El Rio and interviews with Jose Flores and Augustus Martinez provide a glimpse into the lives and culture of non-Anglo farm workers. This material illustrates that Mexican immigrants had long been an integral part of agricultural production in the United States and were not newcomers on the scene even in 1940. In fact, when the Dust Bowl families arrived in California looking for work, the majority of migrant farm laborers were either Latino or Asian, particularly of Mexican and Filipino descent. Voices from the Dust Bowl is particularly relevant for us today since it demonstrates that living and working conditions of agricultural migrant laborers have changed little in the intervening half century.
California was emphatically not the promised land of the migrants' dreams. Although the weather was comparatively balmy and farmers' fields were bountiful with produce, Californians also felt the effects of the Depression. Local and state infrastructures were already overburdened, and the steady stream of newly arriving migrants was more than the system could bear. After struggling to make it to California, many found themselves turned away at its borders. Those who did cross over into California found that the available labor pool was vastly disproportionate to the number of job openings that could be filled. Migrants who found employment soon learned that this surfeit of workers caused a significant reduction in the going wage rate. Even with an entire family working, migrants could not support themselves on these low wages. Many set up camps along irrigation ditches in the farmers' fields. These "ditchbank" camps fostered poor sanitary conditions and created a public health problem.
Arrival in California did not put an end to the migrants' travels. Their lives were characterized by transience. In an attempt to maintain a steady income, workers had to follow the harvest around the state. When potatoes were ready to be picked, the migrants needed to be where the potatoes were. The same principle applied to harvesting cotton, lemons, oranges, peas, and other crops. For this reason, migrant populations were most dense in agricultural centers. The territory covered by Todd and Sonkin in this project ranged from as far south as El Rio, just north of Oxnard, to as far north as Yuba City, north of Sacramento. Much of the documentation was concentrated in the San Joaquin Valley.
The Arvin Migratory Labor Camp was the first federally operated camp opened by the FSA in 1937 and the starting point of the Todd/Sonkin expedition. The camps were intended to resolve poor sanitation and public health problems, as well as to mitigate the burden placed on state and local infrastructures. The FSA camps also furnished the migrants with a safe space in which to retire from the discrimination that plagued them and in which to practice their culture and rekindle a sense of community. Although each camp had a small staff of administrators, much of the responsibility for daily operations and governance devolved to the campers themselves. Civil activities were carried out through camp councils and camp courts. Proceedings of council meetings and court sessions can be found among the audio files in this online presentation. Project fieldnotes provide further information about the composition, operation, and context of these bodies as well as details about camp occupancy and organization.
When they were not working or looking for work, or tending to the civil and domestic operations of the camp, the migrants found time to engage in recreational activities. Singing and making music took place both in private living quarters and in public spaces. The music performed by the migrants came from a number of different sources. The majority of pieces belong to the Anglo-Celtic ballad tradition. Songs such as "Barbara Allen", "The Brown Girl", "Nine Little Devils", "Father Rumble", "Lloyd Bateman ", "Pretty Molly ", and "Little Mohee" all reflect this tradition. Gospel and popular music are other sources from which migrants took their inspiration. The minstrel stage, tin pan alley, early country, and cowboy music were all popular music sources that fed the performers' repertoires. The works of the Carter Family, Jimmy Rodgers, and Gene Autry were particular favorites of the migrants. Although all the music in this collection gives us a sense of the informants' cultural milieu, those pieces that document the migrant experience are especially poignant. Songs like Jack Bryant's "Sunny Cal" and Mary Sullivan's ballads "A Traveler's Line" and "Sunny California" all speak of hardship, disappointment, and a deeply cherished wish to return home.
In addition to songs and instrumental music, the migrants enjoyed dancing and play-party activities (singing games accompanied by dance-like movements). Included in this online presentation are square dance calls, such as "Soldier's Joy" and "Sally Goodin", and play-party rhymes like "Skip to My Lou" and "Old Joe Clark." Newsletters produced by camp residents provided additional details about camp social life and recreational activities.
As World War II wore on, the state of the economy, both in California and across the nation, improved dramatically as the defense industry geared up to meet the needs of the war effort. Many of the migrants went off to fight in the war. Those who were left behind took advantage of the job opportunities that had become available in West Coast shipyards and defense plants. As a result of this more stable lifestyle, numerous Dust Bowl refugees put down new roots in California soil, where their descendants reside to this day. Voices from the Dust Bowl provides a glimpse into the everyday life and cultural expression of a group of people living through a particularly difficult period in American history. Charles L. Todd's articles "The Okies Search for a Lost Frontier" and "Trampling out the Vintage: Farm Security Camps Provide the Imperial Valley Migrants with a Home and a Hope" give an overview of the historical, economic, and social context in which this collection was created.
Robin A. Fanslow
American Folklife Center
Library of Congress
Background to Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck Migrant Farm Workers
By the time that Of Mice and Men was published almost half of America's grain was harvested by huge combine harvesters. Five men could do what would have taken 350 men a few years earlier. George and Lennie are some of the last of the migrant farm workers. Huge numbers of men traveled the countryside between the 1880s and the early 1930s harvesting wheat. They earned $2.50 or $3.00 a day, plus food and very basic accommodation. During the 1930s, when there was very bad unemployment in the United States, agencies were set up under the New Deal to send farm workers to where they were needed. George and Lennie got their works cards from Murray and Ready's, one of these agencies.
Death in the dust
Three years before publication of his masterpiece The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck visited squatters' camps in California. To mark the centenary of his birth, we print this account - previously unpublished in the UK - of the misery that he witnessed
Saturday February 2, 2002
The Guardian
The squatters' camps are located all over California. Let us see what a typical one is like. It is located on the banks of a river, near an irrigation ditch or on a side road where a spring of water is available. From a distance it looks like a city dump, and well it may, for the city dumps are the sources for the material of which it is built. You can see a litter of dirty rags and scrap iron, of houses built of weeds, of flattened cans or of paper. It is only on close approach that it can be seen that these are homes.
Here is a house built by a family who have tried to maintain a neatness. The house is about 10 feet by 10 feet, and it is built completely of corrugated paper. The roof is peaked, the walls are tacked to a wooden frame. The dirt floor is swept clean, and along the irrigation ditch or in the muddy river the wife of the family scrubs clothes without soap and tries to rinse out the mud in muddy water.
The spirit of this family is not quite broken, for the children, three of them, still have clothes, and the family possesses three old quilts and a soggy, lumpy mattress. But the money so needed for food cannot be used for soap nor for clothes.
With the first rain the carefully built house will slop down into a brown, pulpy mush; in a few months the clothes will fray off the children's bodies, while the lack of nourishing food will subject the whole family to pneumonia when the first cold comes. Five years ago this family had 50 acres of land and $1,000 in the bank. The wife belonged to a sewing circle and the man was a member of the Grange. They raised chickens, pigs, pigeons and vegetables and fruit for their own use; and their land produced the tall corn of the middle west. Now they have nothing.
If the husband hits every harvest without delay and works the maximum time, he may make $400 this year. But if anything happens, if his old car breaks down, if he is late and misses a harvest or two, he will have to feed his whole family on as little as $150. But there is still pride in this family. Wherever they stop they try to put the children in school. It may be that the children will be in a school for as much as a month before they are moved to another locality.
There is more filth here. The tent is full of flies clinging to the apple box that is the dinner table, buzzing about the foul clothes of the children, particularly the baby, who has not been bathed nor cleaned for several days. This family has been on the road longer than the builder of the paper house. There is no toilet here, but there is a clump of willows nearby where human faeces lie exposed to the flies - the same flies that are in the tent.
Two weeks ago there was another child, a four-year-old boy. For a few weeks they had noticed that he was kind of lackadaisical, that his eyes had been feverish. They had given him the best place in the bed, between father and mother. But one night he went into convulsions and died, and the next morning the coroner's wagon took him away. It was one step down.
They knew pretty well that it was a diet of fresh fruit, beans and little else that caused his death. He had had no milk for months. With this death there came a change of mind in this family. The father and mother now feel that paralysed dullness with which the mind protects itself against too much sorrow and too much pain.
Here, in the faces of the husband and his wife, you begin to see an expression you will notice on every face; not worry, but absolute terror of the starvation that crowds in against the borders of the camp. This man has tried to make a toilet by digging a hole in the ground near his house and surrounding it with an old piece of burlap. But he will only do things like that this year. He is a newcomer and his spirit and his decency and his sense of his own dignity have not been quite wiped out. Next year he will be like his next-door neighbour.
This is a family of six; a man, his wife and four children. They live in a tent the colour of the ground. Rot has set in on the canvas so that the flaps and the sides hang in tatters and are held together with bits of rusty bailing wire. There is one bed in the family and that is a big tick lying on the ground inside the tent. They have one quilt and a piece of canvas for bedding. The sleeping arrangement is clever. Mother and father lie down together and two children lie between them. Then, heading the other way, the other two children lie, the littler ones.
If the mother and father sleep with their legs spread wide, there is room for the legs of the children. And this father will not be able to make a maximum of $400 a year anymore because he is no longer alert; he isn't quick at piecework, and he is not able to fight clear of the dullness that has settled on him.
The dullness shows in the faces of this family, and in addition there is a sullenness that makes them taciturn. Sometimes they still start the older children off to school, but the ragged little things will not go; they hide themselves in ditches or wander off by themselves until it is time to go back to the tent, because they are scorned in the school. The better-dressed children shout and jeer, the teachers are quite often impatient with these additions to their duties, and the parents of the "nice" children do not want to have disease carriers in the schools.
The father of this family once had a little grocery store and his family lived in back of it so that even the children could wait on the counter. When the drought set in there was no trade for the store anymore. This is the middle class of the squatters' camp. In a few months this family will slip down to the lower class. Dignity is all gone, and spirit has turned to sullen anger before it dies.
The next-door-neighbour family, of man, wife and three children of from three to nine years of age, have built a house by driving willow branches into the ground and wattling weeds, tin, old paper and strips of carpet against them. A few branches are placed over the top to keep out the noonday sun. It would not turn water at all. There is no bed.
Somewhere the family has found a big piece of old carpet. It is on the ground. To go to bed the members of the family lie on the ground and fold the carpet up over them.
The three-year-old child has a gunny sack tied about his middle for clothing. He has the swollen belly caused by malnutrition. He sits on the ground in the sun in front of the house, and the little black fruit flies buzz in circles and land on his closed eyes and crawl up his nose until he weakly brushes them away. They try to get at the mucus in the eye corners. This child seems to have the reactions of a baby much younger. The first year he had a little milk, but he has had none since. He will die in a very short time.
The older children may survive. Four nights ago the mother had a baby in the tent, on the dirt carpet. It was born dead, which was just as well because she could not have fed it at the breast; her own diet will not produce milk. After it was born and she had seen that it was dead, the mother rolled over and lay still for two days. She is up today, tottering around. The last baby, born less than a year ago, lived a week.
This woman's eyes have the glazed, faraway look of a sleepwalker's eyes. She does not wash clothes anymore. The drive that makes for cleanliness has been drained out of her and she hasn't the energy. The husband was a sharecropper once, but he couldn't make it go. Now he has lost even the desire to talk. He will not look directly at you, for that requires will, and will needs strength. He is a bad field worker for the same reason.
It takes him a long time to make up his mind, so he is always late in moving, and late in arriving in the fields. His top wage, when he can find work now, which isn't often, is $1 a day. The children do not even go to the willow clump anymore. They squat where they are and kick a little dirt. The father is vaguely aware that there is a culture of hookworm, in the mud along the riverbank. He knows the children will get it on their bare feet. But he hasn't the will nor the energy to resist. Too many things have happened to him.
This is the lower class of the camp. This is what the man in the tent will be in six months; what the man in the paper house with its peaked roof will be in a year, after his house has washed down and his children have sickened or died, after the loss of dignity and spirit have cut him down to a kind of subhumanity.
Helpful strangers are not well received in this camp. The local sheriff makes a raid now and then for a wanted man, and if there is labour trouble the vigilantes may burn the poor houses. Social workers have taken case histories. They are filed and open for inspection. These families have been questioned over and over about their origins, number of children living and dead.
The information is taken down and filed. That is that. It has been done so often, and so little has come of it. And there is another way for them to get attention. Let an epidemic break out, say typhoid or scarlet fever, and the county doctor will come to the camp and hurry the infected cases to the pesthouse. But malnutrition is not infectious, nor is dysentery, which is almost the rule among the children.
The county hospital has no room for measles, mumps, whooping cough; and yet these are often deadly to hunger-weakened children. And although we hear much about the free clinics for the poor, these people do not know how to get the aid and they do not get it. Also, since most of their dealings with authority are painful to them, they prefer not to take the chance. This is the squatters' camp. Some are a little better, some much worse. I have described some typical families. In some of the camps there are as many as 300 families like these. Some are so far from water that it must be bought at five cents a bucket. And if these men steal, if there is developing among them a suspicion and hatred of well-dressed, satisfied people, the reason is not to be sought in their origin nor in any tendency to weakness in their character.
· From Of Men and Their Making: The Non-Fiction Of John Steinbeck, edited by Susan Shillinglaw and Jackson J Benson, published by Penguin.
The Grapes of Wrath From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Grapes of Wrath is a work of fiction written by John Steinbeck and published in 1939. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and it is frequently read in American high school and college literature classes. A celebrated Hollywood film version was made in 1940, starring Henry Fonda and directed by John Ford.
Set in the Great Depression, the popular proletarian novel, in which descriptive, narrative, and philosophical passages succeed one another, tells the story of a family of sharecroppers, the Joads — 'Okie' farmers driven from their land by drought and the Dust Bowl, and forced to endure the hardships of migrant workers moving West. Note the similarity to the name Job (pronounced like "Jobe"), a man from the Old Testament that suffered greatly when tested by God, but remained faithful. The novel details the nearly hopeless situation of the downtrodden American farmer in the years of the Great Depression, and emphasizes cooperative solutions to the social problems brought about by industrialization.
Steinbeck experienced a rough time coming up with a title for the epic. "The Grapes of Wrath", suggested by his wife, Carol, deemed more suitable than any of the names John himself could come up with. The title is a reference to the Battle Hymn of the Republic, by Julia Ward Howe:
"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,
He has trampled out the vintage where the Grapes of Wrath are stored,
He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible, swift sword,
His Truth is marching on!"
This phrase originally comes from a passage from the Book of Revelation: "And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God" (14:19).
Steinbeck wrote this book, along with Of Mice and Men, in what is now Monte Sereno, California, in his home at 16250 Greenwood Lane. When he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (1962), the Swedish Academy called the book "an epic chronicle".
Plot summary
Tom Joad is released from prison after serving time for manslaughter, and returns to find his parents' farm deserted. Finding his family nearby, he discovers that they are planning to leave for California. Like other Oklahoma farmers, they have seen their crops ruined by the Dust Bowl. Eastern banks and corporate farmers are repossessing the land, and the Joads have little choice but to look for work in the orchards and fields out west.
They are joined by a former preacher, named Casy, and a couple they meet on the road.
En route to California, they discover the roads are choked with thousands of similarly-situated refugees, and that money is tight. They begin to suspect California may not be the answer to their problems. The elderly Joad grandparents, symbols of the old ways, die on the road to California. One of the sons, Noah, leaves the family en route to fend for himself.
Upon arrival, they find there are dozens or scores of applicants for every job, and there is little to no hope of finding a stable community in which to live, or even of a steady income that can purchase the food they need to live. Their family is broken apart as the pregnant Rose of Sharon's husband, Connie, leaves to seek better opportunities.
In response to the exploitation of this labor surplus, the workers begin to join trade unions, and the surviving members of the family are involved in strikes that turn violent. Tom Joad, the protagonist, kills a man, and must become a fugitive, promising that no matter where he runs, he will be a tireless advocate for the common man against the powerful. Rose-of-Sharon miscarries at the conclusion of the novel, but the family shows resoluteness in the face of defeat by committing themselves to help the other members of their community.
In film
• A film version was produced by Darryl F. Zanuck in 1940. John Ford won the Academy Award for Directing, as did Jane Darwell for Best Supporting Actress. Other nominations were for Best Picture, Henry Fonda for Best Actor, Robert L. Simpson for Best Film Editing, Edmund H. Hansen for Best Sound Recording, and Nunnally Johnson for Best Screenplay Writing. This film has subsequently been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
In popular song
• Woody Guthrie wrote The Ballad of Tom Joad the night he saw the film. He described the film in a column:
"Shows the dam bankers men that broke us and the dust that choked us, and comes right out in plain old English and says what to do about it.
"It says you got to get together and have some meetins, and stick together, and raise old billy hell till you get youre job, and get your farm back, and your house and your chickens and your groceries and your clothes, and your money back" (reprinted in Woody Sez [New York, 1975], p. 133).
• In 1995 Bruce Springsteen released an album entitled The Ghost of Tom Joad (featuring a song of the same name, which was later covered by Rage Against The Machine, and most recently covered by José González of Junip).
Burns, Robert. "To a Mouse." Wikipedia.org. 31 January 2006. Wikipedia. 07 Feb. 2006 <http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/To_a_Mouse>.
Fanslow, Robin. "The Migrant Experience ." Voices from the Dust bowl. 6 April 1998. American Folklife Center. 07 Feb. 2006 <http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/afctshtml/tsme.html>.
"The Grapes of Wrath." Wikipedia.org. 29 January 2006. Wikimedia. 07 Feb. 2006 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Grapes_of_Wrath>.
"Of Mice and Men Factsheet." Background to Of Mice and Men. 1999. English Resources. 07 Feb. 2006 <http://www.newi.ac.uk/englishresources/workunits/ks4/fiction/ofmicemen/llshort/factsheet.html>.
Steinbeck, John. "Death in the dust (From Of Men and Their Making: The Non-Fiction Of John Steinbeck, edited by Susan Shillinglaw and Jackson J Benson)." Guardian Unlimited Books. 2 February 2005. Guardian Unlimited. 07 Feb. 2006 <http://books.guardian.co.uk/extracts/story/0,6761,643450,00.html>.
Stoddard, Samuel. "Of Mice and Men." Book-A-Minute Classics. 07 Feb. 2006 <http://www.rinkworks.com/bookaminute/b/steinbeck.ofmice.shtml>.
Of Mice and Men: Tracing the Themes of Friendship and Loneliness
A large part of this novel examines the loneliness suffered by many of the characters and their longing for companionship. George sets this tone, early in the text, when he reminds Lennie that the life of a ranch-hand is among the loneliest of lives. Men like George who migrate from farm to farm rarely have anyone to look to for friendship and protection. As the story develops, Candy, Crooks, and Curley’s wife all confess their deep loneliness. The fact that they admit to complete strangers their fear of being cast off shows their desperation. In a world without friends to confide in, strangers will have to do. Each of these characters searches for a friend, someone to help them measure the world, as Crooks says. In the end, however, companionship of his kind seems unattainable. For George, the hope of such companionship dies with Lennie, and true to his original estimation, he will go through life alone.
Part 1
• Despite George's impatience and annoyance with Lennie, and his remarks about how easy his life would be without him, he still believes that: “Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don't belong no place....With us it ain't like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us" (Part 1, pg. 13-14) And Lennie finishes: "An' why? Because...because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that's why" (Part 1, pg. 14).The kind of life these men lead, moving all over the country, never knowing anyone very long, and having very little to call their own, is intensely lonely. Even if Lennie is not very bright, he still listens to George, and he remains the one constant in George's transient life. For this George is grateful.
Journal Prompts/Discussion Questions:
• Make a list of physical and personality traits for George and for Lennie. Think of ways in which each trait may make it hard or easy for that character to function in different jobs. Based on the qualities listed for each individual, predict how they will function on the ranch?
• In what ways does Lennie meet George’s need for a companion? In what ways does Lennie fail to meet George’s needs?
• What are some ways in which people overcome loneliness?
Part 2 Examples/Quotes:
• Slim comes across very differently than the other men. Friendly and understanding, he invites George into conversation. When discussing how George and Lennie travel together, Slim remarks: "'Ain't many guys travel around together,' he mused. 'I don't know why. Maybe ever'body in the whole damn world is scared of each other'" (Part 2, pg. 35). Slim is much more open than most of the men on the ranch and attempts to construct a relationship with George the first chance he gets. The men have a deep respect for Slim, and his opinion is the final word on any subject.
Journal Prompts/Discussion Questions:
• Why do you think George camped in the clearing the night before and arrived at the ranch when most of the men were away working? Does Lennie have something to do with it?
• Why do you think George tells Slim the truth about himself and Lennie when he has been cautious and defensive with the other men? What qualities does Slim exhibit?
Part 3 Examples/Quotes:
• When George tells Slim how he used to play tricks on Lennie, beat him up, and generally abuse him for his own amusement, we get a very different picture of Lennie and George's friendship. George admits one reason why he behaved such: "Made me seem God damn smart alongside of him" (Part 3, pg. 40).
• George takes very good care of Lennie, but he often feels anger at this burden, an anger which he takes out on Lennie. This fuels Lennie's greatest fear--that he might have to live without George Candy's sheepdog is old, arthritic, and blind--his life is not a pleasant one. Carlson and Slim feel these are adequate reasons to kill the dog. Carlson tells Candy: "Well, you ain't bein' kind to him keepin' him alive" (Part 3, pg. 45). And Slim responds: "Carl's right, Candy. That dog ain't no good to himself. I wisht somebody'd shoot me if I got old an' a cripple" (Part 3, pg. 45). The argument the men use to convince Candy it is okay to euthanize his old friend will come up again at the end of the novel when George must kill Lennie. The dog and Lennie have parallel stories, with parallel fates, except Lennie has someone who cares enough about him to put him out of his misery, whereas Candy wouldn't get rid of his dog if he wasn't forced. Lennie has what Slim wishes for--someone who loves him enough to know when he life would be better for him if it were over.
• Candy tells George: "I ought to of shot that dog myself, George. I shouldn't ought to of let no stranger shoot my dog" (Part 3, pg. 61). Candy feels that friends should look out for each other, and he knows he failed his old companion.
Journals/Discussion Questions:
• Why does Candy let the dog get shot? Why doesn’t he do it himself?
• Can you think of two other characters, besides George and Lennie, who maintain a strong, if unusual, relationship? Do you believe that “opposite’s attract?”
Part 4 Examples/Quotes:
• Crooks reveals how easy it is to feel crazy when you are alone. With no one to confirm his reality, he begins to call it into question: "'A guy needs somebody-to be near him.' He whined, 'A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody'" (Part 4, pg. 72). Crooks' lonely present is very different from his childhood, when he had his two brothers to keep him company, even sleeping in the same bed.
• The importance of the bond between George and Lennie is reinforced by Crook’s wistfulness. Whatever the limits of their relationship, it is envied by the other characters who thirst for companionship.
Journals/Discussion Questions:
• Why does Crooks talk to a man who cannot understand what he says?
• Why do you think Crooks volunteers to work for free?
• Would Candy have agreed to let Crooks live on the farm or not? Why?
Part 5 Examples/Quotes:
• Curley's wife tries repeatedly to assure Lennie that it's okay for him to talk to her. Like most of the characters in the book, she also feels a need for companionship. Her self-centered and aggressive husband does not fill this need.
• When George suggests they find Lennie and lock him up instead of shooting him, Slim has to remind George how terrible it would be if Lennie were locked in a cage, or strapped to a bed. Like the painful life of Candy's arthritic sheepdog, life in prison or an asylum would be no better for Lennie. Just as Candy had to realize that his sheepdog would be better off dead than alive, so must George with Lennie.
Journals/Discussion Questions:
• Have the ranch workers who have seen her as a “tart” or “tramp” judged her accurately? Why or why not?
• How does an innocent longing for human contact lead to catastrophe?
Part 6 Examples/Quotes:
• After Lennie killed Curley's wife, George was faced with a terrible choice-let Curley find Lennie and kill him, or kill Lennie himself. Unlike Candy, he will not let someone else shoot his best friend. He also will not subject his best friend to unnecessary pain. Slim's sympathetic response is best: "'Never you mind,' said Slim. 'A guy got to sometimes'" (Part 6, pg. 107). George lets Lennie die believing in their dream, though he himself must continue, knowing they will never reach it.
Journals/Discussion Questions:
• Why does George shoot his only friend? How difficult do you think it was for George to pull the trigger?
• What details show that even in this dreadful situation George is not a cruel man?
• Why do Slim and George go off together at the end? How does George look up to Slim and how does Slim try to help George? Will George stay at the ranch and become friends with Slim?
Essay Questions:
• Compare/Contrast the isolation forced upon Crooks and Curley’s wife. Note what each character says in his or her important speeches. Also not what other character say about those two people.
• Critics who have written about Of Mice and Men have expressed divergent opinions as to which parts or levels of the novel work and which do not. One frequent criticism of George is that he stays with Lennie only out of sentimentality, and that there is no believable reason for the two men to stay together. Do you think Steinbeck gives compelling reasons for George to stay with Lennie or do you think Steinbeck is simply sentimental in this regard?
• How does Steinbeck prepare the reader for the shooting of Lennie at the end of the book? In this last scene can we justify George shooting Lennie?
Information adapted from: Ms. Sheri Seyka, East Lansing High School, East Lansing, MI 48823 http://www.bookrags.com/notes/omam/
Exploring the theme of Dreams
in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men
Most of the characters in Of Mice and Men admit, at one point or another, to dreaming of a different life. Before her death, Curley’s wife confesses her desire to be a movie star. Crooks, bitter as he is, allows himself the pleasant fantasy of hoeing a patch of garden on Lennie’s farm one day, and Candy latches on desperately to George’s vision of owning a couple of acres. Before the action of the novel begins, circumstances have robbed most of the characters of these wishes. Curley’s wife, for instance, has resigned herself to an unfulfilling marriage. What makes all of these dreams typically American is that the dreamers wish for untarnished happiness, for the freedom to follow their own desires. George and Lennie’s dream of owning a farm, which would enable them to sustain themselves, and most importantly, offer them protection from an inhospitable world, represents a prototypically American ideal. Their journey, which awakens George to the impossibility of this dream, sadly proves that the bitter Crooks is right: such paradises of freedom, contentment, and safety are not to be found in this world.
Questions to ask in anticipation of the themes in Of Mice and Men:
• What is the American dream?
• Is the American dream attainable?
• Who achieves the American dream? Give some examples and explain how they reached this American ideal.
• Do you think the American dream has changed? Was it the same for your parents and grandparents?
• What are your hopes and dreams? Do they align with the stereotypical American dream, or are they separate from it? In what ways are they similar or different?
Part One: The beginning of the novel introduces readers to George and Lennie’s dream of owning their own land and sustaining themselves. They use their ambition to separate themselves from the other, seemingly aimless, ranch hands.
Key Passage:
George’s voice became deeper. He repeated his words rhythmically as though he had said them many times before. “Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place. They come to a ranch an’ work up a stake and then they go inta town and blow their stake, and the first thing you know they’re poundin’ their tail on some other ranch. They ain’t got nothing to look ahead to.”
Lennie was delighted. “That’s it—that’s it. Now tell how it is with us.”
George went on. “With us it ain’t like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don’t have to sit in no bar room blowin’ in our jack jus’ because we got no place else to go. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn. But not us.”
Lennie broke in. “But not us! An’ why? Because…because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why.” He laughed delightedly. “Go on now, George!”
“You got it by heart. You can do it yourself.”
“No, you. I forget some a’ the things. Tell about how it’s gonna be.”
“O.K. Someday—we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and—“
“An’ live off the fatta the lan’,” Lennie shouted. “An’ have rabbits. Go on, George! Tell about what we’re gonna have in the garden and about the rabbits in the cages and about the rain in the winter and the stove, and how thick the cream is on the milk like you can hardly cut it. Tell about that, George.”
“Why’n’t you do it yourself? You know all of it.”
“No…you tell it. It ain’t the same if I tell it. Go on…George. How I get to tend the rabbits.”
“Well,” said George, “we’ll have a big vegetable patch and a rabbit hutch and chickens. And when it rains in the winter, we’ll just say the hell with goin’ to work, and we’ll build up a fire in the stove and set around it an’ listen to the rain comin’ down on the roof—Nuts!” He took out his pocket knife. “I ain’t got time for no more.” (p. 13-15)
Discussion Questions/Journal Prompts:
• What are your dreams or goals? Do you have a plan for achieving them? Do you anticipate any obstacles or challenges?
• What are George and Lennie’s dreams? Is their dream the American dream?
• According to the values and context of the novel, what is the American dream?
Part Two: Once George and Lennie get to the ranch, the challenges that their reality pose to the attainment of their dreams becomes obvious.
Key Passage:
Lennie cried out suddenly—“I don’ like this place, George. This ain’t no good place. I wanna get outa here.”
“We gotta keep it till we get a stake. We can’t help it, Lennie. We’ll get out jus’ as soon as we can. I don’t like it no better than you do.” He went back to the table and set out a new solitaire hand. “No, I don’t like it,” he said. “For two bits I’d shove out of here. If we can get jus’ a few dollars in the poke we’ll shove off and go up the American River and pan gold. We can make maybe a couple of dollars a day there, and we might hit a pocket.” (p. 32-33)
Discussion Questions/Journal Prompts:
• What are some of the obstacles that George and Lennie might encounter?
• What are the obstacles for attaining the American dream now? Are they the same or different? In what ways?
Part Three: Candy becomes a key player in the success of George and Lennie’s dream by offering financial support.
Key Passages:
“…An’ I ain’t so bright neither, or I wouldn’t be buckin’ barley for my fifty and found. If I was bright, if I was even a little bit smart, I’d have my own little place, an’ I’d be bringin’ in my own crops, ‘stead of doin’ all the work and not getting what comes up outa the ground.” George fell silent. (p. 39)
William Tenner gets his editorial published in a magazine. (p. 46-47)
“Me an’ Lennie’s rollin’ up a stake,” said George. “I might go in an’ set and have a shot, but I ain’t puttin’ out no two and a half.”…George said, “I’m stayin’ right here. I don’t want to get mixed up in nothing. Lennie and me got to make a stake.” (p. 53-54)
“…We’d belong there. There wouldn’t be no more runnin’ round the country and gettin’ fed by a Jap cook. No, sir, we’d have our own place where we belonged and not sleep in no bunk house.”
“Tell about the house, George,” Lennie begged.
“Sure, we’d have a little house an’ a room to ourself. Little fat iron stove, an’ in the winter we’d keep a fire goin’ in it. It ain’t enough land so we’d have to hard. Maybe six, seven hours a day. We wouldn’t have to buck no barley eleven hours a day. An’ when we put in a crop, why, we’d be there to take the crop up. We’d know what come of our planting…He looked raptly at the wall over Lennie’s head. “An’ it’d be our own, an’ nobody could can us. If we don’t like a guy we can say, ‘Get the hell out,’ and by God he’s got to do it. An’ if a fren’ come along, why we’d have an extra bunk, an’ we’d say, ‘Why don’t you spen’ the night?’ an’ by God he would. We’d have a setter dog and a couple stripe cats, but you gotta watch out them cats don’t get the little rabbits.”
Lennie breathed hard. “You jus’ let ‘em try to got the rabbits. I’ll break their God damn necks. I’ll…I’ll smash ‘em with a stick.” He subsided, grumbling to himself, threatening the future cats which might dare to disturb the future rabbits.
George sat entranced with his own picture.
When Candy spoke they both jumped as though they had been caught doing something reprehensible. Candy said, “You know where’s a place like that?” (p. 57-59)
They fell into a silence. They looked at one another, amazed. This thing they had never really believed in was coming true. George said reverently, “Jesus Christ! I bet we could swing her.” His eyes were full of wonder. “I bet we could swing her,” he repeated softly…George stood up. “We’ll do her,” he said. “We’ll fix up that little old place an’ we’ll go live there.” He say down again. They all sat still, all bemused by the beauty of the thing, each mind was popped into the future when this lovely thing should come about.
George said wonderingly, “S’pose they was a carnival or a circus come to town, or a ball game, or any damn thing.” Old Candy nodded in appreciation of the idea. “We’d just go to her,” George said. “We wouldn’t ask nobody if we could. Jus’ say, ‘We’ll go to her,’ an’ we would. Jus’ milk the cow and sling some grain to the chickens an’ go to her.” (p. 60-61)
Discussion Questions/Journal Prompts:
• What have you sacrificed to reach your dreams or goals?
• How will realizing their dreams help George and Lennie achieve freedom? How will their lives be better? worse?
• Is freedom still part of the American dream? What kind of freedoms are people aspiring for? Use examples.
• Revisit possible complications to George, Lennie and Candy’s plan now that they are closer to that dream coming true.
• When does George finally believe that his dream could come true? How much does money affect your ability to achieve your dreams?
Part Four: Lennie and Candy reveal their plan to Crooks, who doubts the attainability of their dream. Curley’s wife also exposes her dreams, which have ended with her marriage to Curley.
Key Passages:
“You’re nuts.” Crooks was scornful. “I seen hunderds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an’ that same damn thing in their heads. Hunderds of them. They come, an’ they quit an’ go on; an’ every damn one of ‘em’s got a little piece of land in his head. An’ never a God damn one of ‘em ever gets it. Just like heaven. Ever’body wants a little piece of lan’. I read plenty of books out here. Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land. It’s just in their head. They’re all the time talkin’ about it, but it’s jus’ in their head.”…”You guys is just kiddin’ yourself. You’ll talk about it a hell of a lot, but you won’t get no land. You’ll be a swamper here till they take you out in a box. Hell, I seen too many guys. Lennie here’ll quit an’ be on the road in two, three weeks. Seems like ever’ guy got land in his head.”
Candy rubbed his cheek angrily. “You God damn right we’re gonna do it. George says we are. We got the money right now.”
“Yeah?” said Crooks. “An’ where’s George now? In town in a whore house. That’s where your money’s goin’. Jesus, I seen it happen too many times. I seen too many guys with land in their head. They never get none under their hand.”
Candy cried, “Sure they all want it. Everybody wants a little bit of land, not much. Jus’ som’thin’ that was his. Somethin’ he could live on and there couldn’t nobody throw him off of it. I never had none. I planted crops for damn near ever’body in this state, but they wasn’t my crops, and whe I harvested ‘em, it wasn’t none of my harvest. Bust we gonna do it now, and don’t make no mistake about that. George ain’t got the money in town. That money’s in the bank. Me an’ Lennie an’ George. We gonna have a room to ourself. We’re gonna have a dog an’ rabbits an’ chickens. We’re gonna have green corn an’ maybe a cow or a goat.” He stopped, overwhelmed with his picture.
Crooks asked, “You say you got the money?”
“Damn right. We got most of it. Just a little bit more to get. Have it all in one month. George got the land all picked out, too.”
Crooks reached around and explored his spine with his hand. “I never seen a guy really do it,” he said. “I seen guys nearly crazy with loneliness for land, but ever’ time a whore house or a blackjack game took what it takes.” He hesitated. “…If you…guys would want a hand to work for nothing—just his keep, why I’d come an’ lend a hand. I ain’t so crippled I can’t work like a son-of-a-bitch if I want to.” (p. 74-76)
“Awright,” she said contemptuously. “Awright, cover ‘im up if ya wanta. Whatta I care? You bindle bums think you’re so damn good. Whatta ya think I am, a kid? I tell ya I could of went with shows. Not jus’ one, neither. An’ a guy tol’ me he could put me in pitchers…” She was breathless with indignation. (p. 78)
Candy and Lennie stood up and went toward the door. Crooks called, “Candy!”
“’Member what I said about hoein’ and doin’ odd jobs?”
“Yeah,” said Candy. “I remember.”
“Well, jus’ forget it,” said Crooks. “I didn’ mean it. Jus’ foolin’. I wouldn’ want to go no place like that.”
“Well, O.K., if you feel like that. Goodnight.” (p. 83)
Discussion Questions/Journal Prompts:
• How does Lennie react to Crooks doubting his dream and/or his bond with George?
• Does Lennie have any other dream or plan if the dream of their own ranch doesn’t work out?
• If your dream or goal is threatened, how would you feel or react? Do you have a backup plan or goal? Why or why not?
• Do you think that Crooks is a pessimist? a realist? why or why not?
• If you don’t believe in yourself and your dream 100%, can it come true? Explain why or why not.
• What is stronger or more important? Individual will or patterns and statistics? Explain your answer.
• Why do you think that Crooks wants to work on George, Lennie and Candy’s farm? Why does he change his mind?
• Is it better to have dreams and not reach them? Or not have them at all? Explain why.
Part Five: Out of fear for losing his chance to tend rabbits, Lennie kills both his and Curley’s wife’s dreams. After discovering Lennie’s misdeeds, George and Candy must accept that their dream of owning their own ranch is unattainable.
Key Passages:
“Aw, nuts!” she said. “What kinda harm am I doin’ to you? Seems like they ain’t none of them cares how I gotta live. I tell you I ain’t used to livin’ like this. I coulda made somethin’ of myself.” She said darkly, “Maybe I will yet.” And then her words tumbled out in a passion of communication, as though she hurried before her listener could be taken away. “I lived right in Salinas,” she said. “Come there when I was a kid. Well, a show come through, an’ I met one of the actors. He says I could go with that show. But my ol’ lady wouldn’ let me. She says because I was on’y fifteen. But the guy says I coulda. If I’d went, I wouldn’t be livin’ like this, you bet.”
Lennie stroked the pup back and forth. “We gonna have a little place—an’ rabbits,” he explained.
She went on with her story quickly, before she should be interrupted. “’Nother time I met a guy, an’ he was in pitchers. Went out to the Riverside Dance Palace with him. He says he was gonna put me in the movies. Says I was a natural. Soon’s he got back to Hollywood he was gonna write to me about it.” She looked closely at Lennie to see whether she was impressing him. “I never got that letter,” she said. “I always thought my ol’ lady stole it. Well, I wasn’t gonna stay no place where I couldn’t get nowhere or make something of myself, an’ where they stold your letters. I ast her if she stole it, too, an’ she says no. So I married Curley. Met him out to the Riverside Dance Palace that same night.” She demanded, “You listenin’?”
“Me? Sure.”
“Well, I ain’t told this to nobody before. Maybe I ought’n to. I don’ like Curley. He ain’t a nice fella.” And because she had confided in him, she moved closer to Lennie and say beside him. “Coulda been in the movies, an’ had nice clothes—all them nice clothes like they wear. An’ I coulda sat in them big hotels, an’ had pitchers took of me. When they had them previews I coulda went to them, an’ spoke in the radio, an’ it wouldn’ta cost me a cent because I was in the pitcher. An’ all them nice clotheslikey they wear. Because this guy says I was a natural.” She looked up at Lennie, and she made a small grand gesture with her arm and hand to show that she could act. The fingers trailed after her leading wrist, and her little finger stuck out grandly from the rest. (p. 88-89)
Now Candy spoke his greatest fear. “You an’ me can get that little place, can’t we, George? You an’ me can go there an’ live nice, can’t we, George? Can’t we?”
Before George answered, Candy dropped his head and looked down at the hay. He knew.
George said softly, “—I think I knowed from the very first. I think I knowed we’d never do her. He usta like to hear about it so much I got to thinking maybe we would.”
“Then—it’s all off?” Candy asked sulkily.
George didn’t answer his question. George said, “I’ll work my month an’ I’ll take my fifty bucks an’ I’ll stay all night in some lousy cat house. Or I’ll set in some poolroom till ever’body goes home. An’ then I’ll come back an’ work another month an’ I’ll have fifty bucks more.” (p. 94-95)
Old Candy watched him go. He looked helplessly back at Curley’s wife, and gradually his sorrow and his anger grew into words. “You God damn tramp,” he said viciously. “You done it, di’n’t you? I s’pose you’re glad. Ever’body knowed you’d mess things up. You wasn’t no good. You ain’t no good now, you lousy tart.” He sniveled, and his voice shook. “I could of hoed in the garden and washed dishes for them guys.” He paused, and then went on in a singsong. And he repeated the old words: “If they was a circus or a baseball game…we would of went to her…jus’ said ‘ta hell with work,’ an’ went to her. Never ast nobody’s say so. An’ they’d of been a pig and chickens…an’ in the winter…the little fat stove…an’ the rain comin’…na’ us jus’ settin’ there.” His eyes blinded with tears and he turned and went weakly out of the barn, and he rubbed his bristly whiskers with his wrist stump. (p. 95-96)
Discussion Questions/Journal Prompts:
• Are Curley’s wife’s dreams in line with the American dream? How or how not? Are they similar or different from the American dream of today’s society?
• Do you think that Curley’s wife is to blame? Why or why not?
• Do you ever feel like your parents are an obstacle to your success?
• Are dreams only used to sustain the spirit? Or are they always real goals? How does this play out in Of Mice and Men?
• Have you ever resigned yourself to the fact that your dreams will not come true? What makes you give up or keep believing?
Part Six: George shoots Lennie while describing their dream ranch. George agrees to get the place right now, immediately before he kills Lennie.
Key Passages:
Aunt Clara was gone, and from out of Lennie’s head there came a gigantic rabbit. It sat on its haunches in front of him, and it waggled its ears and crinkled its nose at him. And it spoke in Lennie’s voice too.
“Tend rabbits,” it said scornfully. “You crazy bastard. You ain’t fit to lick the boots of no rabbit. You’d forget ‘em and let ‘em go hungry. That’s what you’d do. An’ then what would George think?”
“I would not forget,” Lennie said loudly.
“The hell you woudn’,” said the rabbit. “You ain’t worth a greased jack-pin to ram you into hell. Christ knows George done ever’thing he could to jack you outa the sewer, but it don’t do no good. If you think George gonna let you tend rabbits, you’re even crazier’n usual. He ain’t. He’s gonna beat hell outa you with a stick, that’s what he’s gonna do.”
George had been listening to the distant sounds. For a moment he was business-like. “Look acrost the river, Lennie an’ I’ll tell you so you can almost see it.”
Lennie turned his head and looked off across the pool and up the darkening slopes of the Gabilans. “We gonna get a little place,” George began. He reached in his side pocket and brought out Carlson’s Luger; he snapped off the safety, and the hand and gun lay on the ground behind Lennie’s back. He looked at the back of Lennie’s head, at the place where the spine and skull were joined.
A man’s voice called from up the river, and another man answered.
“Go on,” said Lennie.
George raised the gun and his hand shook, and he dropped his hand to the ground again.
“Go on,” said Lennie. “How’s it gonna be. We gonna get a little place.”
“We’ll have a cow,” said George. “An’ we’ll have maybe a pig an’ chicken…an’ down the flat we’ll have a…little piece alfalfa—“
“For the rabbits,” Lennie shouted.
“For the rabbits,” George repeated.
“And I get to tend the rabbits.”
“An’ you get to tend the rabbits.”
Lennie giggled with happiness. “An’ live on the fatta the lan’.”
Lennie turned his head.
“No, Lennie. Look down there acrost the river, like you can almost see the place.”
Lennie obeyed him. George looked down at the gun.
There were crashing footsteps in the brush now. George turned and looked toward them.
“Go on, George. When we gonna do it?”
“Gonna do it soon.”
“Me an’ you.”
“You…an’ me. Ever’body gonna be nice to you. Ain’t gonna be no more trouble. Nobody gonna hurt nobody nor steal from ‘em.”
Lennie said, “I thought you was mad at me, George.”
“No,” said George. “No, Lennie. I ain’t mad. I never been mad, an’ I ain’t now. That’s a thing I want ya to know.”
The voices came clost now. George raised the gun and listened to the voices.
Lennie begged, “Le’s do it now. Le’s get that place now.”
“Sure, right now. I gotta. We gotta.”
And George raised the gun and steadied it, and he brought the muzzle of it close to the back of Lennie’s head. The hand shook violently, but his face set and his hand steadied. He pulled the trigger. The crash of the shot rolled up the hills and rolled down again. Lennie jarred, and then settled slowly forward to the sand, and he lay without quivering. (p. 105-106)
Discussion Questions/Journal Prompts:
• Is it better to die believing your dreams will come true? Or to know the truth?
• Does George do the right thing? Why or why not?
• Why do you think Slim doesn’t share in other men’s dreams?
• Do you think George just used the dream of the ranch to control Lennie’s behavior? Why or why not?
• What were the major obstacles of the American dream in this era? Use specific examples from the text.
Essay Questions:
• How has the American dream changed over time? How has it remained the same? Use specific examples from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and contemporary society to support your response.
• Compare the dreams of two characters in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Explain how they are similar or different using specific examples from the text.
Creative Writing Responses:
• Compare your goals and dreams with those of a character from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Use specific examples from the text.
• Rewrite the ending of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Make sure to address whether or not the characters reach their goals. Also, write a reflective paragraph about why you think the new ending is more or less fitting to the novel. Remember to keep the tone and characters of the novel intact.
Some 1930’s Vocabulary Explained
kewpie doll: a small, fat-cheeked, wide-eyed doll with a curl of hair on top of the head.
jungle-up: during the Great Depression, many wanderers would settle for the night in groups. These areas would be known as hobo jungles. To jungle-up is to camp out for the evening in the company of other like companions of the road.
bum steer: bum, in this instance, means false or erroneous. A bum steer is false information or directions.
poke: a poke is a wallet or purse. Poke also refers to money; especially all the money one has.
two bits: a quarter; twenty-five cents.
flop: sexual intercourse with a prostitute
goo-goos: silly young men; idiots; perhaps those who are a little love struck
hoosegow: jail
looloo: a sexy woman
roll up a stake: save up some money
booby hatch: insane asylum; a place designed to house people who are mentally unstable
Sources: dictionary.com http://www.lausd.k12.ca.us/Belmont_HS/mice/
Essay Test Rubric
Scoring Rubric:
_____/25 Content: Essay effectively responds to chosen prompt. Essay uses examples from Of Mice and Men.
_____/15 Structure: Essay effectively uses standard essay structure with clear introduction, body, and conclusion paragraphs, including adequate thesis statement and topic sentences.
_____/40 TOTAL: To determine letter grade, divide scores by 40 for a percentage, then check grading scale.
Self-Evaluation: Evaluate your final draft using the rubric below.
_____/30 Content: The paper meets requirements and thoughtfully addresses the prompt in clear and organized matter.
_____/10 GUMV: Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, and Vocabulary are all appropriate for an academic paper.
_____/10 Format: All drafts submitted in proper order.
_____/50 Total
1. What do you think is working well in your paper, and what do you think needs more work?
2. What would you like me to focus on when I respond to your paper?
3. Remarks/Comments: Anything else to add before submitting your essay?
Other Sources
Of Mice and Men Vocabulary http://www.apstrategies.org/pdf/vocab/novels/Of%20Mice%20and%20Men.pdf
Of Mice and Men Character Chart http://www.teachit.co.uk/pdf/chargrid.pdf
Viewing Guide: Of Mice and Men Film, Directed by Gary Sinise (1992) http://www.argo217.k12.il.us/departs/english/blettiere/OMAM_movie_guide_student.pdf

Source: http://furman.weebly.com/uploads/5/1/7/6/5176248/te408resourcepacket-ofmiceandmen.doc

Web site to visit: http://furman.weebly.com

Author of the text: indicated on the source document of the above text

Study Guide and Sample Essays on


by John Steinbeck



  • Characters
  • Plot synopsis
  • Themes
  • Genre/style
  • Critical context
  • Useful quotations
  • Sample essays
    • Steinbeck’s use of stereotypes in the novel Of Mice and Men (629 words)
    • The friendship between George and Lennie in Of Mice and Men (514 words)
    • Describe the devices Steinbeck uses to create atmosphere in Of Mice and Men (442 words)
    • Dreams and Reality in the novel Of Mice and Men (552 words)


George Milton 

George Milton is the central character in the story. He is described as ‘small and quick, dark of face with restless eyes and sharp, strong features’.  He looks after Lennie and dreams of a better life. George symbolises the migrant worker’s way of life.  He leads a nomadic existence, moving from ranch to ranch to find work.  The only thing that keeps him going is his dream of owning his own ranch, although deep down he knows it is only an illusion and will never actually happen.

He needs Lennie’s friendship to stave off his major fear, which is loneliness.  He is loyal to Lennie because he knows that he is an innocent but outwardly his attitude is one of intolerance. 

George has a strong understanding of the possibilities in a situation and, as Lennie’s self-appointed protector, he has to think and plan for him too. His feelings for Lennie have deep roots.  This is demonstrated by his revelation of the time he asked Lennie to jump into the Sacramento river although he couldn’t swim.  He describes to Slim how guilty he felt afterwards and it is obvious he has come to appreciate the basic decency of Lennie’s nature.

‘He damn near drowned before we could get him. An’ he was so damn nice to me for pullin’ him out. Clean forgot I told him to jump in.  Well, I ain’t done nothing like that no more.’

This revelation shows that George is capable of moral growth, which is exemplified by his killing of Lennie at the end of the novel.

Lennie Small

Lennie Small is a mentally retarded man who travels with George. He dreams of ‘living off the fatta' the lan’ and being able to tend to rabbits. He has a child's mental ability but is very strong physically and is sometimes unable to control his own strength. This results in a series of accidental killings when the objects of his affection try to escape him (for example, mice and his puppy).

 He loves to listen to George’s plans for their shared future. Not only are we made aware of Lennie’s physical size, he is also described to the reader in terms of a series of running animal associations.  He is seen, for example, as a bear and as a domestic dog, but these associations enhance rather than undermine his innocence. He is vulnerable and yet he has a certain amount of cunning in concealment and knows how to get his way with George.  He threatens to go to a cave and fend for himself, knowing that George won’t let this happen.


Candy is an old ranch worker who has lost a hand in an accident and is near the end of his useful life on the ranch. He knows he has little to look forward to, especially when another ranch hand, Carlson, decides to kill his old dog because it annoys everyone in the bunk house with its bad smell.

He has a little bit of money put by and decides he wants to contribute towards George and Lennie’s little ranch, as long as he can be a part of the dream.

 ‘S’pose I went in with you guys. That’s three hundred and fifty bucks I’d put in… How’d that be? ‘

Candy’s desperate attempt to be a part of the dream shows how lonely he is.


Curley is the ranch owner’s son.  He is aggressive and was once a semi-professional boxer. He has a jealous nature and is domineering, particularly towards his wife. He immediately takes a dislike to Lennie. He is very self-important. He thinks he owns his wife and that he can dictate what she can and can’t do.

Curley's wife  

Curley’s wife is young and pretty but is referred to as a ‘tart’ by the men and mistrusted by her husband. The other characters refer to her only as ‘Curley's wife’. If she tries to talk to the ranchmen they ignore her, because they are afraid of Curley.  She has no female friends and so she feels very isolated.  Candy believes her to be the cause of all that goes wrong at Soledad:

‘Ever'body knowed you'd mess things up. You wasn't no good.’

The workers, George included, see her as having ‘the eye’ for every man on the ranch, and they cite this as the reason for Curley's insecurity and hot-headed temperament. Like George and Lennie, she once had a dream.  She dreamt of becoming an actress and living in Hollywood; now, full of self-pity, she is married to an angry man, and lives on the ranch without any friends and is seen as a trouble-maker by everyone there.


Slim is a ‘jerk line skinner’ (the main driver of a mule team), referred to as ‘prince of the ranch’. Slim decides on the mercy-killing of Candy's dog. It is Slim who helps Lennie avoid getting sacked after his fight with Curley. He is wise and humane.

He understands George’s friendship with Lennie.  He is angry Curley suspects him of seeing his wife and is treated by Steinbeck in an idealised manner.  He is the judge, holding the balance between right and wrong.  Though he is a man of few words, he conveys his understanding and acceptance of George’s shooting of Lennie:

‘You hadda, George.  I swear you hadda.  Come on with me.’


Crooks is the only African American hand on the ranch. Like Candy he is crippled, hence his nickname which refers to his crooked back resulting from being kicked by a horse. He sleeps apart from the other workers because the society in which he resides in is racist. He, like most of the other characters in the novel, suffers from extreme loneliness:

‘A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t matter no difference who the guy is, longs he with you. I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an he gets sick.’


Carlson is a ranch hand who wants to shoot Candy's old dog because he doesn't like its smell. He says it is useless and old. He seems to accept Slim’s word as law and does not emerge as a positive character.


The Boss

The Boss is Curley's father, the owner and director of the ranch.


Whit is only concerned with what he thinks is good living, going down to the cat-house on Saturdays and reading pulp magazines and playing cards in the bunkhouse.  Only the merest description is given of his character.





Plot Synopsis

The main characters are two migrant workers in California during the Great Depression.  One is George Milton and the other Lennie Small.  George is described as ‘small and quick, dark of face, with restless eyes and sharp, strong features. Every part of him was defined: small, strong hands, slender arms, a thin and bony nose.’ Lennie is large and physically strong but mentally retarded.  He is described as ‘a huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes, with wide sloping shoulders.’ 

The two unlikely friends have come to a ranch in Soledad, California to ‘work up a stake’. They hope one day to fulfill their shared dream of settling down on their own piece of land. Lennie's part of the dream, which he never tires of hearing George describe, is merely to have soft rabbits on the farm, which he can pet. George protects Lennie from himself by telling him that if he gets into trouble he won't let him ‘tend them rabbits’. They are escaping from their previous employment in a place called Weed. The childlike Lennie was run out of town, with George accompanying him, because Lennie's love of stroking soft things resulted in an accusation of attempted rape when he touched a young woman's dress.

At the ranch, the dream appears to become possible. Candy, the aged, one-handed ranch-hand, even offers to put money in with Lennie and George so they can buy the farm by the end of the month. The dream crashes when Lennie accidentally kills the young and attractive wife of Curley, the ranch owner's son, while trying to stroke her hair. A lynch mob led by Curley gathers. George, realising he is doomed to a life of loneliness and despair like the rest of the migrant workers, and wanting to spare Lennie a painful death at the hands of the violent mob, shoots Lennie in the back of the head before the mob can find him. The shot comes while Lennie is distracted by one last retelling of the dream.


There are many important themes in this novel including the importance of loyalty and friendship, loneliness, fate, racial intolerance, class conflict, mental disability, idealism and reality.
The title of the novel is taken from Robert Burns’ famous poem written in November 1785 ‘To a Mouse, on turning her up in her nest with the Plough’. The reference comes in the seventh verse, the last two lines of which read:

‘The best laid schemes o’ mice and men
Gang aft a-gley.’

The last line means ‘often go wrong’. Burns and Steinbeck share the same pessimistic views on fate.

In the book, the two main characters, George and Lennie, share a dream. George dreams of a piece of land of his own.  Lennie dreams of tending rabbits. We are introduced to them both at the beginning of the book.  As the two talk, it becomes clear that Lennie has a mental disability but is deeply devoted to George and dependent upon him for protection. Loneliness is a recurrent theme in the novel. ‘Guys like us,’ George says, ‘that work on the ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don't belong no place.’ Lennie replies: ‘But not us. And why. Because . . . because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look' after you, and that's why.’ The alternative to the companionship that George and Lennie share is loneliness. George frequently affirms the fraternity between them. ‘He's my . . . cousin,’ George tells the ranch boss. ‘I told his old lady I'd take care of him‘. The boss is suspicious of the bond between George and Lennie, and the other characters in turn also question this friendship: they have simply never seen anything like it. In their world, isolation is the norm. Even Slim, who is usually sympathetic and understanding, expresses surprise. ‘Ain't many guys travel around together. I don't know why. Maybe ever'body in the whole damned world is scared of each other.’

Somewhat related to the theme of loneliness is racism, which also results in personal isolation. Crooks, the old black man on the ranch, lives alone, ostracised by the ranch hands because of his race. The barrier of racial prejudice is briefly broken, however, when Crooks becomes an ally in the dream to buy a farm. Crooks has a cynical honesty that illustrates Steinbeck's own criticism of American society's failures in the Depression era of the 1930s.

Class conflict is another theme in the novel.  Although George and Lennie have their dream, they are not in a position to attain it. In addition to their own personal limitations, they are also limited by their position in society. Their idealistic dream is eventually destroyed by an unfeeling, materialistic, modern society. The tensions between the characters are deeply embedded in the nature of American capitalism and its class system. Curley, the son of the ranch owner, is arrogant and always looking for a fight. This is not merely a personality trait. His position in society has encouraged this behavior; his real strength lies not in his fighting ability but in his power to fire any worker. Similarly, Carlson, the only skilled worker among the ranch hands, is arrogant and lacks compassion. Carlson would be difficult to replace in his job as a mechanic; therefore, he feels secure enough in his status to treat the other workers sadistically. This trait is seen when he orders Candy's dog to be shot and when he picks on Lennie. The other workers go along with Carlson because they are old or afraid of losing their jobs. Lennie's mental retardation also symbolises the helplessness of people in a capitalistic, commercial, competitive society. In this way, Steinbeck illustrates the confusion and hopelessness of the Depression era.

Genre and Style

Of Mice and Men is a tragic novel told from the point of view of a third-person omniscient narrator who can access the point of view of any character as required by the narrative. It is the first of Steinbeck's experiments with the novel-play form, which combines qualities of each genre. The novel in fact needed few changes before appearing as a play on Broadway.  The language Steinbeck uses varies from sentimental, tragic, doomed, fatalistic, rustic, moralistic and comic to poetic.  The poetic element of Steinbeck’s style is balanced by the realism of the language his characters use.  His writing is mainly simple and direct but sometimes the tone does become lyrical.

Among the many literary devices Steinbeck uses in the story, the techniques of repetition and foreshadowing in order to build up to the climax of the tragedy are some of the most effective. Almost every scene points towards the dreadful ending. For instance, at the beginning of the book, we learn that Lennie likes to stroke mice and other soft creatures but has a tendency to kill them accidentally. This foreshadows the death of his puppy and the death of Curley’s wife. Also, when George reveals that Lennie once grabbed a woman’s dress and would not let go, the reader can more or less predict that similar trouble will arise at the ranch, especially once Curley’s wife appears on the scene. Finally, the scene in which Lennie brutally squeezes Curley’s hand foreshadows the force with which he grabs Curley’s wife by the throat, unintentionally breaking her neck.

Lennie’s fate is also foreshadowed in the events surrounding Candy’s dog. Candy dotes on the dog in the same way that George is devoted to Lennie, yet he must survive the death of his companion, who is shot in the back of the head, just as Lennie is killed at the end of the book. When Candy says that he would rather have shot the dog himself rather than allow Carlson to do it, this episode clearly anticipates the difficult decision that George makes to shoot Lennie rather than leave him to the mercy of the ranch hands.

The point of view of the novel is generally objective—not identifying with a single character—and limited to exterior descriptions. The third-person narrative point of view creates a sense of the impersonal. With few exceptions, the story focuses on what can be readily perceived by an outside observer: a river bank, a bunkhouse, a character's appearance, card players at a table. The focus on time, too, is limited to the present: there are no flashbacks to events in the past, and the reader only learns about what has happened to Lennie and George before the novel's beginning through dialogue between the characters. Thoughts, recollections, and fantasies are expressed directly by the characters.


Critical Context

At the time of the book's publication, critical reaction was mostly positive, although at the end of the 1930s, after Steinbeck had written The Grapes of Wrath, there was some re-evaluation of Steinbeck's earlier work. Some critics complained that Of Mice and Men was flawed by sentimentality. Other critics faulted Steinbeck for his portrayal of poor, earthy characters.

Critical opinions of Steinbeck's work have always been mixed. Both stylistically and in his emphasis on manhood and male relationships, which figure heavily in Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck was strongly influenced by his contemporary, Ernest Hemingway. Even though Steinbeck was hailed as a great author in the 1930s and 1940s, and won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1962, many critics have condemned his works as being superficial, sentimental, and too moralistic. Though Of Mice and Men is regarded by some as his greatest achievement, many critics argue that it suffers from one-dimensional characters and a contrived plot, which renders the lesson of the novel more important than the people in it.

Recent criticism, beginning in the 1980s, has acknowledged that Steinbeck's best work is timeless at its deepest level. Over sixty years after its publication, Of Mice and Men is a classic of American literature. It has been translated into a dozen foreign languages.

Useful quotations

‘A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green. The water is warm too, for it has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight before reaching the narrow pool.’

‘Evening of a hot day started the little wind to moving among the leaves. The shade climbed up the hills toward the top. On the sand banks the rabbits sat as quietly as little gray, sculptured stones.’

 ‘Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don't belong no place. . . . With us it ain't like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don't have to sit in no bar room blowin' in our jack jus' because we got no place else to go. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn. But not us.’

‘All kin's a vegetables in the garden, and if we want a little whisky we can sell a few eggs or something, or some milk. We'd jus' live there. We'd belong there. There wouldn't be no more runnin' round the country and gettin' fed by a Jap cook. No, sir, we'd have our own place where we belonged and not sleep in no bunk house.’

‘Whatever we ain't got, that's what you want. God a'mighty, if I was alone I could live so easy. I could go get a job an' work, an no trouble. No mess at all, and when the end of the month come I could take my fifty bucks and go into town and get whatever I want.
We could live offa the fatta the lan'.’

 ‘He damn near drowned before we could get him. An’ he was so damn nice to me for pullin’ him out. Clean forgot I told him to jump in.  Well, I ain’t done nothing like that no more.’

‘I ain't got no people. I seen the guys that go around on the ranches alone. That ain't no good. They don't have no fun. After a long time they get mean. They get wantin' to fight all the time. . . 'Course Lennie's a God damn nuisance most of the time, but you get used to goin' around with a guy an' you can't get rid of him.’

 ‘A water snake 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 head and beak lanced down and plucked it out by the head, and the beak swallowed the little snake while its tail waved frantically.’

 ‘S'pose you didn't have nobody. S'pose you couldn't go into the bunk house and play rummy 'cause you was black. How'd you like that? S'pose you had to sit out here an' read books. Sure you could play horseshoes till it got dark, but then you got to read books. Books ain't no good. A guy needs somebody - to be near him. A guy goes nuts if he ain't got nobody. Don't make no difference who the guy is, long's he's with you. I tell ya, I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an' he gets sick.’

‘I seen hunderds of men come by on the road an' on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an' that same damn thing in their heads. Hunderds of them. They come, an' they quit an' go on; an' every damn one of 'em's got a little piece of land in his head. An' never a God damn one of 'em ever gets it. Just like heaven. Everybody wants a little piece of lan'. I read plenty of books out here. Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land. It's just in their head. They're all the time talkin' about it, but it's jus' in their head.’

‘Never you mind. A guy got to sometimes.’


Sample Essays

1. Discuss Steinbeck’s use of stereotypes in his novel, Of Mice and Men

There is arguably not much character development in Steinbeck’s short novel, Of Mice and Men. The author concentrates on revealing his characters and presenting them as sympathetic or unsympathetic to focus the reader's attention on their predicament. The main characters in the novel are from the lowest social class. Both George and Lennie are poor and homeless. George is portrayed as intelligent but the reader gets the impression that he knows he is only fooling both himself and Lennie in inventing schemes to buy a ranch where the two of them will settle down to raise crops and livestock. Lennie is mentally retarded and has trouble understanding social situations. He is able to remember only selected information. The dream of living on his own place has stuck in his imagination, however, and he believes wholeheartedly in George's ability to make that dream come true.

George and Lennie are the only two characters in this short novel who are explained in any detail. The other characters could all be described as stereotypes. Even the names of the characters, which are all short and descriptive, say something about them: Slim, the capable uncomplaining ranch hand; Curley, the ranch owner's son, who is jealous of his wife and quick to pick fights; and Curley's wife who is a flirtatious young woman. She has no name indicating her powerless position on the ranch. The use of these stock characters adds to the plot.  Crooks is a character who is mistreated in many ways because he is black. Crooks is the stable buck of the barn. It is not certain whether Crooks is his name, or his nickname, but we learn that he got kicked in the back by a horse and has had a crooked back ever since. Nevertheless he gets yelled at by the boss every time something’s wrong. 

‘The boss gives him hell when he’s mad. But the stable buck don’t give a damn about that.’ 

He keeps his distance and demands that other people keep theirs. Crooks is bitter, indignant, angry and ultimately frustrated by his helplessness as a black man in a racist
culture. He listens to Lennie's talk of the dream and of the farm with cynicism. Although tempted by Candy, Lennie, and George's plan to buy their own place, Crooks is constantly reminded (in this case by Curley's wife) that he is lower to whites and, out of pride, he refuses to take part in their future farm.

Lennie is not so much stereotyped, but rather trapped because of his size. Because Lennie is so big, Curley thinks he has to prove something by beating up Lennie. Lennie is then forced to fight.  ‘I don’t want no trouble,’ he says. ‘Don’t let him sock me, George.’

Curley’s wife is probably the most loathed person on the ranch. She is stereotyped as an empty-headed flirt.  ‘Jesus, what a tramp,’ George says. ‘So that’s what Curley picks for a wife.’  The ranch hands don’t like or trust her because they think she’ll get them in trouble. They make judgments without getting to know her first. Curley, her husband, doesn’t trust her with the other ranch hands.

In summary, by his clever use of stereotypes in this short novel, Steinbeck has highlighted important human issues, including the importance of friendship, the need for people to take responsibility for others less fortunate than themselves, the tragedy of circumstances interfering with people's plans for the future and the insensitivity of some people toward those of different racial background, social status, or intellectual prowess. These social issues are dramatised in a carefully plotted story that keeps the reader's attention focused on the main characters, building to a violent climax in which the ethics of violent solutions to human problems are called into question.

629 words

2. Discuss the friendship between George and Lennie in Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men

The friendship that George and Lennie share forms the central part of the novel. The two men are different from all of the other characters in the story and Lennie sums this up when he states ‘I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that's why’.  The initial interview by the ranch boss emphasises the unusual quality of their relationship and Slim too remarks on this later in the story when he says to George, 'Funny how you an' him string along together’. Although they are not related, they are linked together by a shared past, by a dream of the future, and by current circumstances.

From Lennie’s perspective, George is the most important person in his life, his guardian and only friend. Every time he does anything that he knows is wrong, his first thought is of George’s disapproval. George, on the other hand, thinks of Lennie as a constant source of frustration. He has assumed responsibility for Lennie’s welfare and has, several times, been forced to run because of the trouble Lennie has unintentionally caused. Life with Lennie is not easy.

‘Whatever we ain't got, that's what you want. God a'mighty, if I was alone I could live so easy. I could go get a job an' work, an no trouble. No mess at all, and when the end of the month come I could take my fifty bucks and go into town and get whatever I want.’

However, despite George’s frequent bouts of anger and frustration and his long speeches about how much easier life would be without Lennie, George is clearly devoted to his friend. He flees from town to town not to escape the trouble Lennie has caused, but to protect Lennie from its consequences.

In the same way that Lennie needs mice and pups and rabbits to take care of, George needs Lennie to look after.  As George reveals to Slim, the incident that sealed the bond between the pair came when he told his friend to jump into the rushing Sacramento River and was then forced to save him from drowning. In a way, George also uses Lennie as an excuse for the hardships that he must endure. He continually claims that life would be ‘so easy’ for him were it not for the burden of caring for Lennie.

However, despite the two men being so different, they have one thing in common. They both share the same dream of owning their own ranch and after many years of hard work, moving from ranch to ranch, living in complete poverty and working for very little remuneration, they finally seem to be getting nearer to achieving this lifelong dream. Lennie believes unquestioningly in their dream, and his faith enables the cynical George to imagine the possibility of this dream becoming reality. In fact, George’s belief in it depends upon Lennie, for as soon as Lennie dies, George’s hope for a brighter future disappears.  It is really dependency and not brotherly love which unites the two men and maintains their friendship.
(514 words)


3. Describe the devices Steinbeck uses to create atmosphere in Of Mice and Men.

The story is set in California's Salinas Valley and the action takes place on a large ranch during the Great Depression. One of the ways Steinbeck creates atmosphere in the novel is the way in which he uses nature as a background and ‘medium’ of his characters.   Nature is seen in minute detail.  The opening of the novel illustrates this and the description is full of nostalgia. The tone is simple and immediate:

‘There is a path through the willows and among the sycamores, a path beaten hard by boys coming down form the ranches to swim in the deep pool, and beaten hard by tramps who come wearily down from the highway in the evening.’

There is a poetic element to Steinbeck’s style, as seen in the following quotations: the sycamores have ‘mottled, white, recumbent limbs’, the ‘rabbits sat as quietly as little grey sculptured stones’, a heron is ‘stilted’ and a lizard ‘makes a great skittering’. He uses various literary devices including similes and metaphors, onomatopoeia and personification.  The closeness of man to nature is emphasised in the novel and Lennie is seen frequently as a bear or a dog; the imagery emphasising the simple responses of his nature.
The settings are simple in detail but powerfully symbolic. The secluded spot in the woods by the stream is the uncomplicated world of Nature; the bunkhouse is the bleak home of hired working men trying to make sense of their lives and gain comfort in a limited environment; the barn is the place of working life, of seed and harvest, birth and death, the harness room with Crook's bunk symbolises social constraints; the ‘little place of our own’ about which George and Lennie dream is the Paradise we all yearn for.
Light is another very important element in the novel which Steinbeck uses to create atmosphere.  The natural light of the sun and the artificial light of the interiors is an important part of the author’s unvoiced commentary.  The action begins on the evening of a hot day, continues with George and Lennie talking in darkness and half-darkness with the fire lighting the trunks of the trees until the ‘sphere of light’ from the fire grows smaller.  The next day they go to the ranch house and we are told at 10 o’clock in the morning ‘the sun threw a bright, dust-laden bar through one of the side windows, and in and out of the beam flies shot like rushing stars’.

The poetic element of Steinbeck’s style is balanced by the realism of the language his characters use.  His writing is mainly simple and direct but sometimes the tone becomes lyrical.

(442 words)



4. Dreams and Reality in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men
The novel describes the life migrant ranch workers in rural America. It tells the tragic story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two lonely nomadic farm workers who belong nowhere. George protects the mentally retarded but physically strong Lennie from the tricks of both ranch bosses and other hands, but, in so doing, George has considerably reduced the possibilities of his own successful attainment of independence and peace. In order to soothe his childish companion, George has invented a fantasy in which both of them operate their own farm and Lennie, in particular, is in charge of the rabbits. It is a vision which immediately quiets any of the good-natured Lennie’s anxieties, as well as bringing comfort to the otherwise realistic and rather cynical George.

When the two friends arrive at the latest farmhouse, Lennie promises faithfully to obey his companion and be good. George arranges jobs for both of them. Curley takes an immediate dislike to Lennie simply because of his strength. After a series of provocations, Lennie is drawn into a fight with Curley. Unable to control his massive strength, he breaks the bones of Curley’s hand before his co-workers can pull him away from the victim. From this moment on, Curley plans full revenge.

The opportunity presents itself in the person of Curley’s own wife, a coarse but pathetically lonely creature who frequently attempts to attract advances from hired hands to relieve the tedium of her life on the ranch. Driven away from the bunkhouse in which the men have their quarters by her jealous husband, the young woman waits until all but Lennie have left the ranch, and then proceeds to engage him in conversation. So preoccupied with her own misery is the girl that she does not realise her potential danger. Enthusiastically recalling an opportunity she once had to appear in Hollywood films, she invites Lennie to feel the soft texture of her hair. At first reticent, he is soon persuaded. Suddenly she is locked in his grasp and moments later, her dead body slumps to the floor of the bunkhouse.

When George and Candy, a down-on-his-luck worker who had expressed great interest in joining the friends in their dream farm, realise what has happened, Lennie is told to take refuge in a secret place George had once designated for some emergency. Taking Curley’s gun, George waits for the others to form a search party. Raging with jealous anger and despair, Curley makes it clear that, when found, Lennie will not be brought back alive. During the course of the chase, George manages to separate from the others. Finding his friend at the appointed meeting place, he suggests that Lennie watch out across the river and try to picture that farm they will one day share. As his friend complies, George raises the gun and fires into the back of Lennie’s head. When the others catch up to him, George explains that he had happened to stumble upon Lennie who was killed in a struggle for the gun which he tried to use against George.

The major figures in Steinbeck’s story are all driven by a compelling faith in the possibility of dreams coming true. George and Lennie are the protagonists and, in a certain sense, the author has them epitomize all the dreams of the others.
(552 words)



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