OF MICE AND MEN By John Steinbeck
OF MICE AND MEN Introduction; Stylistic features: Key messages Key characters: Lenny, George, Curley, Curley’s Wife, Crooks, Candy, Slim Key incidents: Death of Curley’s Wife, Lennie’s death. Place: America, The Bunk House, The Barn The American Dream Summary
The novel follows the lives of Lenny and George. It takes place in the Great Depression (1920s/1930s) in America. They support each other in a time when many are lonely and isolated. A number comment on how unusual it is to see two people together. The men they share their lives with have a dream to hold on to and need ways of escaping from the harsh realities of the lives they live. They use prostitutes, play cards and dream of a better future.
Key Characters Lennie • A huge man, he acts is like a child. • Lennie has tremendous strength • He is also very simple and lacks intelligence. • He often survives on instinct and he depends on George for guidance and help, only speaking to Curley when George gives him permission. • He quickly forgets things and needs George to remind him. • Lennie keeps a dead mouse, a chilling foreshadowing of what is to come. • He is animal-like and often described this way, likened to a dog with paws. • He dreams of having rabbits, a way of escaping the harsh realities and also showing his simple nature.. • He doesn’t intend to hurt the mouse, the pup, Curley or Curley’s wife, but he is too rough.
George • George is intelligent and keeps Lennie alive. • He looks after Lennie and they work as a team. • He constantly says he could do better without Lennie, but never leaves him. He has a dream and does not want it to be shattered. • He can be cruel to Lennie, but this is due to frustration and he wants the best for Lennie and for him to stay out of trouble. • George dreams of having a house, pigs and luxuries in life. The others get caught up in his dreams, especially Lennie. • At the end he takes responsibility for killing Lennie, as he has taken responsibility for him all along.
Curley • A small man, both physically and in the way he behaves. • Violent, he was once a boxer. • He uses his fists to get what he wants. • He takes his anger out on Lennie, thinking he is picking on some one weaker. He is hurt badly by Lennie, who crushes his hand. • He is incredibly jealous and rightly suspects his wife is being unfaithful. Curley’s Wife • She isn’t given a name to show her low status. • She is a flirtatious character and has no love for Curley. • She is presented as being glamorous and seen as a whore by the men. • Pretty, but dangerous for the men to get to know, so they try to avoid her. • Fascinating to Lennie, she is another outsider in a world of men.
Crooks • Crooks is black and abused by the other men as racism was rife in America at this time (1920s) • Physically handicapped with a crooked back as a result of an injury when a horse kicked him this further adds to his disadvantages and isolation. • Crooks is intelligent and reads a lot. • He is protective of his room which is tidy and shows his pride. • He is very defensive when Lennie comes in as he is used to being attacked by the white men. • He feels superior to Lennie (intellectually) and Curley’s wife (morally). • He has no one to love or support him. • Very much a realist, he has no great dream.
Candy • Is an old man. • His dog is old too and when he becomes useless the others urge him to have it put down (there is a similarity here between the dog and Lennie being ‘put down’ by George at the end) • The death of the dog is a tense and sad moment in the novel. Slim • A figure of authority on the ranch. • Curley thinks his wife is having an affair with Slim. • Knowledgeable.
LOCATIONS • The novel is set in America. • The opening description of nature is quite majestic, but nature has been invaded by man. • Nature is unforgiving and the days are very hot and unpleasant. This backdrop adds to the tensions of the characters. • The bunk house is a key location and is presented starkly, an uninviting place with whitewashed walls. It is certainly not a warm, homely atmosphere. • The barn is Crook’s home. It is clean and tidy, reflecting the pride he has.
THE AMERICAN DREAM George and Lennie are just two of a vast number of Americans who had a great dream of owning land and being successful. Their current life gives them little hope and they are isolated, lonely figures. They look after each other and hope they will own a ranch together and live off the land. For Lennie the dream involves the child-like desire to have some rabbits as pets. The novel seems to end on a negative note, with everyone worried that the death of Curley’s wife represents the shattering of their dreams.
KEY INCIDENTS • Perhaps the key incident is the death of Curley’s wife. • The scene describes her seductive nature clearly, with a focus on her clothing. • She talks to Lennie like one would talk to a child. • It becomes apparent that they are both isolated, lonely characters. • She tells Lennie her secrets. • Lennie strokes her hair, but gets confused and holds on. • His fear and confusion cause him to kill her, just as he has killed the mouse and the pup before (these act as events that foreshadow this main incident). • He tries to cover up her body in they hay, like a guilty child. • The whole world goes silent and there is a threatening atmosphere from this point on. • George is sad at the murder and knows what he has to do. • The ending is sad, George kills Lennie to stop further accidents happening. • Lennie acts like a child being told off, he doesn’t see quite how serious it is. • George finds it difficult to kill Lennie and tells him of his dream even at the end, to soften the blow. • The dream is effectively shattered at the end of the novel.
Summary • The novel takes place in the Great Depression. • Everyone has a dream. • Life is hard and seems hopeless. • Lennie and George travel together and work as a team. • Lennie is like a big child. • George looks after him. • There is still racism in America at this time. • Lennie can’t control his own strength. • The landscape is harsh, reflecting the harshness of their lives.