OF MICE AND MEN

-study guide-

John Steinbeck set his novel in America during the Great Depression of the 1930s. A series of droughts in the country meant that a ‘dust bowl’ was created, causing crop failures. Whole families had to move, and many headed West in search of work. Refugee camps were created, and emergency accommodation (‘Hoovervilles’) sprang up. There was no system of state relief, so many were forced to beg for the means to live. Because of the mass unemployment, those who managed to find work had to accept very bad working conditions and low pay, and many had to become migrant workers, moving from ranch to ranch in search of work. The title of the novel was taken by Steinbeck from the poem To a Mouse written by the Scottish poet Robert Burns. By the time you have finished reading the novel, you should appreciate how fitting the quotation is: The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley, An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, For promis’d joy. OF MICE AND MEN A general summary of the story One warm evening, two men walk down from the highway to a pool near the Salinas River in California. Leading the way is George, a small, dark-skinned man who moves quickly and decisively. Behind him shambles a huge bear of a man. This is Lennie who is immensely strong and well-built but who is also half-witted. They are off to take up work on a nearby ranch, but George tells Lennie not to say a thing when they arrive at the ranch. George will do all the talking for both of them. It emerges that the men, who are migrant workers (travelling labourers), have made to make a run for it from the town of Weed where they were previously working. In Weed, Lennie stroked the soft material of a girl's dress, frightening her. When Lennie panicked and hung on to the girl, the girl screamed bringing men running to her help. The men thought Lennie was trying to rape the girl, and Lennie managed to escape only because George was there to help him. George has always been there to help Lennie since they were boys, and he promised Lennie's Aunt Clara that he would look after him when she died. Before they settle down for the night, Lennie wheedles George into telling a story he has heard many times before: how when they get the money together they will buy and run a small farm, with rabbits and other animals on it for Lennie to look after. The following day they start work at the farm and meet Curley, the violent and illtempered son of the boss. Curley, a small man but a trained boxer, takes an instant dislike to Lennie. George senses that there could be serious trouble between Lennie and Curley and orders Lennie to keep well clear of the boss's son. Curley has recently married a girl who is

already showing signs of wanting to be unfaithful to him, basically because Curley treats her so badly and yet is insanely jealous of any man who pays her attention. Aware that there might be trouble, George orders Lennie to escape and meet him by the pool where they spent the night if anything serious happens. They meet Slim, the chief mule driver, who is a man of natural authority, wellrespected by the ranch hands. George and Slim have mutual respect for each other and George trusts Slim enough to explain why they had to get out of Weed in such a hurry. Slim recognises that Lennie, despite his size and limited intelligence, is essentially “a nice fella” who means no harm to anyone. One of the dogs on the farm has just given birth to a litter of puppies. Its owner, Carlson, lets Lennie have one of the puppies as long as he keeps it in the barn until it is older. Carlson objects strongly to the smelly, old dog that Candy keeps in the bunk house. Candy is an old man who does cleaning jobs around the ranch, especially the dirty jobs. He has lost his right hand in an accident involving farm machinery. Candy is forced into letting Carlson take out his old dog and shoot it because it smells so badly and because it is too old to be of any further use. Depressed over the loss of his dog, Candy hears George telling Lennie about their plan for a little farm, and offers to put up most of the money as long as they let him come in on the deal. At first George is reluctant to include a third person on on their dream but he then realises they can afford to buy a farm in the hills in only a couple of months if Candy becomes a partner. He accepts Candy's offer and it looks like the dream will true more quickly than they believed possible. Curley barges into the bunk house looking for a fight. He picks on Lennie and batters him in the face. At first Lennie does not fight back but then on George's say-so he defends himself. He grabs Curley's hand and crushes it in his own powerful grip. Slim forces Curley to say that his hand was damaged in an accident in a machine; otherwise, he will tell the true story and Curley will become the laughing-stock of the ranch. Curley agrees but hehas a smouldering hatred for Lennie from then on. On Saturday evening when nearly all the men have gone into town for some entertainment, Lennie, who has been left behind to keep out of trouble, wanders into Crooks' hut looking for company. Crooks is a crippled and bitter negro who severely injured his back during an accident on the ranch. Crooks keeps himself to himself, as the only black man on the farm, and is at first annoyed when Lennie comes into his hut. Gradually Crooks' is won over by Lennie's sheer good nature and the men begin to talk. Candy overhears them talking and, looking for some company too, he enters the hut and joins the conversation. Lennie and Candy tell crooks about the plan to buy their own farm. At first Crooks will not beleieve it; he has seen too many migrants workers with “a piece of land in their heads” never able to mae their dream a reality. Crooks begins to believe the men and even offers to join them in making the ranch work, but their pleasant conversation is interrupted by Curley's wife. She too is looking for some company on a lonely Saturday night, but the men are very wary; they know how enraged Curley would be if he ever found out that they were talking to his wife in the blackman's hut. Curley's wife feels shut out and rejected; she becomes increasingly angry and contemptuous towards them. When Crooks protests, she warns him menacingly that she

could easily have him lynched, just by suggesting that he made advances towards her. Crooks' spirit and resistance are broken, and he even tells Candy and Lennie that he was only joking when he offered to work on their farm. A few days later Lennie accidentally kills his puppy in the barn. While he is trying to bury it in the straw that lies on the floor of the barn, Curley's wife comes in looking, as usual, for a little company. She sits down beside Lennie and for a while they tell each other their dreams - although neither is really listening to the other. Lennie mentions how he likes smooth, silky things, like velvet, and Curley's wife invites him to stroke her hair to feel how soft it is. She panics when she feels Lennie's great strength. Lennie panics too. He puts his great 'paw' around her mouth to stop her screaming, but accidentally covers her nose too. Curley's wife goes into a fit of panic, and in an effort to quieten her down, Lennie breaks her neck. He realises that he has done 'a bad thing' and, following George's instructions, runs away from the ranch to wait for him at the pool near the Salinas River. When the body of Curley's wife is discovered, it is obvious that Lennie is the murderer. Curley is determined to shoot him 'in the guts'. George realises that Lennie will be shot or lynched; even if he does survive, he will probably be locked away in a mental asylum, 'a booby hatch' for the rest of his life. George knows that such a life would endless agony and torment for Lennie. He finds Lennie waiting for him by the pool. He asks Lennie to look across the river and imagine that he can see the farm they are going to buy, the farm where they can lead their own lives, never have to depend on other people for work, and never be lonely again. Lennie has the imagination of a child. He can actually see the farm across the river. And while he is excitedly describing the farm, George puts Carlson's Luger to the back of Lennie’s head and blows his brains out. The men arrive and think that George had to wrestle the gun away from Lennie. Only Slim understands what has happened and tells George that he had no other choice, no other choice. SEQUENCE OF EVENTS 1 Friday evening: George & Lennie make camp for night by the pool on way to ranch. They discuss the past, their dreams, plans if things go wrong at the ranch.. 2 Saturday morning: Candy, George and Lennie meet Candy at the bunkhouse. Candy shows them around. They meet the boss, who is suspicious. Curley threatens Lennie. Curley’s wife flirts with Lennie. Slim mentions his pups, Carlson discusses killing Candy’s dog. 3 Saturday afternoon: Slim has given Lennie a pup. George and Slim discuss Lennie over cards. George tells Slim about Weed. Whit finds a letter in a magazine. Carlson shoots Candy’s dog. Candy comes in on the plan to buy their own place. Lennie breaks Curley’s hand. 4 Saturday evening: Crooks talks to Lennie about himself and land. Candy joins in Curley’s wife argues with them. George comes in and they leave.

5 Sunday afternoon: Lennie has killed his puppy. Lennie & Curley’s wife talk, he breaks her neck & runs away. Candy finds her body. Curley wants to kill Lennie. 6 Late Sunday afternoon: Lennie is waiting in the clearing, sees visions. George arrives & shoots Lennie while telling him about the plan. The other men arrive. Slim tells George, “You had no choice. You had to do it.” KEY CHRACTERS IN THE NOVEL GEORGE The first man was 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. George and Lennie are the heroes of Of Mice and Men. George is intelligent and quick-witted, in Slim's words 'a smart little guy'. There is a contradiction here which George himself points out: 'If I was bright, if I was even a little bit smart, I'd have my own little place, an' I'd be bringing in my own crops, 'stead of doin' all the work and not getting what comes up outa the ground.' One answer to why George is just a ranch hand is economic; he cannot afford to buy a place of his own; and the world of the 'dustbowl depression' was not a time when a man could make a success of life simply by being intelligent and working hard. There were hundreds of thousands of men on the road, drifting, looking for work, simply trying to stay alive. Another reason why George remains a ranch-hand is Lennie. If George is to look after Lennie, wandering around the ranches is probably the only way they can keep together. A long stay in one area increases the chances of Lennie doing something wrong. Permanent employment is not only hard to get but it is also too risky. But why does George stay with Lennie? He tells him often enough about the freedom he could have if Lennie were not there. Just as frequently he tells Lennie about the dream of having his own small ranch. Lennie has heard George's speeches so often that he knows them by heart. George is a kind, soft-hearted person. If he is angry and sharp at times it is because of the life he is forced to live, so tensions inevitably arise as he wanders the country looking for casual labour for them both. Undoubtedly George has grown to like Lennie; he feels a sense of duty and responsibility towards him. But there is more to their partnership than this. Lennie needs George and would be lost without him, but it is equally true to say that George needs Lennie. All around him George sees the itinerant, nomadic farm workers, rootless and lonely, ineffective and lost. His companionship with Lennie helps to keep loneliness at bay, and it gives his life a purpose. Although George gets frustrated at times, looking after Lennie appeals to his responsible and sensitive nature. George wants to do some good in the world and making sure that Lennie does not get into trouble helps him feel that his life means something.

It does more than this; it gives George a sense of being different, not like all the other thousands of migrant workers. George and Lennie say it themselves: 'We got a future. We got someobody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don't have to sit in no bar-room blowin' in our jack (wasting our money) jus' because we got no place else to go to. 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. Certainly George looks after Lennie because he is a good, kind, loyal person, but he also does it because the relationship gives him something he desperately needs, perhaps something evryone needs: friendship, companionship and a reason for living. George is a good judge of other people's characters. He senses that Curley and his wife will bring trouble, and Slim is man to be respected and trusted. George is quiet by nature, refusing to take sides in the bunk-house, modest and a good worker. He is cleanliving, partly because he does not feel he can waste his hard-earned money in the pool-room and brothel if he is ever to buy the farm he covets, but also because of his temperament: he is appalled by Lennie drinking scummy water and by the idea of lice in the bedding. He is a peaceful-man though he cannot resist a certain delight in telling Lennie to 'get' Curley. Like every other person, George does have his weaknesses. He is very quick to make a harsh judgement about Curley's wife and he does little to save Candy's dog. Originally he played cruel tricks on Lennie, but he stopped when he realised how childish and cruel this was. In his decision to shoot Lennie he finally takes full responsibility for the fate of another human being. George is a moral person with a strict sense of right and wrong. After the murder of Curley's wife, even though it was accidental, he knows that Lennie cannot be allowed to run away, he accepts that Lennie must accept the consequences of his action. But George is also full of compassion, and it is this that makes him prefer a clean death for Lennie, rather than lynching or being locked away in 'a booby-hatch'for life. George is a realist and knows that society will not let Lennie get away this time. George is a responsible person; he brought Lennie to the farm, and so the responsibilty for resolving the situation is his. George has always made sacrifices in order to look after Lennie. When he kills him, he makes the greatest sacrifice of all: George loses not only his friend and the dream of the ranch they shared, but he knows he will have to live the rest of his life with the knowledge that he killed his friend. Lennie dies with the words and the expression of the dream on his lips and face, and when he dies, so does the dream, killed by the man who brought it into being. George is almost an empty shell when he leaves the scene with Slim after the shooting. There is no practical reason why George should not still buy the farm with Candy but we, the readers, know that he will not do this for it would be emotionally unacceptable. The dream is as dead as Lennie, and perhaps George, the practical realist, knew it would end this way all along. Lennie Behind him walked his opposite, a huge man, shapeless of face, with large pale eyes, with wide sloping shoulders, and he walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws. His arms did not swing at his sides, but hung loosely and only moved

because the heavy hands were pendula. Lennie is a half-wit, a simpleton, with the mental age of a young boy, but he is also, as Slim and Curley's wife point out, a 'nice fella'. He has the mind of a child encased in the body of an immensely strong man, and his tragedy is that his mind has never learned how to control his body. He is amazed and upset when his mice and puppy die; he cannot understand that it is his great strength which has crushed them. After his strength his most noticeable feature is his innocence. This innocence is so transparent and obvious that the reader cannot help liking him and feel for him the same affection that George feels. The only way he can survive is to be like a tame dog, always tethered to his master George and never let out of his sight. Yet Lennie is not totally straightforward. He has the cunning of a child as we see at the start of the novel when he gradually soothes the angry George and gets him to tell once more the story of the ranch they will some day buy. Lennie is acute enough to play on George's feelings of guilt: He had sensed his advantage. 'If you don't want me, you only jus' got to say so, and I'll go off in those hills right there - right up in those hills and live by myself. An' I won't get no mice stole from me.' Lennie's instincts also tell him that Curley's ranch is a bad place to be: Lennie cried out suddenly: 'I don' like this place, George. This ain't no good place. I wanna get outa here.' Lennie's tragedy is that he comes so close to finding the life that would suit him, working on a small ranch with George. Lennie is loyal, trust-worthy, immensely hardworking, and wants little more out of life than security and friendship. We can imagine how happy he would be if George took a wife and they all lived together on their ranch; it is easy to see how Lennie would naturally be the 'younger brother' who took delight in the happiness of the grown-ups. Slim A tall man stood in the doorway. He held a crushed Stetson hat under his arm while he combed his long, black damp hair straight back. Like the others, he wore blue jeans and a short denim jacket. When he had finished combing his hair he moved into the room, and he moved with a majesty only achieved by royalty and master craftsmen. He was a jerkline skinner (a driver who can control a team of mules or horses by use of a single rein), the prince of the ranch, capable of driving ten, sixteen, even twenty mules with a single line to the leaders. He was capable of killing a fly on the wheeler's butt (the rear quarters of the lead animal) with a bull whip without touching the mule. There was a gravity in his manner and a quiet so profound that all talk stopped when he spoke. His authority was so great that his word was taken on any subject, be it politics or love. This was Slim, the jerkline skinner. His hatchet face was ageless. He might have been thirty-five or fifty. His ear heard more than was said to him, and his slow speech had overtones not of thought, but of understanding beyond thought. His hands, large and lean, were as delicate in their action as those of a temple dancer. This passage is by far the longest opening description given to any character in the novel, which shows how deeply interested John Steinbeck was in Slim. It leaves little more to be said about Slim as the rest of the book simply emphasises the points made above and

brings in nothing new. However, Slim is dramatically important because he understands and accepts the bond between George and Lennie. It is Slim who comes to a correct judgement about Lennie's character - 'a nice fella' - and it is Slim who understands why George had to kill Lennie. His words, 'You hadda, George, I swear you hadda', say all that there is to be said after the incident. It is important that Slim, who is respected by everyone on the ranch, gives a judgement about Lennie's death that agrees with our own judgement: Lennie's death was necessary and inevitable, and George was morally right in doing what he did. You might ask, like some critics have done before you, what such a noble, admirable, dignified and princely figure such as Slim is doing in a bunk-house at all! Steinbeck's description would fit an elder statesman, a great teacher, or philosopher, and it certainly seems to be excessively respectful to someone who, after all, is only a ranch-hand, if a skilled one. Perhaps Steinbeck is trying to show that noble men and women can be found in all sections of society; perhaps it is also part of Steinbeck's campaign to improve the reputation of migrant workers. Still, if you feel that the description of Slim as rather OTT you are probably right. Candy The door opened and a tall, stoop-shouldered old man came in. He was dressed in blue jeans and he carried a big push-broom in his left hand. Candy has lost his right hand in a farm accident and is now reduced to the meanest, lowest job on the ranch, that of swamper. Candy's function in the novel is to show the reader what happens to an old man burdened by physical disability, loneliness and rejection. He is a pathetic figure. He has lost all control over his life, and can only pass the time by being humble and subservient towards others - and getting his own back on them by gossip. Only twice in the novel does he stand up to people: once when he joins in the attack on Curley, and again when he tells Curley's wife what he thinks of her. In each case his defiance is short-lived and serves only to make him seem more pathetic. Yet the reader is also shown how little it would take to bring Candy back to life - just ten acres and a few animals are all that he needs to give him confidence and a spring in his step. He provides a parallel to George and Lennie when he clings to his dog for companionship and comfort as they do to each other. The dog's death reveals that Candy is a human being with the full range of human feelings and emotions. The incident where the dog is taken out and shot also important because it introduces Carlson's gun, which is vital for the ending of the story. It is also the dog that indirectly brings Candy in on the dream, for its death is what ensures his presence in the bunk house when he hears George and Lennie talking about theirplans for the little farm. Candy is one of the best examples of Steinbeck's compassion and sympathy for the old, the weak and the down-trodden.

Crooks This room was swept and fairly neat, for Crooks was a proud, aloof man. He kept his distance and demanded that other people kept theirs. His body was bent over to the left by his crooked spine, and his eyes lay deep in his head, and because of their depth seemed to glitter with intensity. His lean face was lined with deep black wrinkles and he had thin, pain-tightened lips which were lighter than his face. Like Candy, Crooks is an example of Steinbeck's compassion, and a further illustration of the way in which loneliness can corrupt and destroy a man. He has a double burden in that he is not only a cripple, but also a negro in a society which will not treat negroes as anything approaching an equal. The novel is set in the times when racism was part of the way of life in the southern states of America, so Crooks was automatically shut out of whatever warmth, friendship and companionship there was on the ranch. His inferiority is vividly confirmed when Curley's wife crushes him when he tries to stand up to her, for no negro could hope to win against an white man or woman. Yet Crooks is not teated badly by the other ranch hands. He is described as a 'nice fella' by Candy and is given a room of his own - since white men would never sleep in the same room as a negro even though it is right by the manure heap. Crooks only appears two-thirds of the way through the story. His function is to forewarn the reader and prepare him for tragedy, for the destruction of George's and Lennie's dream. Although Crooks would like to join them, he never really believes it can come true. He is a cynic, he has seen it all before, and he knows what these dreams come to - nothing. Curley At that moment a young man came into the bunk-house; a thin young man with a brown face, with brown eyes and a head of tightly curled hair. He wore a work-glove on his left hand and, like the boss, he wore high-heeled boots. 'Curley's like a lot of little guys. He hates big guys. He's alla time picking scraps with big guys. Kind of like he's mad at 'em because he ain't a big guy.' Curley is a spoilt, restless young man with a grudge against the world. He has had a little success as an amateur boxer, and boxing has become an obsession with him, so much so that every person he meets is seen as a possible opponent. He takes an instant and unreasonable dislike to Lennie, simply because Lennie is such a big man and also because Lennie's simple cheerfulness offends him. Curley hates the world and everyone in it. He makes obscene remarks about his young wife, and goes to the brothel on saturday nights. Then he complains bitterly when his wife seeks similar pleasures amongst the only company she can find, the ranch hands. Curley is insanely jealous about his young wife even though he does not love her. To him she is a thing, a possession, like his horse, but she does belong to him and he will allow no other man near her. His obsession has made him a laughing stock amongst the men for his endless hurrying after her to check that she is behaving herself. She hates him. Although he is not unintelligent, and has a form of low cunning, Curley's inability to control his wife brings about the tragedy in the novel. On finding her body, he shows no sign of grief but simply seeks to revenge himself on Lennie, not so much for the murder of

his wife but for being humiliated during the fight in the bunkhouse. Curley is a man bordering on evil and he is by far the most unpleasant and unattractive character in the novel. Curley’s Wife She had full, rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up. Her finger-nails were red. Her hair hung in little rolled clusters, like sausages. She wore a cotton house dress and red mules (sandals), on the insteps of which were little bouquets of red ostrich feathers. "I'm looking for Curley," she said. Her voice had a nasal, brittle quality. Curley's wife (her name is never revealed) is another of the lonely people that make up the cast of the novel. She is a pathetic figure. She married Curley without really knowing him, out of spite against her mother and as a result of being disappointed about a supposed invitation to go to Hollywood. She thinks that Curley is a 'boor'; she despises him and makes her contempt obvious to everyone on the ranch. Curley's wife is a 'tart', but she is not really evil, and her punishment in the book outweighs any crime she may have committed. There is even the possibility that she could have been a loving and affectionate wife if she had met the right man. As it is, she is the only woman we see on the ranch, and she wanders in and out of the bunk-house, flirting with the men, and forever pursued by Curley. Her behaviour is not attractive but even here Steinbeck's compassion shines through. In death her face is wiped clean of its recent history, and she appears as a young girl again, sweet and innocent: Curley's wife lay with a half-covering of yellow hay. And the meanness and the plannings and discontent and the ache for attention were all gone from her face. She was very pretty and simple, and her face was sweet and young. Now her rouged cheeks and her reddened lips made her seem alive and sleeping very lightly. Even Candy's initial response to her as the destroyer of the dream (You God damn tramp) changes, as he looks at her lying there dead in the hay, to the wryly affectionate, 'Poor bastard'. Minor Characters The Boss is 'a little stocky man'. Little is known about him. According to Candy he is 'a pretty nice fella. Gets pretty mad sometimes, but he's pretty nice.' He buys whisky for the ranch hands at Christmas. It may be that his wife is dead for nothing is heard of her in the story. Carlson is a 'powerful, big-stomached man,' a ranch-hand and the one who objects to the smell of Candy's dog, eventually shooting it. It is his Luger pistol that George uses to shoot Lennie. Whit is a young ranch-hand, the one who finds the letter to a magazine written by an ex-worker at the ranch. He is sent to town to fetch the deputy sheriff after the murder of Curley's wife. KEY CHARACTER NOTES George 'small and quick, with restless eyes and sharp, strong features' intelligent and quick-witted - 'a smart little guy'

one of the millions of migrant workers, drifting looking for work, trying to stay alive kind, soft-hearted, but can become angry and sharp feels a sense of duty and responsbility towards Lennie gives him a sense of being different his companionship with Lennie keeps loneliness at bay they share the dream of the farm in the hills this gives his life a purpose George “We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us.” Lennie “I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, that's why.” George is a good judge of character though he makes a harsh judgement about Curley's wife But he does little to save Candy's dog originally played cruel tricks on Lennie George is a moral person with a strict sense of right and wrong full of compassion for Lennie a realist - he knows what Lennie faces George loses not only his friend but the dream of the farm they shared. He knows he will have to live the rest of his life knowing he failed Lennie. LENNIE a huge man, shapeless of face, with large pale eyes, wide sloping shoulder a half-wit, a simpleton, with the mental age of a young boy but 'a nice fella' (Slim, Candy Curley's wife) immensely strong but his mind has never learned to control his body (mice, puppy, Curley's wife) innocent and naive; cannot work out the consequences of his actions but cunning like a child (the ketchup) instinctive - “I don't like this place, George. This ain't no good place.” trust-worthy, immensely hard-working

like a younger brother to George SLIM respected by everybody on the ranch understands and accepts the bond between Lennie and George reassures George he had no option but to shoot Lennie CANDY 'a tall, stoop-shouldered old man' - lost his right hand in a farm accident the ranch 'swamper' burdened by old age, physical disability, loneliess and rejection a pathetic figure stands up briefly to Curley's wife but really weak and down-trodden clings to his dog for compansionship and comfort desperate to share in the dream of the farm CROOKS 'a proud aloof man' lean face lined with deep black wrinkles he had pain-tightened lips another of the 'outsiders' - a crippled back and a negro in white racist society crushed by Curley's wife - not treated badly by the ranch hands but can never be accepted as one of the guys a cynic who has seen it all before. cannot believe that the dream of the ranch can come true has seen too many men 'with a little bit of land in their heads' CURLEY a thin, young man with a head of tightly curled hair a work-glove on his left hand and high-heeled boots spoilt and restless, with a grudge against the world some success as an amateur boxer a bully

he takes an instant dislike to Lennie because of his size and cheerfulness makes obscene remarks about his young wife insanely jealous - though he does not really love her she is just another possession no signs of grief; wants revenge on Lennie the most unpleasant, unattractive person in the novel CURLEY'S WIFE another lonely, pathetic figure married Curley to escape her mother despises Curley, treats him with open contempt a 'tart' but not really evil, crushed by life could have been a loving and affectionate wife KEY QUOTATIONS It is often effective to use quotations in your examination essays, but do not force them in, only use them where they really add something to your account. Here are some key quotations from Of Mice and Men. If you are allowed to take your texts into the examination, it would be worth highlighting them so that you can pick them out easily. Go through these quotations and say: Who is speaking? What about? and - what is the significance of the quotation? 1 'They was so little. I'd pet 'em, and pretty soon they bit my fingers and I pinched their heads a little and then they was dead - because they was so little.' 2 'Jesus Christ, somebody'd shoot you for a coyote if you was by yourself.' 3 'Well, I think Curley's married a tart.'

4 'Ain't many guys travel round together. I don't know why. Maybe ever'body in the whole damned world is scared of each other.' 5 'Jesus. He's jes' like a kid, ain't he?' 6 'You jus' let 'em try to get the rabbits. I'll break their God damn necks. I'll...I'll smash 'em with a stck.' 7 'Wnat me ta tell you what'll happen? They'll take ya to the booby hatch. They'll tie ya up with a collar, like a dog.' 8 'Everybody wants a little bit of land, not much. Just som'thing that was his. Some'thin' he could live on and there couldn't nobody throw him off it.' 9 'All right, you guys. The nigger's got a shot-gun. You take it, Carlson. When you see 'um, don't give 'im no chance. Shoots for his guts. That'll double him over.' 10 'No, Lennie. I ain't mad. I never been mad, an' I ain't now. That's a thing I want ya to know.' THEMES IN OF MICE & MEN Friendship & Loneliness Loneliness affects many of the characters, and Steinbeck seems to show that it is a natural and inevitable result of the kind of life they are forced to lead. The itinerant workers are caught in a trap of loneliness - they never stay in one place long enough to form permanent relationships. Even if such relationships existed, they would probably be destroyed by the demands of the itinerant life. Candy is lonely because he is old, and is different from the other hands. His only comfort is his old dog, which keeps him company and reminds him of days when he was young and whole. He has no relatives, and once his dog is killed is totally alone. He eagerly clutches at the idea of buying a farm with George and Lennie, but of course this all comes to nothing. Candy's disappointment is expressed in the bitter words he utters to the body of Curley's wife, whom he blames for spoiling his dream.

George is also caught in the trap of loneliness. Just as Candy has his dog for company, George has Lennie (who is often described in animal-like terms). Continuing the parallel, George too is left completely alone when Lennie is killed. The dream farm is his idea, and he says 'We'd belong there ... no more runnin' around the country...'. Another lonely character is Curley's wife. Newly married and in a strange place, she is forbidden by Curley to talk to anyone but him. To counter this, she constantly approaches the ranch hands on the excuse of looking for Curley. The only result is that the men regard her as a slut, and Curley becomes even more intensely jealous. Finally, her loneliness leads to her death as she makes the ' serious error of trying to overcome it by playing the tease with Lennie. Curley himself is lonely. His new wife hates him as do all the ranch hands who despise him for his cowardice. He has married in an attempt to overcome his loneliness, but has blindly chosen a wife totally inappropriate for the kind of life he leads. His feelings are all channelled into aggressive behaviour which further isolates his wife and leads to the incident with Lennie where his hand is crushed. Crooks is another who is isolated because he is different. He copes with it by keeping a distance between himself and the other hands. When he does allow himself to be drawn into the dream of working on George and Lennie's dream farm, he is immediately shut out by George's anger. George and Lennie are unusual because they ‘string along together’, even though their friendship is threatened by Lennie’s behaviour. The other characters tend to be alone, isolated, because of their lifestyle. What do you think Steinbeck is saying about the importance of friendship in the novel? Power and Violence The novel has many examples of a kind of needless violence. For example, Candy relates how the boss gave them whisky and allowed a fight to take place in the bunkhouse. Curley is the most obviously violent character, however, and whenever he appears there is a feeling of tension. He is described as pugnacious when we first meet him, and causes George to remark '...what the hell's he got on his shoulder.' Candy explains that Curley often picks on big guys ( a sure sign of trouble for Lennie). We are prepared for Curley's later anger, which culminates at the end in his wish to '... shoot him in the guts.' Carlson is another character associated with violence. He is unconcerned about killing Candy's dog (and in fact callously cleans the gun in Candy's presence). He goes to watch the fun when Curley thinks Slim may be with his wife, and later

goads Curley more, threatening to '... kick your head off.' Later he is very keen to get his gun to join in the hunt for Lennie. The last words in the book belong to Carlson, and it is little surprise that they reveal his complete inability to understand George's feelings about the death of Lennie. Compared to the other characters, Lennie reveals an unintentional violence. He does not even think to fight back when Curley attacks him, but when he does, it is with immense and uncontrollable force. He has so little control over his own strength that he accidentally kills his puppy, and then minutes later snuffs out the life of Curley's wife. His actions on these occasions are compared to those of an animal, powerful but thoughtless. Ironically, Curley's wife is attracted to him because of the violence he had shown in crushing her husband's hand. It is the threat of violence to be used against Lennie that causes George to take the final step of killing his friend. The novel explores the issue of power through the character of Curley and the influence he has over the ranch hands and his wife. George also wields power over Lennie. Who has power over whom in the novel? What are the effects of this power? Dreams Dreams are one of the ways in which the characters combat the loneliness and hopelessness of their existence. The most obvious example is the dream farm, a dream shared at first only by George and Lennie, but which later spreads to include Candy and Crooks. Crooks reveals that it is the favourite dream of the itinerant ranch hands: 'Seems like ever' guy got land in his head.' It is a powerful dream, however, and even the cynical Crooks falls under its spell for a short time. To Lennie, the dream is an antidote to disappointment and loneliness, and he often asks George to recite the description of the farm to him. Curley's wife is another who has dreams, her fantasies of a part in the movies and a life of luxury. Part of her dissatisfaction with her life is that it can never measure up to her dreams.Significantly, none of the characters ever achieve their dreams. Many of the characters in the novel have dreams and plans for the future. George, Lennie, Candy, Crooks and Curley’s wife all aspire to something. For these characters, it is these dreams which keep them going. The title of the novel is taken from a Robert Burns poem which says; ‘The best laid schemes o’ mice and men often go wrong.’ What are the dreams of the various characters? How do they go wrong? Why do you think Steinbeck chose this title?

EXAMINATION PRACTICE OF MICE AND MEN - 1 Candy stood in the doorway scratching his bald wrist and looking blindly into the lighted room. He made no attempt to enter. 'Tell ya what, Lennie. I been figuring out about them rabbits.' Crooks said irritably: 'You can come in if you want.' Candy seemed embarrassed. 'I don' know. 'Course, if ya want me to.' 'Come on in. If everybody's comin' in, you might just as well.' It was difficult for Crooks to conceal his pleasure with anger. Candy came in, but he was still embarrassed. 'You got a nice cosy little place in here,' he said to Crooks. 'Must be nice to have a room all to yourself this way.' 'Sure,' said Crooks. 'And a manure pile under the window. Sure it's swell.' Lennie broke in: 'You said about them rabbits.' Candy leaned against the wall beside the broken collar while he scratched the wrist stump. 'I been here a long time,' he said. 'An' Crooks been here a long time. This's the first time I ever been in his room.' Crooks said darkly: 'Guys don't come into a coloured man's room very much. Nobody been here but Slim. Slim an' the boss.' Candy quickly changed the subject. 'Slim's as good a skinner as I ever seen.' Lennie leaned toward the old swamper. 'About them rabbits,' he insisted. Candy smiled. 'I got it figured out. We can make some money on them rabbits if we go about it right.' 'But I get to tend 'em,' Lennie broke in. 'George says I get to tend 'em. He promised.' Crooks interrupted brutally. '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. Lennie here'll quit an' be on the road in two, three weeks. Seems like every 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 whorehouse. 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' somethin' that was his. Som'thin' 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 when I harvested 'em, it wasn't none of my harvest. But we gonna do it now, and don't you 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 ourselves. 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 round and explored his injured 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.' 'Any you boys seen Curley?' Questions 1 2 Why is buying a small farm so important to George and Lennie? Explain Candy's role in making the dream possible? Lennie, Candy and Crooks are each disabled in their own way. Explain their disabilities and why this has led them to seek each other's company that Saturday night. The conversation about the farm is abruptly ended by the arrival of Curley's wife. How and why does she try to sour the dream they have been sharing of a place of their own. Explain her attitude towards each man. Candy, Crooks and Lennie each has a claim on our sympathies. Why do readers feel more sympathetic towards Lennie than towards Crooks or Candy? Think of the character, as well as the situation of each man.

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A SPECIMEN ANSWER Most questions in GCSE Literature have two parts to them: the first part gives you the chance to show that you know the text very well; the second part asks you to comment on some of the incidents, events or characters in the text. Very often you will be asked to describe the events and characters and comment on them as you go through the main points in your response to the question. Study how the question below is answered. Pay special attention to the information in bold italics since it may be useful in answering several possible questions. The Assignment With detailed reference to the text, show how Steinbeck reveals how much George and Lennie depend on each other, and what this reveals about their characters. The Answer We meet George and Lennie at the pool near the Salinas River as they are making their way to the new job on the ranch. As usual, George is leading the way. Without thinking, Lennie gulps water thirstily from the pool. George warns him that the scummy water may be contaminated. The George drinks using his hat, carefully, and in a controlled manner. Lennie: impulsive, thoughtless, lacks self-control, like a child, does not consider the

consequences of his action, simple-minded. George: sensible, anxious, caring, protective, like an older brother. We learn more from their conversation as they settle down for the night. George reminds Lennie that they are heading for a new ranch. George has taken Lennie's work permit for safe-keeping. He reminds Lennie to keep his mouth shut at the ranch; George will do all the talking. Lennie: needs to taken care of, limited intelligence but keen to do well, keen to please George, realises how much he needs George. Lennie, a man of immense strength, with the mind of a child. George: practical, reliable, plans for the future, has willingly taken on responsibility for Lennie. Can be strict with Lennie when necessary. Round the fire Lennie insists that he likes ketchup on his beans even though they have no ketchup. George loses his temper and says some cruel but true thing. He accuses Lennie of always getting them into trouble. He reveals they had to escape from Weed after Lennie was falsely accused of molesting a young girl. Lennie is hurt and offers to go away by himself, alone, into the hills. He makes George admit that the wants him to stay and then wheedles George into describing yet again their plans to save their wages and buy their own small farm in the Salinas Hills. George: George is clearly the leader of the partner-ship. He risked his own life to help Lennie escape from the lynch mob in Weed. He found them new work at the ranch. It is George who deals with the boss shields Lennie from bad-tempered men such as Curley. George also accepts that many people will find their relationship strange. As Slim says: "It jus' seems kinda funny, a cuckoo like him and a smart little guy like you travellin' together." But in his own way, George needs Lennie. He needs him for the honest friendship and companionship he offers. George is a man who enjoys the responsibility of having someone to look after, someone to care for. And he needs him because they share dream of having their own small farm in the hills. Lennie: Lennie may be simple-minded but he is not a fool. He is like a child who knows that an adult cares for him, no matter how difficult and exasperating he can be. Like a child, he enjoys hearing the same story again and he again. And he also realises the pleasure George gets out of describing their dream of a home of their own. For both of them, the dream promises an escape from the harsh reality of the life of migrant workers, men travelling the roads, rootless, forever condemned to be working for someone else, never for themselves. In the early scenes at the ranch, we have many examples of George looking after Lennie's interests. George does all the talking to the boss; he makes sure they both have clean bunks; he defends Lennie against Curley's aggression; and he warned Lennie not to get mixed up with Curley's wife. He also warns that old man that Lennie could make short work of Curley is the boss's son forced him into a fight. Lennie: We learn that Lennie has enormous strength which can get him into serious trouble because he cannot anticipate the consequences of his actions. We also see how easily Lennie panics when he is put under pressure or when he feels he has done 'something bad'. Lennie used to crush his pet mice to death by accident. He badly frightened the girl in

Weed though he only wanted to stroke her dress. He kills the puppy in the barn by accident. He finally break's Curley's wife's neck by accident when he is in a state of panic. But we do not hold these misadventures against Lennie. He is not a cruel and malicious man. He simply has the mind of a child and the emotions of a child. As George says: "All the time he done bad things but he never done one of 'em mean." It is clear that Lennie is almost totally dependent on George. He would end up in prison or in a mental hospital, a 'booby trap', if George were not there to look out for him. In the final scene of the novel we witness the extent to which Lennie needs George to survive. Life would be an endless torment for Lennie in a state prison or mental institution. His open, friendly, naive and trusting character would make him the victim of the hard, ruthless men in prison. George realises that death is the only escape for Lennie. The end is very moving. George encourages Lennie to look across the river and imagine he can see the ranch, with its rabbits, that they were so closing to buying. And Lennie, with his child-like imagination, does actually see the ranch. George puts Carlson's Luger to the back of Lennie's head and fires. We do not think of the death of Lennie as murder. It is more like a mercy-killing and George does not have any other choice. He knows that Lennie could not survive prison. But knowing this does not make it any easier for George. He will go through life blaming himself for Lennie's death, and for allowing Lennie to get himself into a situation where death is the only way out. For George, not only Lennie, but the dream of a home of their own is dead.

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