Of Mice And Men Essay, Research Paper
OF MICE AND MEN
KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
This book is set in two places. It starts beside a stream, close to the Salinas River, a few miles
South of Soledad. It then moves to a ranch, where the major part of the story is set. At the end of
the novel, the setting comes back to where it started.
The stream introduces George and Lennie. They are on their way to a near-by ranch. The
surrounding land is thick in vegetation and has its own wild life. Men frequent it, as there are ash
piles made by many fires and the limbs of the sycamore tree have been smoothed by the many
men who have sat on it.
The ranch, where the major part of the story takes place, appears isolated and lonely. It includes
a ranch house, a bunkhouse where the ranch workers live, a barn, and a harness-room off the
George – the protagonist and main character of the book. He is a caring, compassionate, and
understanding human being who dreams of owning his own piece of land.
Lennie – the obedient friend of George. He has a child’s mind and a giant’s body. It is these
contrasting qualities that cause him problems.
Old Candy – one of the lonely ranch workers. He is a cripple, working as a ‘Swamper’.
Crooks – a black ranch hand. He is sensible and neat, with a mind of his own. He is a lonely
character, who is discriminated against, due to his race.
Slim – a ranch worker with leadership qualities. He commands respect from all on the ranch.
Curley – the boss’s son who is a light weight boxer. He picks fights with everybody on the ranch.
Curley’s wife – the only woman on the ranch. She is very flirtatious.
Carlson – a brutal man. He objects to Candy keeping his old dog.
Whit – a ranch worker. He is sent to town to fetch the Sheriff after Curley’s wife is murdered.
The Boss – a ‘mice fella’ (in Candy’s words). He is more concerned about his work on the ranch
than anyone else.
Protagonist: The protagonist of the story is George. He is the kind-hearted ranch hand who is
concerned about his friend Lennie and watches out for him.
Antagonist: The antagonist of the story is George’s trying to care for the handicapped Lennie.
Because he has a giant’s body and a child’s mind, Lennie accidentally kills Curley’s wife; at the
same time he kills the dream of owning a farm that has kept George and Lennie positive about
Climax: The climax occurs when Lennie accidentally kills Curley’s wife. George knows that he
can no longer save Lennie, for Curley will want revenge.
Outcome: Of Mice and Men ends in tragedy. George feels compelled to mercifully kill his
friend and companion, Lennie, in order to save him from a brutal death. The death of Lennie also
marks the death of the beautiful dream they have been nurturing.
The dominant mood of the story is that of expectation. This mood is developed through the
dreams of the major characters. The other mood that prevails is premonitory, of impending
doom. There are also other moods evoked through the actions of the characters reflecting sorrow,
pity, and brutality. The novel ends on a tragic note. The mood at the end is definitely one of
depression and frustration.
One evening, two men, on their way to a ranch, stop at a stream near the Salinas River. George,
who is short and dark, leads the way. The person following him is Lennie, a giant of a man with
huge arms. During their conversation by the stream, George repeatedly asks Lennie to keep his
mouth shut on the ranch, suggesting that Lennie has some kind of problem. After supper and
before going to sleep, the two of them talk about their dream to own a piece of land.
The next day, George and Lennie travel to the ranch to start work. They are given two beds in
the bunkhouse. Then Old Candy introduces them to almost everybody on the ranch. They meet
the boss and the boss’s son Curley, who is quite rude. They also meet Curley’s wife when she
comes looking for her husband. She wears heavy make-up and possesses a flirtatious attitude.
George warns Lennie to behave his best around Curley and his wife. He also suggests that they
should meet by the pool if anything unfortunate happens to either of them on the ranch.
George and Lennie are assigned to work with Slim, who is sensible and ‘civilized’ and talks with
authority. George finds Slim an understanding confidante, and a bond forms between the two of
them. When Curley wrongly accuses Slim for talking to his wife, Slim gets very angry. Curley
apologizes to him in the bunkhouse in front of everybody, but his apology is rejected. Curley
vents his frustration on Lennie, trying to pick a fight. Lennie does not hit back initially, but when
George asks him to, Lennie obliges and crushes Curley’s hand. Curley agrees that he will not tell
anyone about his hand, for it would mean losing his self-respect.
While working on the ranch, George and Lennie continue to dream about owning their own piece
of land and make plans accordingly. Old Candy, one of the ranch hands, overhears their planning
and asks to join them. He even offers to contribute all of his savings to purchase the land. George
and Lennie accept his proposal.
One evening, Lennie, looking for his puppy, enters the room of Crooks; since he is the only
black man on the ranch, Crooks lives alone, segregated from the other ranch workers. Candy
enters, looking for Lennie; the two of them tell Crooks about their dream of owning their own
ranch, but Crooks tells them that it will never happen, foreshadowing the truth. Curley’s wife
comes in and interrupts them. When Crooks objects to her presence in his room, she threatens
him with a false rape charge.
Later on, Lennie is seen alone in the barn, petting his dead pup. He has unintentionally killed it
by handling it too hard. Now he is grieving over the loss. Curley’s wife walks into the barn and
strikes up a conversation with Lennie. As they talk, she asks him to stroke her hair. She panics
when she feels Lennie’s strong hands. When she raises her voice to him, Lennie covers her
mouth. In the process, he accidentally breaks her neck and she dies. Knowing he has done
something terrible, he leaves the ranch. When the ranch hands learn that Curley’s wife has been
killed, they rightly guess the guilty party. Led by an angry Curley, they all go out to search for
Lennie. They plan to murder him in retribution.
George guesses where Lennie is and races to the pool. To save him from the brutal assaults of
the ranch hands, George mercifully kills his friend himself. Hearing the gunshot, the searchers
converge by the pool. They praise George for his act. Only Slim understands the actual purpose
of George’s deed.
The major theme of the book, Of Mice and Men, is that a dream, no matter how impossible to
obtain, can forge friendship and give meaning to life. George and Lennie dream of owning a
little farm of ten acres, with a windmill, a little shack, an orchard, and animals. The dream keeps
them going and lightens the load of their work. It also solidifies their friendship.
One of the minor themes is the tragedy of mental retardation. Lennie never intends to harm
anything, neither the puppy nor Curley’s wife. He is simply too slow to realize his own strength.
His retardation is the cause of his downfall and death, in spite of George’s trying to help him stay
out of trouble.
The pain of loneliness is another theme of the book. All the main characters, including George,
Lennie, Candy, Crooks, Curley’s wife, and Slim, express the sadness caused by their feelings of
loneliness. The craving for company and the longing for sharing real emotions make these
characters very human.
Born on February 27, 1902, in Salinas, California, John Ernest Steinbeck was the third of four
children. Though poor, Steinbeck had a normal childhood and attended public school, graduating
from Salinas High School in 1919. As a student, he had an inclination towards reading and
writing, which was encouraged by his mother, a schoolteacher herself. He was a frequent
contributor to the school magazine.
Steinbeck studied at Stanford University from 1920 to1925. Although he intended to become a
marine biologist, he never completed a degree. The courses that attracted his attention most were
zoology, English, and classical literature. While at Stanford, he wrote frequently and was often
published in the college newspaper. After leaving the University, he worked at a variety of jobs.
He went to New York, determined to become a writer. Between 1925 and 1927, he attempted to
earn a living as a reporter and a free-lance writer, but was unsuccessful. Disappointed, he left
New York and returned to the West Coast, where he met his first wife, Carol.
Steinbeck’s first novel, Cup of Gold (1929), is based on the life of Sir Henry Morgan, a famous
English pirate of the sixteen hundreds. His next work, The Pastures of Heaven (1932), is a
collection of stories about the people on a farm community near Salinas. In this work, Steinbeck
focuses on the struggle between human beings and nature. These first two books received scant
attention. Finally in 1933, Steinbeck achieved success with his short story “The Red Pony.”
Steinbeck’s next novel, Tortilla Flat (1935), dealt with the migrant workers and poor farmers. In
Dubious Battle (1936) realistically portrays the labor strife in California during the nineteen
thirties. This novel also sets forth Steinbeck’s concept of “group humanity” through the character
of Doc Burton. This concern reappears in The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and The Sea of Cortez
(1941). Of Mice and Men (1937) became a best seller and was adapted for the stage and a movie.
In 1940 Steinbeck went on an expedition to the Gulf of California (also called The Sea of
Cortez) with his friend Ed Ricketts, a marine biologist. Steinbeck shared with him a deep interest
in biology. The result of this trip was a joint publication, The Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal
of Travel and Research. The book is in two parts. The first part narrates the voyage and records
various conversations and speculations, and the second part describes the marine organisms
collected by the men.
Other works include Cannery Row (1944), The Wayward Bus (1947), The Pearl (1947), Burning
Bright (1950), East of Eden (1952), Sweet Thursday (1954), and The Winter of Our Discontent
(1961). East of Eden is Steinbeck’s longest and most ambitious work. It follows three generations
of a Californian family from 1860 to the First World War. The title refers to the family strife,
which parallels the conflict between the Biblical figures of Cain and Abel.
Steinbeck received the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. He died
on December 20, 1968, and is buried in Salinas, California, the place of his birth and setting for
many of his novels.
Started with a tentative title of Something that Happened, the book, Of Mice and Me, took the
form of an extended short story. Steinbeck rejected the initial version of the story, for he felt that
he had been unable to keep his own voice and viewpoint out of its narration. Steinbeck reworked
and expanded the story, adding more characters. He also added more dialogue, taking particular
care to reflect the accent and dialect of uneducated farm workers. It is said that a large section of
the book was rewritten by Steinbeck again, for his original manuscript was chewed up by his
The working title of the book, Something that Happened, was changed when his best friend Ed
Ricketts suggested the present title and introduced him to Robert Burns’ poem ‘To a Mouse’. The
words of the poem are as follows:
The best laid schemes o’mice and men
Gang aft agley.
And leave us nought but grief and pain
For promised joy.
The poet talks about man’s enslavement to forces of nature which he cannot control, destroying
hopes and dreams. This is what happens with George and Lennie.
CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES
The book opens with a detailed geographic description of the countryside around the Salinas
River, a few miles south of Soledad. As two men walk from the dusty road to the cooling stream,
the native rabbits scurry away. George, a short man, is seen first. He has sharp features with a
thin and bony nose and restless eyes. He also has strong hands and slender arms. George is
followed by Lennie, a huge man, built like a bear. His giant arms hang like pendulums at his
side. Both men are dressed in denim trousers, denim coats with brass buttons, black hats, and
blankets, which are wrapped around round their necks.
Lennie is thirsty and dips his mouth into the green water, drinking like a horse. George stops
him, for the stream appears stagnant. George remarks that Lennie would drink from a gutter if he
were thirsty. George refreshes himself and lies down to rest. Lennie splashes in the water and
then joins George.
When George talks about going to the ranch, the forgetful Lennie does not seem to understand.
When Lennie inquires once more about what they are going to do there, George grows impatient.
Lennie apologizes, saying that he tries hard not to forget things. George explains to him once
again that they are going to work on a ranch, which is located nearby. He warns Lennie to refrain
from talking to anyone at the ranch and begs him to behave.
George notices Lennie reaching into his pocket and asks him to hand over whatever he is hiding
there. Lennie hands him a dead mouse that he has found along the road and put in his pocket to
pet. George throws it away in disgust. He then reminds Lennie that whenever he pets things, it
seems to get both of them in trouble, as it did on their last job. Lennie has already forgotten what
has happened there.
George sends Lennie to look for some sticks so they can build a fire and prepare dinner. When
he returns, George sees that he is wet and carrying only one stick. He immediately knows that
Lennie has retrieved the dead mouse from where he has hurled it. George asks for the mouse,
and Lennie resists giving it to him. George explains that a dead mouse is not a fit pet and
demands that Lennie hand it over, which he does reluctantly. George then sends Lennie off to
look for wood again. When Lennie returns with enough sticks, they build a fire and warm up
three cans of beans for supper. While the beans are heating, Lennie asks for ketchup to go on his
beans, even though it should be obvious that they have none. George is suddenly irritated with
his friend’s slowness and angrily explains all the things he could do without Lennie, including
going to a “cat house”, drinking lots of whiskey, and keeping a job.
Lennie knows that he has put George in a foul mood. Although he does not understand why
George is angry, he still tries to make up, saying that he will go away to some far-off hills and
live in a cave if George does not want them to stay together. George is touched by his friend’s
simplicity and honesty and reacts in a very understanding manner. He reassures Lennie that he
does not want him to go away. Lennie then asks George to tell him again about their dream.
George explains how the two of them are going to save their money and buy a ten acre farm,
where they can raise rabbits, cows, pigs, chicken, and cherries.
After dinner, George decides they should spend the night by the stream and head to the ranch in
the morning. He then reminds Lennie again about not talking to other people on the ranch. He
also tells him that if there is ever trouble on the ranch, Lennie should return to this same site and
hide in the near-by bushes, where George will come and find him. Lennie promises to remember
the place. They drift peacefully off to sleep, thinking about the little farm they want to own.
The book opens with a detailed description of the physical landscape around the Salinas River,
which Steinbeck knew very well. He then gives a physical description of the two major
characters, contrasting George’s small stature and Lennie’s giant body. George appears first,
leading his friend and suggesting that he is in control. Almost immediately, it becomes obvious
as to why, for Lennie is slow. Steinbeck describes him eagerly snorting water from the stagnant
stream as if he were a horse. When he sees what Lennie is doing, George commands him to stop,
for he does not want his friend to get sick. Suddenly, the stage is set for the entire novel. Lennie
is retarded, and George’s role is to watch over and protect him.
Lennie’s character as an innocent, immature, unthinking, and highly dependent character is
developed in this section. He splashes in the cool stream like a child. He constantly forgets things
that he is told or has experienced, even though he tries and tries to remember; he cannot even
remember having to escape from the last town because of trouble. He naively puts a dead mouse
in his pocket for a pet, not understanding that it is dirty and unfit. He asks for things that are
impossible, demanding ketchup for his beans. George knows Lennie’s limitations and watches
out for his friend.
Quite contrary to Lennie’s gigantic body, which can do the work of two or three men, his spirit is
tender and gentle. Like a child, he is fond of petting soft things, like a mouse or rabbit. When he
upsets George, he offers to go away and live by himself in a cave. He constantly dreams of
owning a small farm, where he can raise some rabbits as pets. His fondness for small creatures is
symbolic of his identification with them. Just as rabbits are delicate and need to be protected
from preying animals, Lennie has to be constantly looked after by George.
George shows that he is a sensible man, who understands how he must care for Lennie. For his
friend’s own good, he knows that he must treat Lennie like a child, giving him the same
instructions several times and disciplining him to encourage proper behavior. George recollects
the problem created by Lennie at their previous work place, when he touched and held the soft
dress of a little girl until she screamed for help; the incident forced them to quit their jobs and
run from town. As a result, he repeatedly warns Lennie to refrain from touching things or talking
to the other workers on the next ranch. He also tells Lennie that if there is ever trouble, he should
return to the stream and hide in the bushes, where George will come and find him.
George is also shown to be caring and compassionate. Although he grows irritated with Lennie’s
requests and questions, he regrets being mean to him and reassures him that he does not want
him to go and live in a cave. He also constantly watches out for his welfare, insisting he not
drink the stagnant water or carry the dirty mouse. He also explains to Lennie more than once
how he should act on the ranch so that he can stay out of trouble. Most importantly, he includes
Lennie in his dreams, planning to take his friend with him to his ten-acre farm that he wants to
buy and promising him that he can raise rabbits there.
It is important to notice the close bond that exists between the two men. Although George does
grow frustrated with Lennie’s handicaps, they genuinely care about one another and plan their
future together. George states, “Guys like us. . .got no fambly. . .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.” In the company
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