Of Mice and Men

Introduction Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men is a novelette, written by a popular author, John Steinbeck. John is known to have coined many popular phrases and neologisms. The novel was first published in 1937.  The storyline takes a peep at the financial crisis of the Great Depression that plunged the middle class of the United States into the pits of poverty at that time. The story of the novel revolves around two migrant farmworkers, Lennie Small and George Milton, whom the financial collapse has rendered jobless. The story is about how they are struggling to seek the opportunity to make both ends meet. The novel was a massive hit during those times.

Summary Of Mice and Men

George and Lennie are two migrants, working on a plantation in California when the Great Depression struck the United States. They are let off a bus miles away from the California farm where they are about to start working. George Million is an intelligent, small, dark man with sharp, robust features. Lennie Small, his coworker, and friend is his opposite, with a giant personality and a “shapeless” face. Feeling thirsty, George and Lennie stop in a clearing by a pool and camp for the night. As the story progresses, we learn that Lennie has mild mental impediment/autism. However, he is deeply devoted to George and depends upon him for protection and guidance.

George knows that Lennie doesn’t have a gentle touch. He loves petting soft things but accidentally kills them. He sees that while Lennie is carrying and stroking a dead mouse. George angrily throws it away, fearing that Lennie might catch a disease from the dead animal. George complains loudly that his life would be more comfortable without having to care for Lennie. However, George continues to maintain their friendship and devotion. He and Lennie also share a dream of getting their own piece of land. Which they can farm, and also have pet rabbits for Lennie. While camping, George tells a story to Lennie. He describes how a farm life should be and how peaceful their life could be in such a place.

The next day, the men reach the nearby farm. George is afraid of how the new boss might react to Lennie. He doesn’t allow Lennie to speak and lies to the owner, that they are cousins. He also tells him that a horse kicked Lennie in the head when he was a child. Surprisingly, they get the job. They meet Candy, an old “swamper,” or handyman, with a missing hand and an old dog. They also meet Curley, the boss’s son, who is strong-headed and mean. Curley, who is newly married and possessive of his flirtatious wife. He continues threatening Lennie because he suffers from Napoleon Complex. This means a person finds himself disliking bulky-bodied or a person taller/healthier than themselves. Surprisingly, Lennie finds attraction in Curley’s wife, who also flirts with him.

Once George and Lennie are alone in the bunkhouse, Curley’s wife arrives. George, sensing the trouble sends the woman away and also warns Lennie to stay away from Mrs. Curley. George and Lennie later meet Slim, a skilled mule driver who exercises great authority on the ranch. Carlson, another ranch-hand, proposes that once Slim’s dog gives puppies, they should give one puppy to Candy and then shoot Candy’s dog.

Eventually, George reveals the truth to Slim that Lennie is not his cousin, but they have been friends since their childhood. He also shares how Lennie created trouble, especially during their previous job. George recalls the time he was forced to flee with Lennie. Lennie had tried to touch a woman’s red dress but was accused of rape. Slim agrees to give Lennie one of his puppies. On the other hand, Carlson continues to annoy Candy to kill his old dog. Slim also agrees with Carlson’s decision. They believe death is better than letting the animal suffer. Candy is forced to agree, as well. Carlson promises to show mercy and kill the dog painlessly.

While Slim is working in the barn, Curley, filled with rage, searches for his wife. He suspects his wife is having an affair with Slim. Candy hears George and Lennie planning to buy land.  Candy joins hands with them to offer a sum of $350, his life’s savings so that they could purchase their farm.  He puts a condition that they have to let him live there too. The three agree to maintain their secret. Curley, wanting to vent his anger, confronts Lennie and picks a fight with him. Lennie crushes Curley’s hand, breaking it. Slim warns Curley firing George and Lennie fired will not be good for him or the farm.

One night the men from the farm go to the local brothel. Lennie is left with Crooks, the lonely, black stable-hand, and Candy. Curley’s wife flirts with them, refusing to leave. She notices the cuts on Lennie’s face. She suspects Curley had lied to her about the injury. So, when Lennie accidentally kills his puppy in the barn, Curley’s wife consoles him. She tells him that she is not happy with Curley and wishes to be a movie star. Lennie tells her that he loves petting soft things. Hearing that, she offers to let him feel her hair. He grabs it too tightly, and she cries out in pain. While trying to silence her, he unintentionally breaks her neck.

Lennie flees back to a Salinas River, a place George had told him for hiding when either of them gets into trouble. The men at the ranch find out what happens. Along with the men, George goes to find Lennie. George comforts Lenny and assures him that he is not mad at him for doing “a bad thing.” George recounts the story of the farm they will have together. As the men from the ranch come to take Lennie and punish him, George shoots him in the back of the head.

When the other men arrive, George lies that Lennie had the gun. While struggling, he had accidentally shot him. Slim understands what has happened, and comforts George. He tells him that by killing his friend, he has done an act of mercy. Slim leads him away, along with the other men. Carlson and Curley are unable to comprehend it.

Major Themes in Of Mice and Men

  1. Human Nature: This is the major thematic strand that runs throughout the novel is the unpredictability of the human mind. This theme has been interwoven with the characters of not only Curley, who becomes aggressive toward Lennie, but also through his wife and Lennie, who is autistic. When George sees that Lennie is proving too heavy a burden for him, he shoots him. Also, when Curley’s wife sees that Lennie seems too innocent, she exploits him and flirts with him. Lennie also depicts this thematic strand through his nature of dependability on others. It clearly shows the Darwinian principle that only the fittest survive syncs well with the characters of Steinbeck in the story. Moreover, daydreaming of the trio of Lennie, George and Crooks also show this unpredictability of human nature.
  2. Need for Friendship and Society: A man is a social animal and cannot live in a void. Steinbeck shows this theme in his novel through the characters of Lennie and George. Although both are fed up with working on different ranches, Lennie thinks that they must have a ranch of their own. Despite his mental condition, he needs love that he showers on Curley’s wife, and, it costs him dearly. George also shows keeps friendship until the end when he comes to know that Lennie is proving too heavy a burden for him to carry on. Therefore, he shoots him after he accidentally kills Mrs. Curley. It shows that a person cannot live without a social circle. However, ultimately, they must save their own life first and avoid carrying burdens.
  3. Satire on American Dream: The novel not only shows the hollowness of capitalism but also of the much desired and much boosted, American Dream. Lennie and George have had a dream that they should have their farm where Lennie would play with rabbits to satiate his desire for touching furry animals. However, this dream soon crashes to the ground when they confront Curley and his wife. Lennie accidentally kills his wife when she comes to flirt with him and loses his life at the hands of George.
  4. Loneliness: The story shows the impact of loneliness and how it proves a torturing problem for a person. Lennie, due to his autistic nature, cannot live alone. Therefore, he continues to live along with George, while George also is unable to find a dependable solution or place for him. Therefore, they both try to dispel their loneliness through their friendship. Also, Curley’s wife does not see Lennie as handsome enough to cheat Curley; rather, she comes to dispel her loneliness but loses her life in her efforts to end it.
  5. Alienation: The novel demonstrates Marxian alienation in that the workers, George and Lennie, are forced to do menial work at the ranches. They find the routine tiresome and not soul-satisfying. Their menial labor has also forced them to realize alienation through the treatment of Curley and his arrogant attitude.
  6. Gender Marginalization: The theme of gender marginalization has been shown through the insignificance of Curley’s wife for being an anonymous person. She is only stated as Curley’s wife as if she has no name. Secondly, there is Lennie’s aunt, who does not appear physically in the novel. That is how Steinbeck has marginalized women in this novel.
  7. Survival of the Fittest: The novel also demonstrates the Darwinian concept of the survival of the fittest through George and Lennie, for Lennie does not prove that he is the fittest and has to be shot down. Curley proves his fitness and stays alive while his wife is killed by Lennie’s mistake. George kills Lennie when he sees that he should die than facing the lynching mob and hanging for a murder he didn’t commit.
  8. Meanness: Curley’s character and his madness at Lennie’s bulky body show how the human mind suffers from different psychological issues that seem to originate from social circumstances. He tortures Lennie and also berates George during the work and all this without any reason.
  9. Mysterious Human Relations: The story demonstrates the mystery of human relations through the friendship of Lennie and George, for both know each other, understand each other, and support each other’s daydreaming.

Major Characters in Of Mice and Men

  1. George Milton: A guardian, a friend, and an intelligent laborer, George Milton appears on the scene with his ignorant and innocent friend, Lennie. Both of them face bleak futures on account of lack of job during the Great Depression on a ranch. Therefore, he guides the way for Lennie and proves his guide whenever he needs any advice, even for small tasks such as the call to nature. However, he also proves selfish when it comes to saving his life, though, he always stands by Lennie through thick and thin, and even in daydreaming. By the end, he shoots Lennie after seeing his escape impossible when he kills Curley’s wife.
  2. Lennie Small: A huge and bulky-bodied man, Lennie is physically strong and stays with George as his friend. He needs a person to depend on him instead of assisting others. He dreams of having rabbits on the ranch George tells him to purchase when he has the money. He gets along with him normally but his fondling nature proves fatal for him because of his lack of control. He tries to fondle animals but kills them, also when Curley’s wife flirts with him, inviting him to play with his hair, he pulls it hard. He accidentally breaks her neck. Lennie flees and hides, while the lynch mob goes in search of him. Later, George kills him to save him from the consequential torture of the mob or perhaps long imprisonment.
  3. Candy: Candy, a menial rach handyman, is aging and suffers from physical ailments. That is why he is worried about the future work, a thought, which has brought him close to George after he comes to know that George is going to purchase a farm. He also offers his money to join Lennie and George’s plan.
  4. Slim: Slim is an important character in that the author terms him as a prince. He wins respect on the ranch and is the only character whom Curley does not treat badly. In fact, he demonstrates not only natural authority but also demonstrates insight into human nature. He comes to know the real relationship between Lennie and George and Lennie’s dependability on George. As a working hand, he drives a mule on the ranch.
  5. Curley: Curley seems to be the antagonist of the novel, for he not only shows his bossy nature on account of being the son of the master of the ranch but also teases Lennie, unnecessarily and provokes him. Although he is a non-professional boxer, he injures his hand when it comes to fighting with Lennie of whom he is very jealous. Despite his overprotectiveness toward his wife, he lets her flirt with Lennie, which shows the carelessness and lethargy of the landowners.
  6. Curley’s Wife: This anonymous character not only reflects the marginalization of the gender in the novel but also reflects the neglect that her husband shows toward her by mistrusting her. In Steinbeck’s own words, she just symbolizes some attraction that Lennie moves toward her readily and gets trapped in the murder after he accidentally kills her when he tries to stop her yelling due to his body weight on her.
  7. Crooks: Crooks is not only a bitter and cynical fellow in the novel, but he also shows his devious nature through his warped physical appearance and behavior. He helps in stable care at the ranch and stays mostly in isolation from the rest on account of his skin color. However, strangely, he is attracted to Lennie and joins the duo in their daydreaming of a ranch with the plea that he would be hoeing their would-be garden over there.
  8. Carlson: He plays the role of a side character who kills Candy’s dog, though, it is out of mercy to pull him out of trouble. He works with Lennie and George on the ranch.
  9. The Boss: A favorite of Candy, the Boss is the ranch owner who employs Lennie and George when they move from California to some other ranch for work. Candy’s likeness of him is due to his generosity of offering them whiskey on Christmas.

 Writing Style Of Mice and Men ‎

The writing style of the novel, Of Mice and Men, shows a factual description of the writer, John Steinbeck, in that he seems to be stay objective. It shows that his objective is to present the real description of his characters of George and Lennie and their trials, lack of income, and unemployment during the Great Depression. Most of the descriptions given in the novel appear to hinge on the ideas which could be used as directions for creating a play. The use of a conversational style with slang and regional niceties shows the reality of the farming workers and their dilemma of joblessness. They also shed light on their uneducated background and resultant fall into poverty. 

Analysis of Literary Devices in Of Mice and Men 

  1. Action: The main action of the novel comprises the joblessness of George and Lennie and their social mobility toward another ranch. The falling action is of the flight of Lennie after he accidentally kills Curley’s wife after which Curley leads a mob to find him out to lynch him. The rising action, however, is his fondling behavior and efforts to curb her yelling which proves fatal for her.
  2. Allegory: The book shows the use of allegory through the character of Lennie about whom Steinbeck says that he is not only representing madness but also a desire of humanity, in general, to have something tangible to live upon. He shows “survival of the fittest” in the Darwinian sense.
  3. Anaphora: The novel also shows good use of anaphora. For example,
    i. “It was silent outside. The silence came into the room. And the silence lasted.” (Chapter-3).
    Here the use of “silence” refers back to the earlier mention of the idea.
  4. Antagonist: Although it seems that the Great Depression is the main antagonist in the novel, it seems that it is an abstract idea that spread in the United States during the 30s. However, Curley is the actual antagonist, who tortures George and Lennie when they work on the farm of his father.
  5. Allusion: There are various examples of allusions given in the novel. For example,
    i. An allusion to Golden Gloves tournament: Curley says that he got into the final of that tournament as a boxer, which is a lie. (Chapter-3)
    ii. An allusion to Robert Burn’s poemTo a Mouse,” which is given in the shape of a mouse that Lennie and George refer to several times. (Chapter-1)
    iii. Biblical allusion of Adam and Eve’s story through their dream ranch. (Chapter-4)
  6. Conflict: There are various conflicts in the novel. The first one is the external conflict going on between George and Lennie and their situation. The second conflict involves man against nature, man against man, and man against himself. The first is shown by George, while the second is shown by Lennie and Curley, and the third by George and his mental thinking.
  7. Characters: The novel presents both static as well as dynamic characters. George and Lennie are two major characters, while Curley’s wife, Curley, Carlson, Crooks, and the Boss are some minor characters. However, it is George who goes through struggles and changes by the end. Therefore, he is a dynamic character, while the rest of the characters stays the same, the reason that they are all static characters.
  8. Climax: The climax takes place when Lennie, accidentally, breaks the neck of Curley’s wife in his attempts to silence her. It leads to tension in the novel that subsides when George shoots Lennie.
  9. Foreshadowing: The first example of foreshadowing in the novel occurs when Candy’s dog is shot by Carlson to relieve him of suffering. Similarly, George shoots Lennie to relieve him of the suffering he is to go through in case caught alive. The second foreshadow is the hand of Curley that he keeps close to him. It foreshadows that he would pick up a fight with somebody who happens to be Lennie, later.
  10. Hyperbole: Hyperbole or exaggeration occurs when Crooks says to George, “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” (Chapter-4). The second hyperbole is again by Crooks when he says, “Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets to land” (Chapter-4).
  11. Imagery: Imagery means to use images such as in these examples:
    i. 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. (Chapter-4)
    ii. Every part of him was defined: small, strong hands, slender arms, a thin and bony nose. 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. (Chapter-1)
    In the first example, the description of Crooks shows the use of different images such as touch and sound, while the second shows the images of color and touch as Steinbeck uses for George Milton.
  12. Metaphor: The book shows good use of various metaphors such as:
    i. The curls, tiny little sausages, were spread on the hay behind her head, and her lips were parted. (Chapter-5)
    ii. Lennie covered his face with huge paws and bleated with terror. (Chapter-3)
    iii. He was a jerkline skinner, prince of the ranch. (Chapter-4)
    The first example shows the curls compared to sausages, the second hand with paws, and the third comparison of a skinner with the prince.
  13. Mood: The novel shows a sad mood in the beginning but turns to doomed and helplessness as soon as George and Lennie move out to some other ranch and then turns to tragic when George shoots Lennie after he accidentally kills Curley’s wife.
  14. Motif: The most important motifs of the novel are loneliness, animal images, and daydreaming of a ranch by George and Lennie.
  15. Narrator: The novel is narrated by a third-person narrator or omniscient narrator, which is also called an objective narrator.  It is also called an omniscient narrator, who happens to be the author himself, as he can see things from all perspectives. Here Steinbeck himself is the narrator.
  16. Personification: Personification means to attribute human acts and emotions to non-living objects. For example:
    i. The sycamore leaves whispered in a little night breeze. (Chapter-1)
    ii. The shade climbed up the hills toward the top. (Chapter-1)
    iii. The crash of the shot rolled up the hills and rolled down again. (Chapter-6)
    The first example shows sycamore, the second shake, and the third crash, which are showing signs of human acts and emotions.
  17. Protagonist: George and Lennie are two protagonists of the novel on account of their indispensable friendship. The novel starts with their joblessness and moves with them until George is forced to shoot Lennie to make him relieve the sufferings.
  18. Paradox: The novel shows the use of paradox in a very good sentence such as “Candy stood in the doorway scratching his bald wrist and looking blindly into the lighted room.” (Chapter-4). Here the phrase “looking blindly” shows the use of a paradox.
  19. Theme: A theme is a central idea that the novelist or the writer wants to stress upon. The novel not only shows man’s nature but also his situation in the grand design of the universe, his loneliness as well as man’s desire for relationships.
  20. Setting: The setting of the novel is the area of Soledad in California. The rest of the minor settings include the room of Crooks, the bunkhouse, and the barn at the ranch.
  21. Simile: The novel shows good use of various similes. For example,
    i. …and in and out of the beam flies shot like rushing stars. (Chapter-2)
    ii. …he’s sure a hell of a good worker. Strong as a bull. (Chapter-2)
    iii. Curley was flopping like a fish on a line. (Chapter-3)
    iv. Slowly, like a terrier who doesn’t want to bring a ball to his master, he approached. (Chapter-3)
    The first simile compares the sail to a patchwork, the second man’s creases to a desert, and the third the clouds to mountains.
  22. Symbol: The novel shows that the symbols through Candy’s dog, mice, and the dream of a ranch. Whereas the dog represents the fate of a man, mice show hope and the farm shows the desire for independence.
  23. Irony: The story shows situational irony through the daydreaming of George and Lennie in that they are homeless and yet desire to be the owners of a ranch. This could also be called tragic irony.