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Of Mice and Men - Section One

Of Mice and Men
– Introduction & Section One
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Unit introduction
In this unit we will be looking at the novella Of Mice and
Men written by John Steinbeck.
The book is divided into six sections, and for each section
you will be completing a variety of activities to develop your
understanding of the text.
Before we start looking at the novel itself, it will be useful to
explore some of the background of John Steinbeck, his
work and its historical and social context.
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Author information
Name: John Steinbeck
Dates: 1902 – 1968
Career: Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California, and
many of his novels are set in this part of America. Before
his career as a writer began, Steinbeck worked as a
construction labourer and a caretaker.
His first novel Cup of Gold was published in 1929. Of Mice
and Men was published in 1937. His most famous novel,
The Grapes of Wrath came out in 1939. Many of his
books, such as East of Eden also became films. In 1962
John Steinbeck was awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize
for Literature.
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The Great Depression
The 29th October 1929 was known as ‘Black Tuesday’ in
America. The huge crash of the stock market sounded a
final death knell to the prosperity that had characterised the
United States throughout the 1920s, and signalled the start
of ‘the Great Depression’.
Unemployment rose from around 3% in 1929 to over 26%
by 1934. Many of the poorest members of American society
suffered badly, and at one point it was estimated that 34
million men, women and children had no income at all. This
crisis in the American economy forms the background to
many of Steinbeck’s novels.
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The social context
The Grapes of Wrath deals with a group of people known
as the ‘Okies’. These were migrant workers who left the
dust bowl of Oklahoma when their crops failed. They
travelled to California, in search of work and ‘the
American Dream’, the hope of a bright new future in the
The Okies were badly treated, and many of them died on
the journey, or starved to death after arriving in California,
the ‘land of plenty’. John Steinbeck was deeply affected
by their plight. Much of his work deals with the poor
treatment of such workers, and the way that society
mistreats its poorest people.
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The political context
John Steinbeck’s writing is at times deeply political. He
felt a strong connection with the underdog, and in his
work he suggested ways that society could improve the
lot of migrant workers such as the Okies.
In The Grapes of Wrath, perhaps his most political
novel, the Okies try to set up unions, so that they can
force the landowners to pay them a decent wage. This
political stand is extremely unpopular with the rich
landowners, and those who join unions are blacklisted.
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Test yourself!
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Extension work
Complete the following tasks to develop your understanding
of the background to Of Mice and Men:
find out more about America during the Great
complete some background reading by looking at
Steinbeck’s other short novels, for instance Tortilla Flat,
The Red Pony
find out more information about John Steinbeck’s
life and work.
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Plot summary exercise – section one
Complete the plot summary by filling in the blanks:
Two men, called George and ____________
make their
way down to a clearing beside the ___________
They are heading to a _____________
to find work.
Lennie has a dead ___________
which he likes to
stroke, but George makes him throw it away. They
warm some __________
beans on a fire and Lennie asks
George to tell him about the house and land they are
going to own one day.
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Setting the scene
Re-read the first two paragraphs of the book.
Steinbeck sets the scene by describing the natural world.
Find quotations from this section to replace the pictures
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Describing George & Lennie
Re-read the description of George & Lennie in the third
paragraph. Steinbeck describes the two characters with
great care, so that the reader gets a strong image of them
right from the very start of the book.
Look carefully at how the two men are described. Add
your own ideas / useful quotations about George and
Lennie on the next two slides.
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Describing George
with sharp
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Describing Lennie
of George
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Describing Lennie
Find quotations on the second and third page that describe
Lennie using characteristics normally associated with
Why do you think Steinbeck describes Lennie in this way?
What happened to George and Lennie that meant they
had to leave Weed?
Why do you think Lennie likes hearing the story about the
ranch so much?
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George and Lennie’s relationship
Re-read the conversation between George and Lennie
from Lennie drinking the water until they start to talk
about supper. You could do this in a group of three,
reading George / Lennie / the narrative.
Find two examples of Lennie acting like a child.
Why does Lennie like the mouse?
Why is George worried about Lennie?
Why do you think George stays with Lennie?
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The American Dream
One of the major themes in the book is ‘The American
Dream’, the hope of creating a better life. Look at the
story about their farm that George and Lennie share.
How does this story relate to ‘The American Dream’?
Add your ideas to the image below.
They could
work for
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What is foreshadowing?
A subtle hint about something that will happen later in
the book.
Often a signal that warns of danger for one of the
A way of creating anticipation and tension for the reader.
A way of making the reader want to find out what happens
Look at the end of Section One. Can you find an example of
foreshadowing here? What do you think might happen later
on in the book that is being hinted at here?
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