Of Mice and Men General Overview • The story is set in California in the 1930’s during the Great Depression and it main characters are two wandering farm workers called George and Lennie. • George is small, quick and intelligent. • By contrast Lennie is slow and simpleminded. • They travel around together in search of work. • They have a dream of a place of their own – a small ranch where they can live and work on their own. • They are on the run from the town of Weed where Lennie caused trouble by innocently fondling a girls dress. • They arrive at a ranch in Soledad where they meet Candy, an old, crippled worker. • Curley is the son of the boss and is aggressive and threatening man who is always searching for his wife. • George decides they will stay on the ranch because they need the work and money. • Lennie tells the black, harshly treat stable buck, Crooks about their dream farm and he too expresses a wish to be involved. • Curley’s wife meets Lennie in the barn when she finds out he has accidentally killed the puppy. • She invites him to stoke her hair but becomes upset by his roughness. • Unnerved by her screaming Lennie tries to quieten her, accidentally breaking her neck and killing her. • He runs away and the other ranch-hands set out in pursuit, but George knowing where to find him, forces himself to kill Lennie. About the author • Much of Of Mice and Men is based upon Steinbeck’s life and experiences. • In the years after he failed at University he had many casual jobs, varying from newspaper work to ranch work. • In the novel Steinbeck highlights many of the problems of which he experienced at first hand. • The great financial collapse of 1929 increased unemployment and poverty throughout the United States. George • George is quick witted and intelligent. • He has a good working knowledge of farming and ranching. • He is very keen to change to monotony of his present situation. • George has taken on responsibility for Lennie partly out of pity, partly out of affection and partly for companionship/ • In many ways, George and Lennie are the two incomplete halves of one whole person. • George represents the intelligence and Lennie the physical strength. • George understands that Lennie is both a hindrance and an advantage to him. • George is very practical thus we are prevented from seeing a sentimental side to him. • George is not entirely blameless for the disasterous end which befalls Lennie. He knows how Lennie tends to behave and could predict danger from the moment they arrived on the ranch however, he ignores these signals as his need for a ‘stake’ outweighs his natural caution. • For one night he even leaves the vulnerable Lennie behind, in spite of the problems at the ranch, and this leads to Lennie’s downfall. • • • • • Intelligent Quick witted Naturally cautious Small Hardworking George • George is quick witted and intelligent. • He has a good working knowledge of farming and ranching. • He is very keen to change to monotony of his present situation. • George has taken on responsibility for Lennie partly out of pity, partly out of affection and partly for companionship/ • In many ways, George and Lennie are the two incomplete halves of one whole person. • George represents the intelligence and Lennie the physical strength. • George understands that Lennie is both a hindrance and an advantage to him. • George is very practical thus we are prevented from seeing a sentimental side to him. • George is not entirely blameless for the disasterous end which befalls Lennie. He knows how Lennie tends to behave and could predict danger from the moment they arrived on the ranch however, he ignores these signals as his need for a ‘stake’ outweighs his natural caution. Lennie • Although Lennie is very child-like, he also shows signs of adult maturity. • Despite his terror of violence he is a man of great physical strength. • He is frequently described in terms of an animal, suggesting not only his bear-like tendency to hold onto his prey and inflict great damage but also a kind of animal innocence. • Lennie has no awareness of any kind of morality – which means the ordinary values of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are difficult for him to understand. • Lennie’s obsession for ‘petting’ shows that he has deep-rooted emotional needs which he himself may not understand. • There is a dreadful progression in his victims from dead mouse to dead girl. • Lennie’s irresistible urge to ‘pet’ collides with the desires and sexuality of Curley’s wife. • At the start of the novel Lennie is characterised as innocent and naïve; by the end he has fallen from grace (committed murder) and by this act has deprived himself from the paradise of the ‘dream farm’. • How far is Lennie really innocent? • Is Lennie innocent, mentally retarded or is there a darker side to him? • Certainly he often seems ignorant to the consequences of his actions and never seems to learn from them. • • • • • • Childlike Strong Powerful Innocent Naïve Slow Crooks • Crooks is a black cripple who tends horses on the ranch. • He has long been the victim of oppressive violence and prejudice and is now aloof and reserved. • He keeps himself to himself and dislikes company, possibly because he has been let down so many times before. • His natural personality has been suppressed by years of antagonism. • He has an intelligent awareness of life, as he has thought hard during his long hours of solitude. • He feels more confident after speaking to Lennie. • His new found confidence allows him to stand up to Curley’s wife but he is humiliated by her vicious threats. • His new optimism is finally defeated by George’s dismissive attitude to the suggestion that he might participate in the running of the ‘dream farm’. Curley • Curley is a small man and seems to have developed an inferiority complex as a result. • He is continually aggressive. • He is humiliated by his wife's apparent dissatisfaction and unhappiness. • He takes advantage of those who he thinks are weak. • Curley takes pleasure in inflicting the maximum amount of damage and pain possible, to dispel his anger and frustration and maintain his authority. • Even his approach to intimacy is crude, symbolised by his glove which, according to Candy, is full of vaseline. Curley’s Wife • Curley’s wife is never named in the novel. • The way she is referred to as ‘Curley’s wife’ makes her sound like Curley’s possession. • She is bitter because she is not treated as an individual. • She flaunts herself around the ranch • She pretends she is always looking for Curley so she can flirt with the workers. • She dreams of a better life but her dreams are not realistic as they based on glossy film magazines. • She has a wish to be admired. • This wish is partly rooted in vanity and partly in insecurity and loneliness, much of which is brought about by her husbands fault finding behaviour. • Although her panic at Lennie’s petting of her hair leads to her death, this could have been caused just as easily by Lennie’s unthinking roughness as by any decision on her part that things had gone too far. • • • • Ambiguous Insecure Lonely Vane Slim • • • • • Dignified and charismatic Natural authority Gentle and friendly Intuitive sense of justice Acts almost as a ‘conscience’ to other characters. • Steinbeck attaches images of royalty to him as he is describes as ‘majesty’, ‘prince’ and ‘authority’. Candy • Near to the end of his useful life on the farm • Has little to look forward to • He has lost his hand in an accident • He also loses his dog (his only companion) • He is given strength and self-respect at the prospect of a part-ownership of the dream farm. Carlson • • • • Inconsiderate Aggressive Stands up to Curley At the end he has not understanding of the feelings of George and Slim have on the death of Lennie. The boss • • • • Only appears once Unpleasant Aggressive Needs to show he is better than the ranch workers. • Treatment of George and Lennie seems fair. Themes in ‘Of Mice and Men’ Themes are important ideas that run through the book. You will come across them lots of times. The connect the story, the characters and the different scenes in the book. • Authority • Dreams • Loneliness • Nature • Violence Authority • • • • Natural, god like authority of Slim. Ineffectual bullying of Curley. The boss’s authority is based on exploitation. Lennie does have authority, particularly when he threatens to run away. • Some characters use violence or financial power. • Others seem to gain it because they avoid exploitation. Dreams • Hopes or ambitions • Often kept secret to begin with • George is annoyed when he finds out Lennie and Candy have told Crooks about the ‘dream farm’. • Whereas Curley’s wife is almost desperate to tell Lennie about her dreams. (Ironic that she tells Lennie as he has no interest or understanding) • The ‘dream farm’ represents ambition and the possibility of escape from the workers’ loneliness and poverty. Loneliness • Many of the characters are Lonely • Continually searching without knowing what they are really looking for. • Different characters seek comfort in different things – for Candy it is his dog, for George and Lennie it is each other, for Crooks it is his pride. Nature • Lennie is described as a bear • Lennie himself is very natural and has animal like simplicity. • The ranch workers are like men adrift in a wilderness. • Used to reinforce the theme of violence (death of Lennie, just like Curley’s dog) Violence • • • • • Unnecessary violence The boss permits fighting Curley is irrational and aggressive Carlson thrives on violence It is Carlson that provides George with the means of killing Lennie. Summary • It is very likely you will be asked about one of the characters. • You may be given an extract of the story (which you should know already) and be asked to comment on that particular part of the story. • You will need to do so referring to the themes we have discussed. • Remember keep it analytical! Do not just retell the story.