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Of Mice and Men
In the novel “Of Mice and Men” how does Steinbeck make use of characters, language, style and structure in order to put his point across to his audience?
The novel “Of Mice and Men” written by John Steinbeck is about two very different men who share a special bond. It is set in the 1930’s at the time of the American depression. George and Lennie are both migrant American labourers and are the complete opposite to one another, mentally and physically. George is “small and quick”, he has very defined features and is mentally very clever. Lennie however is a “huge man” who is of limited educational ability.
The themes of the novel are; dreams, racism, ageism, sexism, euthanasia and violence. In this essay I will be discussing the themes and the point that Steinbeck is trying to make: that life is hard but it can be made a lot easier if you have friendship.
Steinbeck carefully chooses his characters so he has one or more characters representing each theme. One of the key themes is friendship and the characters for this theme are obviously George and Lennie. In mind and body they are worlds apart yet without one another both their lives would prove to be a lot more difficult. Lennie relies on George to look after him (paternal instinct) but George equally relies on Lennie for companionship and love “because I got you and you got me”. Their relationship is also very different because in those days it was strange that two men travelled together, slim mentions this in chapter. In today’s society Lennie would not be allowed out unsupervised but people didn’t realise he had a mental disability and he was often referred to as a “cuckoo”. The two men balance each other out, George has the brains, Lennie has the strength and that is partly the reason why they make a good team and have such a good realationship.
Three characters in the book share the theme of loneliness: Candy who represents ageism, Curley’s wife who represents sexism and Crooks who represents racism. Loneliness is an important theme as it contrasts the point that Steinbeck is trying to make: everybody needs friendship.
Candy is the oldest man on the ranch and his only companion is his dog- which inevitably gets shot for being too old; this can be seen as an ominous forewarning for the end of the book. Candy is deeply saddened by the killing of the dog and later finds himself being drawn to George and Lennie’s dream.
It is shown instantly that there is sexism in the novel when the only female doesn’t even have a name and is only referred to as “Curley’s Wife”. In the 1930’s women didn’t have the rights that they have today and also didn’t have the respect. An example of this is when Curley boasts about keeping his hand “soft for his wife”. Curley obviously doesn’t trust his wife as he is always looking for her. It also shows his lack of confidence about his own manhood, this is probably why he takes an instant disliking to Lennie. Steinbeck never describes the relationship in full detail but he creates tension between them, which ultimately leads to a dramatic climax.
The only black man on the ranch is Crooks. He is discriminated against because of his colour. In the 1930’s black people were not seen as equals and the term “nigger” was used without even thinking. The book reflects the theme of segregation and shows how black people were made to feel like outcasts. Crook’s is made to live in the stables with the horses and is only allowed in the bunkhouse at Christmas. The men don’t think about Crooks’ feelings, which is why he is so reluctant to be nice to Lennie when he first enters the stable – this is also seen as a defence mechanism. He isn’t nice to Lennie but because of Lennies condition he doesn’t understand why.
Slim is the character who is almost “god like” in the novel. He is the man that all the other men look up to. He has a natural confidence and the other men respect him for that. Steinbeck is clever
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