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Mice And Men - Tension
(a) Steinbeck handles the mounting tension in a dramatic way, hinting at the fact that he deliberately wrote the novel to be easily adapted for the stage. Immediately before the start of the passage, we see Slim angrily rebuffing the suggestion that he has been with Curley’s wife, and Curley fearfully trying to appease him. This is so difficult for a man like Curley, proud, permanently tense, and feeling he has to prove himself, that his anger erupts when Carlson offers his unwanted advice. The word ‘whirled’ immediately indicates Curley’s quick temper, as does his threat to Carlson. When Carlson insults him further, first by laughing at him contemptuously, then by calling him a ‘punk’ and a coward (‘yella as a frog belly’), Curley must be seething. However, even when Candy joins in with his sexually suggestive insult, referring to the rumour that Curley keeps one hand soft for his wife, he can only ‘glare’ at him because he knows he is outnumbered, and both Slim and Carlson are a real threat individually. The scene is full of violent language and imagery. Curley is like a ‘terrier’, a small, aggressive dog. The words ‘slashed’, ‘smashed’ and ‘slugging’ vividly portray Curley’s relentless and professionally efficient attack. Slim’s angry response to this injustice also portrays Curley as an animal — a ‘dirty little rat’. Poor Lennie, on the other hand, is like a helpless lamb: ‘bleated with terror’. Not only do the verbs and images convey the violence in the scene: the insulting swearwords — ‘God damn punk’, ‘big bastard’, ‘big son-of-a-bitch’ (strong for the time when the novel was written) — are examples of verbal aggression that anticipate the physical violence. (b) Violence is inherent in the plot of Of Mice and Men and in the dramatic framework within which it takes place. This is because Steinbeck is concerned with the position of the ordinary, oppressed working man, and because, in this novel, the threat of violence goes hand in...
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