Study Guide and Sample Essays on
OF MICE AND MEN
by John Steinbeck
• Plot synopsis
• Critical context
• Useful quotations
• Sample essays
o Steinbeck’s use of stereotypes in the novel Of Mice and Men (629 words) o The friendship between George and Lennie in Of Mice and Men (514 words) o Describe the devices Steinbeck uses to create atmosphere in Of Mice and Men (442 words) o Dreams and Reality in the novel Of Mice and Men (552 words)
George Milton is the central character in the story. He is described as ‘small and quick, dark of face with restless eyes and sharp, strong features’. He looks after Lennie and dreams of a better life. George symbolises the migrant worker’s way of life. He leads a nomadic existence, moving from ranch to ranch to find work. The only thing that keeps him going is his dream of owning his own ranch, although deep down he knows it is only an illusion and will never actually happen.
He needs Lennie’s friendship to stave off his major fear, which is loneliness. He is loyal to Lennie because he knows that he is an innocent but outwardly his attitude is one of intolerance.
George has a strong understanding of the possibilities in a situation and, as Lennie’s self-appointed protector, he has to think and plan for him too. His feelings for Lennie have deep roots. This is demonstrated by his revelation of the time he asked Lennie to jump into the Sacramento river although he couldn’t swim. He describes to Slim how guilty he felt afterwards and it is obvious he has come to appreciate the basic decency of Lennie’s nature.
‘He damn near drowned before we could get him. An’ he was so damn nice to me for pullin’ him out. Clean forgot I told him to jump in. Well, I ain’t done nothing like that no more.’
This revelation shows that George is capable of moral growth, which is exemplified by his killing of Lennie at the end of the novel.
Lennie Small is a mentally retarded man who travels with George. He dreams of ‘living off the fatta' the lan’ and being able to tend to rabbits. He has a child's mental ability but is very strong physically and is sometimes unable to control his own strength. This results in a series of accidental killings when the objects of his affection try to escape him (for example, mice and his puppy).
He loves to listen to George’s plans for their shared future. Not only are we made aware of Lennie’s physical size, he is also described to the reader in terms of a series of running animal associations. He is seen, for example, as a bear and as a domestic dog, but these associations enhance rather than undermine his innocence. He is vulnerable and yet he has a certain amount of cunning in concealment and knows how to get his way with George. He threatens to go to a cave and fend for himself, knowing that George won’t let this happen.
Candy is an old ranch worker who has lost a hand in an accident and is near the end of his useful life on the ranch. He knows he has little to look forward to, especially when another ranch hand, Carlson, decides to kill his old dog because it annoys everyone in the bunk house with its bad smell.
He has a little bit of money put by and decides he wants to contribute towards George and Lennie’s little ranch, as long as he can be a part of the dream.
‘S’pose I went in with you guys. That’s three hundred and fifty bucks I’d put in… How’d that be? ‘
Candy’s desperate attempt to be a part of the dream shows how lonely he is.
Curley is the ranch owner’s son. He is aggressive and was once a semi-professional boxer. He has a jealous nature and is domineering, particularly towards his wife. He immediately takes a dislike to Lennie. He is very self-important. He thinks he owns his wife and that he can dictate what she can and can’t do....
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