John Steinbeck (1902-1968) was born in Salinas, California. He came from a middle class family. His father was the county treasurer, and his mother was a former schoolteacher. She inspired and encouraged his love of books and reading.
He attended Stanford University, but he did not graduate. In his twenties, he traveled to New York City with the dream of supporting himself as a freelance writer. When his efforts failed, he went home to California. He then began to work seriously on novels and short stories.
When Steinbeck was a young adult, he spent his summer vacations working as a hired hand on local ranches. His interactions with the people he met during those summers greatly influenced the characters he created throughout his career. In an interview following the publication of Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck revealed that all the characters in the novel are composites based on real people.
Steinbeck said in his essay “Advice For Beginning Writers” (1963) that he still felt afraid every time he began writing a story, even though he had a long successful writing career behind him. He went on to say that a writer who does not experience this fear may not have an appropriate respect for the art of writing.
Of Mice and Men was published in 1937, after John Steinbeck had achieved literary acclaim with his novel Tortilla Flat but before he wrote his better known works The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden. The story epitomizes the themes and ideas that Steinbeck propounded throughout his novels: the plight of the laborers, the perils of isolation, and the hope for a better future. Set in California during the Great Depression, Of Mice and Men is an excellent vehicle to learn about the life and times of migrant works in the 1930s. With its beautiful descriptive passages, easily accessible dialogue, and fast-paced timeline, it is very easy to follow along. Readers are drawn in by the memorable characters, that, ironically, represent a segment of society that was largely ignored in its day. Analyzing the balance of power, the importance of friendship, and the role of dreams in our lives allows readers to gain a deeper understanding of the text while applying valuable lessons to their own lives.
Of Mice and Men is set in the Salinas Valley of Southern California in the late 1930’s, the era of the Great Depression. Like many writers of the Modern Period (1915-1945), John Steinbeck attempts to make sense of the early decades of the 20th century; he sees the humanity in a class of people who are often ignored by writers and by society at large. These issues are further developed in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.
Below is a list of the major characters from Of Mice and Men. Lennie Small: a nondescript, hulking creature of a man whose childlike mentality continually gets him into scrapes with men who neither respect nor understand him. George Milton: a small, lean man, used to fighting for his place in the world. He oversees and protects Lennie. Slim: a tall skinner (a highly skilled mule-driver) that serves as a counselor to the ranch hands. Candy: The one-handed ranch worker who has lived past his prime. Curley’s wife: never named, she is not respected by the men on the ranch. Crooks: the African-American stable buck is called Crooks because of a spinal injury inflicted by a kicking horse. Curley: the boss’ son, he possesses a jealous, cruel streak.
John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men places the reader in Depression-era California, traveling from job to job with two migrant laborers, George Milton and Lennie Small. The novel explores their friendship, in contrast to the isolation of their peers, and the way dreams can either sustain or discourage people. It also addresses a variety of issues, including racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination, that play out against the backdrop of lonely people seeking happiness. In addition examining important ethical dilemmas, studying Of Mice and Men provides an opportunity to discuss literary devices such as foreshadowing, symbolism, and point of view.
Write down your response (in complete sentences) to each of the questions below. 2-4 sentences per question.
1. How does society treat people with mental handicaps?
2. How important is friendship in our lives?
3. Explain whether or not men continue to treat women as objects.
4. Define the American dream.
5. Explain whether or not writers have a responsibility to address social concerns.