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Of mice and men

  Note: 1   Klasse: 8

Arbeit: 1. Table of contents:
2. John Steinbeck
2.1 His early life and work 3
2.2 His second marriage 4
2.3 His success with critical books 4
2.4 1940s–1960s 4
2.5 His legacy 5
3. The main information
3.1 The title and the author 5
3.2 The links between the story and Steinbeck‘s life 5
3.3 The main characters and their rivals 5
3.4 The genre and the tone 6
3.5 The most important symbols and themes 6
4. The characters
4.1 George 6
4.2 Lennie 6
4.3 Candy 7
4.4 Crooks 7
4.5 Curley 7
4.6 Curley’s wife 8
4.7 Slim 8
4.8 Carlson 9
4.9 The Boss 9
4.10 Aunt Clara 9
5. The content 9
6. My favourite Passage 13
7. The Great Depression
7.1 What was the Great Depression? 13
7.2 The Great Depression and the book 14
8. My own opinion 14

2. John Steinbeck:

John Ernst Steinbeck III (February 27, 1902 – December 20, 1968) was one of the most famous American writers of the 20th century. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. He is best known for his novella Of Mice and Men (1937) and his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939), both of which examine the lives of the working class during the Great Depression.
Steinbeck wrote in the naturalist/realist style, often about the poor working-class people.

2.1 His early life and work:
Steinbeck was born in Salinas (California). He had three sisters: two older and one younger. Steinbeck's father worked in county government, and Steinbeck's mother was a teacher.
Steinbeck enrolled in Stanford University in 1919 and attended until 1925, but dropped out and moved to New York City. There he didn‘t find a publisher, and therefore he returned to California.
Steinbeck's first novel, published in 1929, was the unsuccessful mythological Cup of Gold. He married Carol Henning in 1930, in 1934 his mother, and in 1935 his father died. Steinbeck achieved his first success with the novel Tortilla Flat, which won the California Commonwealth Club's Gold Medal.
Political views increasingly influenced Steinbeck's writing. Carol Henning was a Marxist who took him to radical political meetings in San Francisco and the couple visited the Soviet Union in 1937. Therefore she registered as a member of the United States Communist Party.

2.2 His second marriage:
Steinbeck separated with Henning in 1941 and moved to New York with Gwyndolyn Conger. His divorce from Henning was finalized in 1942. In 1943 she married Conger, and the couple had two sons. Their first son was Thomas "Thom" Steinbeck who was born August 2, 1944, and John Steinbeck IV who was born in June 12, 1946. Nevertheless Conger and Steinbeck divorced in 1948.

2.3 His success with critical books:
Back in California Steinbeck began to write stories, which take place during the Great Depression. With these books he had a lot of success. Of Mice and Men, his novella about the dreams of a pair of migrant labourers was his first critical book. Steinbeck followed this wave of success with The Grapes of Wrath, (1939), based on newspaper articles he had written in San Francisco. This novel won the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1940.

2.4 1940s–1960s:
In 1940, Steinbeck's interest in marine biology and his friendship with Ed Ricketts led him to journey in the Gulf of California.
During the Second World War, Steinbeck served as a war correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune.
His novel The Moon is Down (1942) was made into a film almost immediately. In 1945 he received the Haakon VII Medal of freedom for his literary contributions to the Norwegian resistance movement.
After the war, he wrote The Pearl (1947) and for him it was clear that would make a film about this book,
In 1962 Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his “realistic and imaginative“ writing.
In 1964 Steinbeck got the United States Medal of Freedom by President Johnson.

2.5 His legacy:
The Salinas (including the Salinas Valley), Monterey, and parts of the San Joaquin Valley, acted as a setting for many of his stories. Thus the area is now sometimes called "Steinbeck Country".

3. The main information:

3.1 The title and the author:
The full title of the book is „Of Mice and Men“. The author who wrote this novel is John Steinbeck.

3.2 The links between the story and Steinbeck‘s life:
The story takes place in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, in the farmland of the Salinas valley, where John Steinbeck was born. Steinbeck's father owned land in the area, and as a young man Steinbeck had worked as a farm hand. The ranch in the story is near Soledad, which is southeast of Salinas on the Salinas River. The countryside described at the beginning of the book, and the ranch itself, would have been very familiar to John Steinbeck.

3.3 The main characters and their rivals:
The novel is told from the point of view of a third-person omniscient narrator, who can access the point of view of any character as required by the narrative. The two main characters are George and Lennie. Their big rivals are Curley and the society that discriminates the two.

3.4 The genre and the tone:
I think the genre of this book is fiction and tragedy. The tone of this novel is sentimental, tragic, doomed, fatalistic, rustic, moralistic and comic.

3.5 The most important symbols and themes:
The themes are the predatory nature of human existence, the importance of fraternity, the relationship between two men, the impossibility of the American Dream and the unfair social structures in America. In my opinion the most important symbols are the clearing in the woods, the fictitious farm of Lennie and George, the mice, the old dog, Curley‘s boots and Lennie‘s puppy.

4. The Characters:

4.1 George:
He is a small, wiry, quick-witted man who travels with, and cares for Lennie, who is his best friend, although he is mentally ill. Even though he frequently speaks of how much better his life would be without his care-taking responsibilities, George is devoted to Lennie. I think that George‘s life is motivated by the desire to protect Lennie and the dream of their own farm. George is the spring of their dream of their own land, but nevertheless it is Lennie’s childlike faith that enables George to believe his account of their future.

4.2 Lennie:
He is a very tall, lumbering, childlike migrant worker who has a mild mental disability. Therefore, Lennie completely depends upon George, who is his best friend for guidance and protection. The two men have the same vision and dream of a farm that they will own together and where they will live and work. Lennie believes in this vision in wholeheartedly. His big problem is that he can‘t understand his own strength. Thus he often kills small animals without wanting it. His strength is also the reason why he often gets into very big trouble and this leads also to his death.

4.3 Candy:
Candy is an old ranch handyman. He has lost his hand in an accident and worries about his future on the ranch. He fears that his age will make him useless and therefore he seizes the dream of Lennie and George‘s own farm. He wants to offer his life’s savings if he can join George and Lennie in owning the land. I think that the destiny of Candy’s ancient dog, which Carlson shoots in the back of the head in an alleged act of mercy, foreshadows the mode of Lennie’s death.

4.4 Crooks:
He is black and Crooks gets his name from his crooked back. He is totally isolated from the other handymen because of the colour of his skin. Despite himself, Crooks becomes fond of Lennie, and though he tells them that he has seen countless men following empty dreams of buying their own land, he asks Lennie if he can go with them and live on their small farm.

4.5 Curley:
Curley is the boss’s son. He always wears high-heeled boots to distinguish himself from the field hands. He was a champion prizefighter and thus he often looks for confrontations with other men who are larger and taller. He thinks that in this way he can compensate his small stature. Curley has recently married and hence is very jealous. The problem is that his wife often flirts with the workers on his farm.

4.6 Curley’s wife:
She is the only female character in the whole novel. She is never given a name and therefore the other characters call her Curley‘s wife. The men on the farm think that she is a “tramp” and a “tart“. She is dressed in fancy, feathered red shoes, she represents the temptation of female sexuality in a male dominated world. I think that she feels very lonely and her dreams of a better life are broken.

4.7 Slim:
He is a very well educated man. Although Slim is only the mule driver on this farm, the others think that he is the most intelligent person they know. Slim is the only character who seems to be at peace with himself. Thus the other characters often look to Slim for advice. For example, only after Slim agrees that Candy should put his old dog out of its misery, Candy allows Carlson to shoot it. I think that Slim is the only character in the whole book who understands the bond between George and Lennie. At the end of the book Slim is the only one who consoles George after the death of Lennie.

4.8 Carlson:
Carlson is also a ranch-hand. He always complains about Candy‘s very old and smelly dog. He convinces Candy to put the dog out of its misery. When Candy finally agrees, Carlson promises to accomplish the task without hurting the animal. Later, George uses Carlson’s gun to shoot Lennie.

4.9 The Boss:
He is a very well-dressed man and the boss of the ranch, and Curley’s father. He is never named and appears only once, but he seems to be a fair-minded man. Candy happily reports that he once delivered a gallon of whiskey to the ranch-hands on Christmas Day. Nevertheless I think that he is a very unimportant character.

4.10 Aunt Clara:
She is Lennie’s aunt. She has cared for him until her death, but she does not appear in the novel except in the end, in a vision of Lennie. I guess that she was a very gentle and patient woman who took care of Lennie and gave him some mice as pets.

5. The content:

The novel opens with the description of a riverbed in California. George and Lennie walk along the river on a small path. Both are dressed in farmhand.
As they reach a glade, Lennie stops to drink from the river, but George warns him that the water may be dirty. In this conversation it becomes clear that Lennie has a mild mental disability, and that his companion looks out for his safety. The bus driver had dropped them off a long way from the ranch where they will start to work. Suddenly George notices that Lennie is holding a dead mouse and throws this mouse across the river. Lennie insists that he is not responsible for killing the mouse and that he just wanted to pat it.
Afterwards George warns Lennie that they are going to work on a ranch, and that he must behave himself when they meet the boss. George doesn‘t want any trouble of the kind they had in Weed, the last place they worked. The problem is that Lennie doesn‘t know about his unbelievable strength and therefore often kill small animals like mice.
George often complains that he could get along much better if he didn’t have to care for Lennie. In Weed Lennie, a lover of soft things stroked the fabric of a girl’s dress. The locals assumed he assaulted her, and ran them out of town.
After this reproach, George feels sorry for losing his temper and apologizes by telling Lennie’s favourite story, the plan for their future.
Their big dream is that in some years they will have enough money to buy their own small farm and that there they will grow their own food, raise livestock, and keep rabbits, which Lennie will keep.
As night falls, George tells Lennie that if he encounters any trouble while working at the ranch, he is to return to this clearing, hide in the bushes, and wait for George to come.
The next day, Lennie and George make their way to the ranch, where they are greeted by Candy. The bunkhouse is an unadorned building where the men sleep. George asks about the boss, and Candy reports that although the boss was angry that George and Lennie did not arrive the previous night as he had expected them to, he can be a “pretty nice fella.” Then the boss appears and asks them out about their skills and previous employment. George always speaks for Lennie to prevent him from discovering his lack of intelligence. The boss is surprised that George takes care of this strong man. George replies that Lennie is his cousin and was kicked in the head by a horse when he was young. They are assigned to one of the grain teams, working under a man named Slim.
At the end of a workday, Slim and George return to the bunkhouse. Slim has agreed to give one of the pups of his dog to Lennie, and George thanks him for his kindness. Therefore George tells Slim the story how he and Lennie got friends. They were born in the same town and George took charge of Lennie after the death of Clara. At first he pushed Lennie around but after some time they got very good friends.
Suddenly Carlson appears. He begins to complain about Candy‘s dog and says that he should kill the old dog. Carlson tries to persuade Candy and after some minutes Candy gives in. Carlson takes the dog outside, promising Slim that he will bury the corpse. After a few moments of silence, the men hear a shot and everybody knows that the dog is death.
Thenceforth again George tells Lennie about the farm that they will buy with their own money. Carlson also listens to the beautiful story and becomes excited by the idea of such a nice place. He asks if the place really exists. George is guarded at first, but soon says that it does and that the owners are desperate to sell it. Overcome with hope, Candy offers to contribute his life’s savings if they allow him to live there too. Since he is old and crippled, he worries that the ranch will let him go soon. The men agree that after a month of work at this ranch, they will have enough money saved to make a down payment on the house.
It is Sunday afternoon and Lennie is sitting alone in the barn and he is stroking his dead puppy. He says to the dead body that he didn’t want to kill it and ask it why it is death. As he talks to himself, Curley’s wife enters and sits beside him. He hides the puppy and tells her that George ordered him not to speak to her. She tells him that it is safe for him to talk to her, pointing out that the other men are occupied with a horseshoe tournament outside and will not interrupt them. She starts to tell him everything about her life that she feels so alone, that she dislikes Curley, that she wants to live a different life and that she hates the cold treatment she gets from the ranch-hands. Lennie continues to talk about his rabbits, and she asks him why he likes animals so much. Lennie replies that he likes to touch soft things with his fingers. She admits that she likes the same thing, and offers to let him stroke her hair. He gets really exited and thus holds on too tight. That frighten her and she cries out. Lennie terrifies and clamps his strong hands over her mouth. Abrupt her body goes limp. He has broken her neck. At first he tries to bury Curley‘s wife in the hay but then flees toward the meeting place near the river.
Candy comes looking for Lennie and finds the body. He calls George, who realizes immediately what has happened. Candy tells George that Curley will lynch Lennie. Then George alerts the rest of the farm and Curley demands that they find Lennie and kill him. Carlson reports that his gun is missing and therefore the others think that Lennie must have taken it. They get Crooks‘s shotgun and the mob sets off after Lennie.
In the same riverbed where the novel began the story will also end. Lennie comes stealing through the undergrowth and kneels by the water to drink. He is proud of himself for remembering to come here to wait for George. Just then, George appears. He is unusual quiet and listless. Lennie asks him to tell the story of their farm, and George begins, talking about how most men drift along, without any companions, but he and Lennie have one another. The noises of men in the woods come closer, and George tells Lennie to take off his hat and look across the river while he describes their farm. He tells Lennie about the rabbits, and promises that nobody will ever be mean to him again. Then he raises Carlson’s gun and he shoots Lennie in the back of the head. As Lennie falls to the ground and becomes still, George throws the gun away and sits down on the riverbank. Only Slim understands what really happened to Lennie and he tells George that he is a really good friend.

6. My favourite passage:

The whole book is very exciting and therefore it is very difficult to choose one passage. Nevertheless there is one passage, which is very good and interesting. This paragraph is the end of the book. Usually there is a happy end where everybody is happy and everything is perfect. In this book there is no happy end. George has to kill his best friend Lennie, because he has killed Curley‘s wife. George knows that Curley and the other workers will lynch Lennie. Therefore he kills Lennie. Before he shoots him he tells Lennie about the farm and the rabbits they wanted to buy. He talks very lovely to Lennie and he tells him very often that he isn‘t angry about his fault. At the end of his story he has to kill Lennie, because the other people are already behind them.
The end of the book is extremely sad, but nevertheless it is very good.

7. The Great Depression:

7.1 What was the Great Depression?
The Great Depression was a massive global economic recession (or "depression") that ran from 1929 to approximately 1939. Its primary impact was in the United States of America, the British Empire and Europe and led therein to numerous bank failures, high unemployment, as well as dramatic drops in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), industrial production, stock market share prices and virtually every other measure of economic growth.

7.2 The Great Depression and the book:
By the time that Of Mice and Men was published almost half of America's grain was reaped by huge combine harvesters. Five men could do what would have taken 350 men a few years earlier. George and Lennie are some of the last of the migrant farm workers. Huge numbers of men travelled the countryside between the 1880s and the early 1930s harvesting wheat. They earned $2.50 or $3.00 a day, plus food and very basic accommodation. During the 1930s, when there was very bad unemployment in the United States, agencies were set up under the New Deal to send farm workers to where they were needed. George and Lennie got their works cards from Murray and Ready's, one of these agencies.

8. Own opinion:

I really enjoyed reading this book. There were some strange expressions in it but after a few pages I understood everything. There were many themes in this book like the discrimination of Negroes in the U.S.A. (If I say something, the other men don‘t listen because I‘m just a nigger.), mental illness and the American Dream of being successful. The main theme, however, is friendship and the fact that also simple farmhands are capable of it.
As a book of only 107 pages, many find it hard to believe that such a short book can have such impact on the reader, in dealing with such a complex subject. This is great testament to the author, John Steinbeck, and his short, sweet, and to the point writing style, letting the characters provide the complexity through their interaction.
Steinbeck does a really good job recreating the 1930's migrant worker conditions. He has all the hardships of the workers life down, and the racism isn't going overboard. It seems as if the whole book is really true. Steinbeck's characters are completely believable. It‘s so easy to like his characters because they seem like real-life people. Young adults should read this book because it‘s an easy to read, short classic novel that has a good story plot. It teaches that no matter how much you plan something or how well something is, it can always easily be messed up.
All in all, it was an interesting, thrilling, sometimes funny, story. The story is very touching and I liked Steinbeck’s style of writing very much.


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