Breaking Down ‘Of Mice and Men’

Thabiso Mupfiga – Year 8 Student

Editor’s Note: As a Year 9 set text at GSAL, the famous novella ‘Of Mice and Men‘ by John Steinbeck will be familiar to many of you. However, this piece of writing by a student in Year 8 is truly exceptional: “I have NEVER in my 17 years of teaching at the Grammar School, encountered a learner so motivated to make progress and learn for its own sake, that they have asked to read a set text a year early, of their own volition, and then voluntarily written an academic essay upon it of their own accord.KLK

John Steinbeck’s highly viewed novella gives a thrilling insight into the struggles of the past. In the book we follow the story of George and Lennie in the early 20th century and how they dream to own a small plot of land of their own in Salinas – the birthplace of Steinbeck himself.  The two men encounter problems along the way, partly due to Lennie’s mental disabilities. Even after 82 years, the book – considered to be Steinbeck’s finest – is still looked upon massively in today’s day and age. In this instance, the question is not how: Why is Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” still such a highly commended book after such a lengthy period of time?

The two main protagonists, George and Lennie, are vital throughout the entirety of the book to keep the story alight. It is evident that without this double act there is a sense of a lacklustre storyline and Steinbeck has perfectly identified that opposites attract. George is a small but muscular man and Lennie is the epitome of a gentle giant which contradicts the meaning of his surname “Small” which displays early on the effects of Lennie’s child-like features when he becomes visibly upset as George disposes of a dead mouse Lennie killed whilst petting. We, as readers, are reminded throughout the novel that this is usually the root of the pair’s problems: Lennie’s inadvertent overdoing of things that many of us consider to be simple.  There is a sense of foreshadowing also produced by Steinbeck when it is revealed early on in the book that Lennie cannot “do no bad things like you done in Weed[…]” The fact that George has to mention at such an early stage to Lennie not to replicate his previous mistakes indicates to the reader that this potentially could be the root of the pair’s problems at a later stage. It is apparent that Steinbeck has often done this to help the reader identify and understand the effects of Lennie’s mental disabilities. George is an assertive and certainly influential character and it is clear that Lennie puts his utmost trust into him. This is reinforced when George exclaims, “Get ‘im, Lennie!” which ignites Lennie into crushing Curley’s hand. Even in the aftermath of this event, Lennie whimpers, “You tol’ me to, George,” which shows no depth in his decision and simply implies that Lennie did this only because of George. The huge difference in character works convincingly in the beginning but as it turns out, the two inevitably crash and burn.

Throughout the novel, we as readers are constantly reminded of the fact that Curley’s wife is a hated character and the fact that she has the role of Curley’s wife ensures that she is not popular amongst the labourers – they are not afraid to express their negative comments. This is evident when the Stable Buck angrily confronts her for entering his explicitly colour-segregating space. It is easy to recognise that regardless of whether he was right or wrong, the Stable Buck had no right to confront Curley’s wife. Firstly, she is the daughter-in-law of the boss and she can easily create problems for him – this is shown when she threatens to hang him for stepping out of line. Secondly, he is a black man in the early 20th century. The vast majority of his employers will be of a white ethnic background and it hadn’t been even a hundred years since slavery was abolished in 1865. Racial discrimination was common which means the Stable Buck would appear somewhat illogical to stand up to his white superior, but, however, this shows that he is explicitly not afraid of Curley’s wife – Steinbeck recognises this and ensures that the reader understands that no one will abuse the role of Curley’s wife, but it is clear she is disrespected and disliked.

Subsequently, we are introduced to Curley’s wife’s loneliness and lack of happiness within her marriage – thus once more, we as readers can relate as we know not to judge a book by its cover. Her suffering is unfortunately the result of a significant event in the book and we are reminded that she could cause trouble with her constant seduction of others. We know that she could cause problems, as clearly shown by George’s reminder to Lennie not to interact with her. She seeks someone to talk to in Lennie – which turns out disastrously. Steinbeck has cleverly interlinked the two together and thus proving how Lennie’s childlike qualities are used to create interesting problems for him and George. It is clear that John Steinbeck has used a wide range of unique and clever techniques to enhance the reading experience for readers of “Of Mice and Men”. The book has been globally recognised for its raw quality and evergrowing interest, and is a read that Steinbeck clearly put blood, sweat and tears into – which is expected as it is about his native Salinas, California. From child-like Lennie to Curley’s wife, “Of Mice and Men” is a book which truly deserves its high commendation.

Thabiso Mupfiga (8OSW) 763580

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