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AS and A Level: John Steinbeck
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John Steinbeck's biography
- 1 John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California in 1902. His family owned land in the area so he spent a lot of time outdoors and had a strong appreciation for the natural world.
- 2 Most of his early work is set in Southern California and describes the life of people working on the land. Many of his novels, including Of Mice and Men, are set in this area and portray the lives of working men and women. The natural world he describes is beautiful, but it is also wild and can be cruel and savage.
- 3 In his early novels Steinbeck portrays a world of men, and violence is a common occurrence. His female characters have little status, reflecting the role of women at the time.
- 4 During the war years Steinbeck worked for the American government and in 1943 he went to Europe as a war correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune. He lived the latter part of his life in New York where he died in 1968.
- 5 The title of Of Mice and Men is taken from Robert Burns’ famous poem To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough (1785). The last line of the poem refers to things often going wrong and Steinbeck links this to the poor men whose plans were often wrecked by an unkind fate.
Five facts about 'Of Mice and Men'
- 1 It was first published in America in 1937. In the same year it was adapted as a stage play and later as a film. The novel is short and has only a few characters. There are no chapters but the action is broken up into six distinct parts which made it easy to adapt for the stage.
- 2 The novel is set in the 1930s which was a period of economic depression. During this time of failed businesses, harsh poverty and long-term unemployment, hoards of migrant workers went to California in search of work. Men travelled alone, moving from ranch to ranch on short-term, poorly paid contracts.
- 3 By setting the novel on the ranch, Steinbeck shows the reader a microcosm of 1930s American society and portrays the life of the migrant workers in California at the time of the depression. Workers, like George and Lennie, were hoping to earn enough money to settle down on their own piece of land.
- 4 Steinbeck has a distinctive style and structure; the novel starts and finishes with the same description and setting, and each section opens with a specific description of a scene which establishes the setting of place and mood.
- 5 As each character enters we get a brief physical description of him/her. Aspects of the characters are conveyed through their actions, their dialogue and how they respond to each other.
Writing about 'Of Mice and Men'
- 1 When studying the novel it is important to know the social, cultural and historical background of the text. Having this knowledge will help you better understand why Steinbeck has included his characters and how they relate to the themes.
- 2 Characters in the text are revealed through a variety of stylistic features: description, narrative style and how they communicate with each other. All of these features are so that the reader can empathise with the characters.
- 3 There are several themes running throughout the novel: loneliness, friendship, isolation, prejudice, and dreams; and you must understand how the themes are woven through the text and how they link directly to the characters and the society portrayed in the novel. For example, Curley’s wife links to the theme of loneliness because she is the only woman on the ranch and has no-one with whom to talk.
- 4 You must be able to analyse how Steinbeck has used language to create effects – some of his description and storytelling reads almost like stage directions through which he creates a strong sense of atmosphere and mood. This analysis of language is needed to achieve a high grade.
- 5 You must develop your own critical sense and personal response to the novel, showing that you have thought about it, and that you have ideas and reactions of your own, not just those of your teacher. You must never write to a formula or try to recreate an essay you have previously done; you must approach every essay with a fresh, open mind.
- Marked by Teachers essays 1
- Peer Reviewed essays 5
It is human nature to dream of a better life, this longing for something better is a theme of The Pearl but as with most of these tales it ends in tragedy for the seeker of the better life. Finding the pearl allowed Kino to fight against his destiny. To change the natural order of his life. To step out of his culture and his society. With the pearl comes hope, the promise of comfort and security but this has to be balanced with the dangerous and disastrous effects of stepping out of the established system.
- Word count: 2523
George came over and introduced them, "Hi, I'm George and this big fella' here is Lennie." Lennie then tried whispered something to George but I heard every word, "George, George, ask him 'bout dem dogs, please George?" George looked a bit embarrassed. "Candy tells us you got some new born pups. If there's one goin' spare, you reckon Lennie could have it?" George asked. "Yeah sure you can Lennie," I said "Come by the barn later and you can pick one out." He went all shy, with a smile from ear to ear, almost like a little kid.
- Word count: 2075
As the conversation went on, Carlson said thoughtfully, "Well looka here, Slim. I been thinkin'. That dog of Candy's is so god-damn old he can't walk. Stinks like hell, too...Why'n't you get Candy to shoot his old dog and give him one of the pups to raise up..." The first conversation showed the readers that Candy's dog was going to die, especially since Carlson disliked it, and had nothing good to say about it. Slim did not reply back to Carlson's question, which shows there was an uneasy feeling running through the characters.
- Word count: 2780
Of mice and men - Show how the constant suggestion and realisation of anger and violence makes this a gripping story.
First Lennie neglects where they are going and George constantly has to prompt him, corresponding to that George detects Lennie's got a inanimate mouse in his pocket but the only reason George is mad at this point is, as the reader finds out later on in the book, Lennie does not know his own strength, even though he loves 'pettin' small animals such as mice, he keeps exterminating them, "... You've broke it pettin' it.... you always killed 'em." All this about the dead mouse is significant to the manslaughter of Curley's wife, whom due to the sexist character of the male workers on the ranch has not been given a name.
- Word count: 2911
I remember the old days when I use to swimming in the lake on those hot summer days, but I would go near it now with all the pollution, which has been pumped, into it. "Where are we going to start our search?" George asked " On the top floor, follow me" I locked the car and headed to the door. Weeds and insects have taken over the hotel now. Nettles grew up from the floorboards. We entered... Outside the rain stopped, but how long I asked myself The hotel was very quite accepted of the noises of the insects, too quite in my opinion.
- Word count: 2507
How does the beginning of 'Of mice and men' differ from chapters one and two of the novel? Why do you think these changes have been made? How successful do you think the start of the film is?
Candy shows the men to their bunkhouse, which is very basic. Lennie and George meet the boss of the ranch who is angry with them for not being at the ranch the night before, so they could work the next morning like their wok cards told them to. Lennie has a run in with the boss's son Curley who sets on Lennie when he doesn't say anything to him, as George told Lennie the previous night to keep his mouth shut. George and Lennie meet Slim and the other characters from the ranch.
- Word count: 2129
Its safe and hidden away so I could easily find him! But if it comes to that, if he messes up again. I'll kill him, I'm sure I will. I've had my full of him and I don't think I have much patience left! Oh yeah, he made me tell him yet again about the house we're gonna get. Him and his rabbits. He always makes me remind him about our house and his damned rabbits! I love thinking about what our life will be like too when we get the house but he drives me crazy, having to remind him every two seconds.
- Word count: 2883