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GCSE: John Steinbeck
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Who is John Steinbeck?
- 1 John Steinbeck (1902-1968) was one of greatest American writers of the 20th century.
- 2 He was born in Salinas, California. The majority of his novels are set in the area and have authentic sense of place.
- 3 He was very left wing and joined Communist writers league. He refused to testify against his friend and fellow writer Arthur Miller during the MacCarthy anti-Communist trials.
- 4 Of Mice and Men is about migrant workers in the Great Depression of 1930s, which is the same theme as many of his other novels. Some critics have said his novels are too sympathetic to workers and are too critical of capitalism.
- 5 Of Mice and Men is a contemporary tragedy and follows some of the criteria established by Socrates for dramatic tragedies.
Themes in 'Of Mice and Men'
George wants be his own boss,
Lennie dreams of being with George,
Candy longs for security in his old age,
Crooks dreams of self-respect and acceptance,
Curley’s wife dreams of being an actress.
- 2 The American Dream – The right of everyone to be equal and to own their own home and live off the land. This is a critical issue as it is only a dream (rather than a plausible reality) for the majority of the characters.
Loneliness – It is the fear of loneliness which keeps Lennie and George together,
Crooks suffers from loneliness as he is excluded or at best tolerated because of his skin colour,
Curley’s wife’s loneliness forces her to flirt with the men because she is desperate for any attention. To stress this theme further, Steinbeck names the nearest town ‘Soledad’ which means 'loneliness' or 'solitude' in Spanish.
Powerlessness – All of the characters have a sense of their own lack of power, whether this is over their intellectual, economic or social circumstances.
Lennie ,who could be considered to be the least empowered character, has a great deal of physical power which leads to tragedy.
- 5 Lennie and George’s relationship – This is pivotal to the novel and it is necessary to understand the complexities of their familiar relationship, which is almost like that of a father and son.
Top tips for preparing to write an essay on 'Of Mice and Men'
- 1 You must read the text several times at least to make sure you know the characters, their relationships and how they are linked.
- 2 Consider how the ranch is a microcosm of 1930s American society and portrays the life of migrant workers in California at the time of the Depression.
- 3 Consider the significance of Steinbeck’s style and structure. Think about how the novel starts and finishes with the same setting and description. Consider how each chapter opens with a specific setting of place and mood.
- 4 Consider how Steinbeck engages the reader through a variety of stylistic features - description, narrative style and characterisation - so the reader is able to have empathy with the characters.
- 5 When writing essays for the new GCSE controlled assessments in English literature you should aim to write a response of around 400 words which should be well planned before you start to write.
- Marked by Teachers essays 43
- Peer Reviewed essays 19
This is evident in the conversation between Candy and George where the former says, ?Don?t tell Curley I said none of this. He?d slough me. He just don?t give a damn. Won?t ever get canned ?cause his old man?s the boss?. The fact that he ?just don?t give a damn? proves that Curley is unconcerned about the things he says and does, as he knows that no harm will come to him. He is sure of his inviolable status and that acts as a sense of security and satisfaction for him.
- Word count: 1014
With reference to the ways Steinbeck presents Curley, show how far you agree that he is a danger to others
He has to pick on the weak in society to make himself feel better. Another thing to note in Steinbeck?s presentation of the bunkhouse is that there were, ?small, square windows.? This use of alliteration emphasises that the bunkhouse must have been quite dim, representing an absence of hope. It also tells us that Curley prefers to hide in the shadows, striking when it is least expected. In this way the setting conveys that he is a danger to others. Furthermore, his actions are a key way to examine his character. The way Steinbeck presents his actions paints him as nothing more than an impulsive, short tempered scoundrel.
- Word count: 1082
With reference to how Steinbeck presents Lennie show how far you agree that Lennie is to blame for what happens to him.
Lennie cannot perceive these racial tensions that were so prevalent at the time. He is totally ignorant of reality, so therefore we cannot say what happened was his fault. Even though he does many things that would be considered wrong in that society, he never deliberately sets out to harm anyone. Elsewhere in the novel Steinbeck uses more settings to present Lennie. At the opening of the novel we are told that there were, ?Willows fresh and green?carrying in their lower leaf junctures the debris of the winter?s flooding.? This could symbolise George and Lennie: they keep trying to make a fresh start, but they will always be burdened by the debris of the past.
- Word count: 1149
Setting plays a pivotal role in Steinbecks Of Mice and Men, and it is used frequently to portray central themes, ideas and moods.
The bunkhouse is very elemental and the ?bare necessities? attributes it holds emphasises this tool like attitude towards the ranch hands. The description of the structure is that the walls were ?whitewashed and unpainted? ? just a protective coating on the walls to keep it structurally intact, not for decoration, but for the necessities of keeping the structure whole. The windows, for example are described as ?small? and ?square?, to cut the costs of expensive glass, and to hint at the idea of an enclosed space, like a prison, which signals the lack of hope associated with the itinerant workers, of which Lennie and George both are examples.
- Word count: 1136