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GCSE: John Steinbeck

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Who is John Steinbeck?

  1. 1 John Steinbeck (1902-1968) was one of greatest American writers of the 20th century.
  2. 2 He was born in Salinas, California. The majority of his novels are set in the area and have authentic sense of place.
  3. 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. 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. 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'

  1. 1 Dreams
    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. 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.
  3. 3 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.
  4. 4 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

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  1. Discuss the importance of dreams in the play.

    Advertising was being used for the very first time, on billboards, radio and even television. Mass production enabled wider availability, and salesmen were being used less and less as people bought on credit at nation-wide stores. Some people managed to be successful within this society. Others suffered from increased pressure to succeed and a feeling of inadequacy and disappointment if they were not earning enough and are therefore were unable to buy the best of everything. Capitalist society also led to people being laid off when they were no longer financially useful, as happens to Willy in the play.

    • Word count: 2994
  2. Contrast The American Dream With The Real Life Of The Migrant Worker

    Workers do not have any rights such as sickness payments, old age pensions etc, from their ranch. So when workers retire they have a very grim future in prospect. To be able to work, workers were issued with work cards from the local job agencies. The work cards were only given if a ranch boss wanted new workers. Work cards were important as it gave them a work permit. Workers also feared the sack, which was the case if someone done something wrong. The had no choice of menus as meals were cooked by other workers. If they wanted a different meal they would have to go outside the ranch in the town which workers have to pay for themselves.

    • Word count: 2931
  3. Why did the political influence of the Crown become more controversial after 1760?

    It has often been asserted that George set out to recover to prerogative lost to the ministerial council by his ancestors, and that he methodically set about weakening the Whig party by coercion, bribery and patronage. However, the appointment of Bute, although sometimes perceived as George's first step towards attempted control of the Commons, was in fact motivated by the best of concerns. George had always been lacking in self-confidence, a feature of his reign, and to counter this he imposed upon himself a strict code of personal conduct.

    • Word count: 2204
  4. On the Of Mice and Men Ranch

    I have been here most of my life. So I know everything about the ranch and the people who live on it. My first impressions of George were that he was a fairly clever man and suspicious. He did not like his bed because he thought it was infested with grey-backs. Lennie is very childlike and I think George assumes a father role over him. He is a hell of a nice fellow is George, very protective over Lennie though.

    • Word count: 2327
  5. Of Mice and Men

    They are the victims of the strange society. In this essay I will be investigating the reasons why these characters are lonely in more depth by looking at each character more carefully. Crooks is probably the loneliest character in the book because he is very different from other ranch workers. He is old, disabled and the only black man in the book who lives in a racism society. As a result of this, he is isolated in his own room in the barn and is not allowed to go into or stay in the bunkhouse with the other ranch workers. Therefore he has no one to talk to.

    • Word count: 2206
  6. May’s unhappiness

    Reputations come and go however and May's real dream was show business. Ever since she first went to the cinema she was obsessed. Anyone who could tell her about Hollywood or was even the slightest bit related to the film industry she would bombard with questions about how she could get into the business. There was only one problem with her passion, men at that time knew an opportunity when they saw one and often made promises which weren't true to get "ahead" if you know what I mean.

    • Word count: 2976
  7. A comparative study of Curley’s Wife in Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men and Sophy Twycott in Hardy’s “The Son’s Veto”.

    She is separated from society, from the companionship of other women. Steinbeck puts the entire novella into a period of a few days. In this time he gives a large amount of information about the various characters through 'informants' who supply information to other characters, but at the same time to the reader. Curley's Wife plays a very subsidiary role for most of the novella, but becomes more important towards the final scene, during which she dies. Her role in the story is more subtle, with her being referred to by most characters, but taking a backseat role to the two main characters, George Milton and Lennie Small.

    • Word count: 2099
  8. A Comparison of Great Expectations and of Mice and Men

    Although these two men are very different they both share one dream of settling down at their own place. "We'll have a vegetable patch and a rabbit hut and chickens" This dream gives them a very strong bond with each other and you can imagine how they need each other to keep them motivated and dreaming of their house. Even though George always complains about Lennie. "If I didn't have you on my tail I could live so easily and maybe have a girl" This shows us that even though they are good friends George often gets tired of Lennies antics as he is so childlike and can be difficult to control.

    • Word count: 2443
  9. Consider the theme of loneliness in the novel, 'Of Mice and Men'.

    He was the 'stable buck', and was discriminated against by the other workers. Just because he was black, they looked down on him as inhuman and treated him like an animal. Obviously he had no friends on the ranch and was the most desolate person there. He lived in the stables on his own, and he had a crooked back, hence the nickname 'Crooks'. Curley's wife was also lonely, mainly because she was the only other girl on the ranch and to get attention she flirted with all the other guys.

    • Word count: 2322
  10. Of Mice and Men

    Of Mice and Men is a story based on two men who travel America together looking for work. George travels with his mentally handicapped friend called Lennie. The pair of them has nothing of their own, only the clothes they stand in and each other. Together they share a dream, that one day they will own some land of their own. They find work in a ranch in Satinas Valley, California. They meet of few people on the ranch but find it hard to make new friends. Their dream is soon ruined as Lennie misunderstands the difference between love and cruelty and becomes a victim of his own strength and power.

    • Word count: 2291
  11. Analyze in detail how Of Mice and Men,by John Steinbeck reveals what life waslike for migrant ranch workers during theAmerican Depression of the 1930s

    They got no family. They don't belong no place.' Because of a vast amount of suspicion on the ranch the workers often chose a solitary existence. It also made relationships between the workers very shallow. It would seem that the majority of the workers could not forge a meaningful relationship. Yet, it wasn't just the workers who felt lonely. Curley's wife also displays loneliness: 'I get awful lonely'...'You can talk to people, but I can't talk to nobody but Curley.'

    • Word count: 2389
  12. Of Mice And Men Essay – How Different Events in the Novel Prepare you for the Ending.

    So, we know its only a matter of time until he kills a human. Whit, is like the grim reaper. I don't know where it is by coincidence but he arrives when something/someone dies. Therefore, when he arrives to second time, we can the guess that Lennie will die. Lennie symbolises Candy's dog, because Lennie is useless and no good to anyone. This is almost on the same as candy's dog. And as candy's dog gets shot, we know that either George or someone else is going to kill Lennie. Progressively through the novel, we get more and more reminded of the fact that Lennie is sentimental, he likes touching soft things.

    • Word count: 2303
  13. Discuss the hopes of the characters and consider the implication for the book as a whole and in particular, where do you think Slim fits into the story?

    Many of them are aiming to succeed with the "American Dream", this is an ambition to live independently in their own patch of land in their own farm and house, but not all is straight forward as many of the characters at first fail to realise, a mistake that lead them to a sad ending. The main characters George and Lennie make up the base of the story. It follows their struggle to achieve their dream, a dream they underestimate very badly.

    • Word count: 2438
  14. Compare two characters who you think are 'outsiders' - one from 'Of Mice and Men' and one from 'The Stolen Bacillus'

    He suffered from being a social outcast; everyone looked down at him, showing a kind of idealogical prejudice. 1930's California was the time of the Great Depression / Recession. There was mass unemployment and every man was egocentric. They were scared of each other 'You're all scared of each other, that's what. Ever one of you's scared the rest is goin to get something on you' This is Curley's wife commenting on people's attitudes at the time. California was full of ranches; this is where a lot of people worked. Life for them was hard. They worked for long hours for little pay.

    • Word count: 2508
  15. 'All characters in the novel ‘Of Mice and Men’ are either lonely, bored or in need of escaping from the soulless existence of the itinerant labour.' Discuss

    The bunkhouse also had lice and roaches in it! Carlson and the other ranch hands all dream of owning their own land and living and working from this, resulting in wealth and happiness. This was known as the 'American Dream', this is shown as an opportunity to all people no matter how rich or poor they are. There is a lot of government propaganda, informing people that if they work hard and push their ambitions to the limit, they can make this dream reality.

    • Word count: 2456
  16. Why is Lennie responsible for his own actions in "Of Mice And Men"?

    his aim to achieve their dream but becomes irresponsible towards the end of the novel following the tragic death of Curley?s wife . Steinbeck begins and ends the novel by the pool in the river. Steinbeck compared Lennie to a bear in his initial description. Bears can be viewed as fluffy and comical, but it also suggests a hidden danger and unknown strength as bears can kill .Steinbeck illustrated how Lennie likes to stroke soft things, but inadvertently killed the mouse when he was stroking it because he could not control his own strength and had no idea what he had done to the little animals.

    • Word count: 2561
  17. How does Steinbeck explore different attitudes to women in Of Mice and Men?

    Curley?s wife, the only female character that plays a real role in the novel, is the perfect example of the early 20th century wife. Steinbeck shows her as having limited roles on the ranch and being Curley?s possession. She has not given a name. She is known as ?Curley?s wife? being presented as belonging to her husband without having an identity on her own. During the Great Depression, husbands treated their wives with little respect and women?s main role was to cook, clean the house and raise the children.

    • Word count: 2966
  18. Explore the presentation of Curley's wife in "Of Mice and Men".

    Steinbeck enables the reader to see Curley?s Wife through Candy?s eyes on their first encounter with her. Further into section two we get a better understanding of Curley?s wife appearance. This reinforces the reader?s thoughts about her. Steinbeck uses the colour red which supports candy?s idea of her being a tart. The colour red is sexualised. Steinbeck repeats the word red many times throughout the passage of her Characterizations. He states her having ?full rouged lips? and ?her finger nails were red? red is a bright colour this suggest that curley?s wife wants attention from the other men on the ranch.? She has red mules? and ?red ostrich feathers? these are expensive so she is trying to impress the men and ostriches are exotic animals, which could her influence her wild side.

    • Word count: 2606
  19. Of Mice and Men - Disadvantaged Characters

    In addition to this bigotry towards non-whites, Crooks is paralysed. ?Crooks? begets the most repellent yet lifelike image of what life was like in the depression: its confidences, trepidations, and inequalities. Curley?s wife reinforces this with a certain dispute she had with Crooks: "Listen, Nigger, you know what I can do to you if you open your trap? ?Well, you keep your place then, Nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain't even funny.? Curley?s wife is irate with her own solitude and as a consequence exerts her antagonism by ridiculing Crooks and acting malevolently towards him.

    • Word count: 2105
  20. How does Steinbeck explore different attitudes towards women in 'Of Mice and Men'?

    Maybe her name isn?t needed and she is just a key plot device? The apostrophe in ?Curley?s? suggests that she ?belongs? to Curley as if she is just an object. Also, when we find out that Curley?s glove is ?fulla vaseline?, it implies that he likes ?petting? his wife, just like Lennie like petting dogs, mice and rabbits. This suggests that Curley thinks of his wife like an animal. It also gives the implication that he needs to please her but there is no love in their relationship. Curley is proud of his wife, especially when she makes others envious of him.

    • Word count: 2422

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