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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. Compare and contrast the characters 'Curley's Wife' from Of Mice and Men and Mally from Malachi's Cove

    Malachi's Cove on the other hand was set in Victorian England. Mally (short for Mahala) lived with her grandfather in a cottage on the Northern coast of Cornwall between Tintagel and Bossiney. Old Glos (Mally's grandfather) had lived and worked here for many years, earning his living by saving seaweed from the waves and selling it for manure. Due to his old age and bad health, he could no longer do the work. So, it was now Mally who took on the responsibilities. Anthony Trollope, the author of Malachi's Cove describes Mally as a "wild looking, almost unearthly creature" whereas Curley's wife was described with feminine attractions.

    • Word count: 2428
  2. "One" - Creative writing.

    A memory formed in his mind. The morning rally echoed out over the barracks. George woke up and sat on the side of his bed. Still dark outside, he thought, as he glanced at his watch. Five thirty- what was going on? Someone knocked at the door, and came in. It was Mark, Georges best mate. They had joined the army together, about a year back. Mark was from Liverpool and was the funniest person in George's squad. "Whadd'ya reckons going on then?" asked Mark in his thick scouse. "Dunno", replied George, still half awake.

    • Word count: 2391
  3. An assessment of the first section of the 1992 film

    In the following pages George and Lennie's conversation and behaviour helps the reader learn that the two are migrant ranch workers, on their way to one job to another. They are going to work on a ranch in Soledad and George makes it clear he is to do all the talking when they arrive; George angrily discovers that Lennie has been concealing a dead mouse ("I could pet it with my thumb while we walked along") This informs the reader that Lennie likes to pet soft things, which is to be carefully noted in light of future (and past)

    • Word count: 2685
  4. Of mice and men - How far was it from becoming reality? The George and Lennie dream.

    This was the 'American Dream', a little house or land that belonged to them. On that land or in that house they can have what the want and no one can tell them how to act and behave. The dream is basically about three things, doing what you want, when you want. No one can tell you what to do. If there were other people staying with them they would have each other for companionship and friendship, which George and Lennie already have but many of the ranchmen want. Steinbeck also shows that the dream was only ever a dream and it never became reality for George, Lennie or any of the ranchmen.

    • Word count: 2074
  5. Discuss the lives that George, Lennie and the other migrant workers lead in Of Mice and Men.

    Curley is a bully and immediately provokes a fight with Lennie. Curley's hand is then crushed by Lennie's uncontrollable strength. Curley has a new young wife who is lonely and craves attention from the other ranch hands. In the penultimate chapter of the novel, Lennie who likes to stroke 'nice things', but usually ends up killing them because of his physical strength and mental immaturity, is involved in a tragedy with Curley's wife when they are alone in the barn together. From this point in the story the action moves quickly to its final climax where George is faced with the impossible dilemma of how to save Lennie from a lynch mob led by the vengeful Curley.

    • Word count: 2114
  6. Compare the opening sections of the two films versions of Of Mice and Men - the 1939 black and white film starring Lon Chaney Junior and Burgess Meredith, and the 1981 colour version starring Randy Quaid and Robert Blake.

    Having horses would be impossible in the 1939 film because it is shot in the studio and it would have been very hard for them to shoot a chase with horses in. There is a very different use of music in the opening sections, in the 1939 film there is little use of music and it does not change during the chase however the 1981 film uses music very obviously to "make the viewing more pleasurable." Whenever George and Lennie are on shot the music is all jumpy as if the characters are being chased (which they are!)

    • Word count: 2300
  7. To what extent is Of Mice and Men a pessimistic novel?

    Together, as they travel from place to place looking for their chance at making their dream a reality, they use each other's strong points to help them complete the task. Lennie would never be able to survive on his own because of his mental disabilities and George would almost certainly not be aiming to reach his dream were he not travelling around with Lennie. George has plenty of brainpower while Lennie has plenty of strength, what one is lacking the other has an ample amount of.

    • Word count: 2842
  8. Steinbeck: Diverse Cultures.

    The introduction of the novel includes an image of this new Eden, the 'willows fresh and green with every spring'. Unfortunately we find out it is autumn when he describes the crispy, dead leaves. Some of the religious individuals thought America was like a new paradise, just like the one in the holy bible - It was at first so green and beautiful but then Adam and Eve spoilt it by going against God's commands so God made men live on Earth and as individuals they have to work for survival.

    • Word count: 2207
  9. Comparing Of Mice and Men & The Pearl.

    There was no employment money and no support for those who were jobless. People lost their savings and many began to lose self-respect and became desperate. Thousands struggled to find work after banks went bust along with their savings. This was probably the main reason why "Of Mice & Men" was written in 1936, during the time of mass unemployment and when shares were lower than before. Steinbeck thought people should have stability in their lives. He was concerned about how people were living and wanted others to know how migrants life was like, he didn't feel it was right.

    • Word count: 2831
  10. ‘Of Mice and Men’ – Are all the characters in this novel lonely?

    Lennie is mentally handicapped and relies very much on George to make decisions for him. George however is stronger mentally and has a lot of power over Lennie although he relies on Lennie to keep him company and safe. "They had walked in single file down the path, and even in the open one stayed behind the other", this quotation represents the power within their relationship; George is the leader and has psychological control over Lennie. Their friendship is like a father and son relationship, George dominates Lennie and sometimes teaches him a lesson "You never oughta drink water when it ain't running, Lennie", but is still always nice to him "Good boy".

    • Word count: 2021
  11. Lennie needs George. Does George need Lennie?

    This links with Lennie's slow wit and irrationality, revealing that he is heavily dependent on George for this reason. George takes on this 'parental' role comfortably. George seems also to be Lennie's role model, due to imitations- "imitated George exactly". Steinbeck shows more evidence of reliance in George's decision-making regarding basic essentials, such as when to eat, where to sleep... For example, it is George who decides the pair will sleep 'al-fresco'- "Tonight I'm going to lay here". Lennie's constant struggle through mental difficulties prevents him from living alone.

    • Word count: 2292
  12. Compare and contrast 'Of Mice And Men' and 'The Pearl' looking especially at how Steinbeck has interwoven the social and political concerns of that time.

    The first book we read, 'The Pearl', had two main characters, these were Kino - the man of the family who was husband to Juana and together had a baby boy called Coyotito. The book begins with a description of the scenery and of the daily routine of the family. The story really starts when Coyotito gets stung by a scorpion. Juana takes control of the situation and in turn does a heroic thing by asking for the doctor. Of course the doctor refuses to go down to the brush houses, so when the family decide to go to the doctor, the whole village goes with them for support.

    • Word count: 2613
  13. Hopes and dreams are important in "Of Mice and Men." Discuss.

    This is one of the main themes Steinbeck wrote about. His novella tells the story of two migrant workers (suffering from the Depression) who had one dream - The American Dream. This dream was shared by many workers, all wanting a small plot of land, where they can work for themselves and have something of their own. Unfortunately for the characters in Steinbeck's novella their dream ended in grief, as told of in the poem. George and Lennie (the tow main characters) were just like any other workers migrant workers.

    • Word count: 2679
  14. Describe and comment upon the film "Of Mice and Men" (biased on the novel by John Steinbeck) directed by Gary Sinise.

    We soon realize that the man sitting in the train is George but he is not with Lennie you can also hear emotional violin music. Here the director Gary Sinise has used the use of shadows and music very well to make the opening scene more dramatic and mysterious then the book. Immediately you can see the first main difference in the film from the book. At the start of the book Steinbeck starts of by describing the scenery in this valley by a river and at the beginning of the book unlike the film George in walking and Lennie is with him but we do not know where they are from or where they are going.

    • Word count: 2134
  15. Consider the theme of loneliness in the novel 'Of Mice and Men'. How does it affect the friendships and relationships in the novel?

    Ironically the word Soledad means loneliness which is one of the main themes in the novel. The two main characters in the story are George and Lennie. They are both migrant labourer workers who keep each other company throughout. Their features are very different as George small with a dark face and has very definitive features with 'restless eyes.' Lennie is a huge man with large, pale eyes 'sunken' into a shapeless face with sloping shoulders. Steinbeck uses a lot of animal similes when talking about Lennie, 'and he walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws.'

    • Word count: 2860
  16. "Soledad " means loneliness discuss how loneliness affects characters in the novel.

    "We'll have a big vegetable patch and a rabbit hutch and chickens". George is Lennie's friend. George is "small and quick dark of face, with restless eyes". Lennie is a "huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes". George and Lennie's friendship is a theme all the way through the book, it is a unique friendship, as none of the other ranch hands travel with anyone else. They are good friends because they share the same dream and believe that it will come true. Lennie looks up to George in the same way a child would.

    • Word count: 2542
  17. OF Mice and Men - Revision notes.

    Plot The story begins when George and Lennie prepare to arrive at a ranch to work - and ends in tragedy just four days later. During those four days, we learn not only about the friendship and dreams George and Lennie share, but about a small community of lonely people on the ranch - all of whom are affected by the events. The story is told in the third person, so we are provided with a clear, unbiased view of all the characters.

    • Word count: 2779
  18. Why do George and Lennie travel together?

    George is not a strong man physically, but what he lacks physically he makes up for mentally. "The first man was small and quick, dark of face, with restless eyes and sharp, strong features. Every part of him was defined: small strong hands, slender arms, a thin and bony nose." The above quotation symbolizes George, and George in turn symbolizes a way of life. The first section of the quote "The first man..." suggests that George is the leader of the two.

    • Word count: 2336
  19. Discuss the theme of loneliness in the novel 'Of Mice and Men' by looking at the characters 'Crook, Candy and Curly's wife'.

    Crooks is annihilated due to his race which in the period when the book was written, segregation was rampant. The reader learns exactly what Crooks feels about his treatment: 'I ain't wanted in the bunkhouse... Cause I'm black... I can't play [cards] because I'm black. They say I stink.' This outburst signifies the loneliness he feels. He is ostracised due to his race and is not allowed to participate in any activities. Unlike the other characters that experience loneliness, the reader feels that his isolation is the most extreme, as he is black, which automatically relegates him to a low class.

    • Word count: 2515
  20. How does john Steinbeck prepare us for lennie's death?

    He might not be lucky enough to escape and this might cause a tragic end. For this same reason, George sets up brush as a place Lennie has to come to if he gets in trouble. "Hide in the Brush". This suggests to the reader that trouble is inevitable as George is instructing Lennie what to do if things go wrong. Subsequently the tension and pressure starts to build up for the reader as George and Lennie arrive on the ranch.

    • Word count: 2007
  21. Loneliness is one of the most vital themes of the book "Of Mice and Men."

    George and Lennie try to prevent loneliness setting their sights on a farm of their own were they can "live off the fat of the land." This dream is what keeps them going prevented them form feeling lonely. Almost all of the characters in "Of Mice and Men" have experienced or are experiencing loneliness in the story but some are less affective than others. A good example of this type of loneliness is in the character of Curley's Wife. Curley's Wife is enormously desperate to talk somebody about anything, from the farm or not.

    • Word count: 2028
  22. Importance of Dreams in Of Mice and Men.

    If George and Lennie save their money and don't get 'canned' (fired from their jobs) it seems that the three of them would really be able to achieve their dream. Lennie's dream also affects Crooks, the stable buck. Lennie shares his dream with him and for a moment even Crooks has a vision of a better life. Candy doesn't have much hope at the start of the story, but when he meets Lennie and George and finds out what they are planning, he suddenly sees how his future could be different. Candy is most worried about being useless.

    • Word count: 2296
  23. Inner Eye.

    "I've been stuck on level eighteen for a month," said George. "Try to catch up!" Before Izzy had a chance to make some kind of smart-alec quip that he was famous for, Mr Ball, their balding form tutor appeared and led them into the class. The class filed through the door and sat down. They all talked and laughed as Mr Ball set up his computer. George was a stocky boy with short brown hair and an ivory complexion. Izzy on the other hand was taller and thinner than George, with curly blonde hair, grey eyes and a mass of freckles.

    • Word count: 2411
  24. Loneliness and Dreams in Mice of men.

    It makes the reader wonder why he even stays with Lennie if he feels so overwhelmed with the responsibility of looking out for Lennie. George is a thinker he sees how bitter other men on the ranch have become through their loneliness; George knows that staying with Lennie stops him from being truly lonely. He also has protection from Lennie because he knows he is safe when he has a big guy like Lennie as his friend. Looking out for Lennie gives him a purpose, a reason, a role in his life he gets the satisfaction of knowing he is needed.

    • Word count: 2168
  25. Critical evaluation - John Steinbeck-Of Mice and Men and Robert Ludlum-The Bourne Identity.

    Ludlum was educated privately and at the Chesire Academy, Connecticut. After appearing is school theatricals, he acted in the comedy Junior Miss on Broadway at the age of sixteen. His degree includes: B.A., Wesleyan University, Middletown, 1951. Having never graduated from Stanford University, Steinbeck's life for the most part was low profile even after the publishing of his first books, "Cup of Gold" (1929), "The Pastures of Heaven" and "To a God Unknown", which were all inadequately acknowledged by the literary world.

    • Word count: 2150

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