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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. 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.

    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
  2. The world of the ranch is tough and lonely; there is no place for women and no place for friendship. Discuss Steinbeck's depiction of ranch life in "Of Mice and Men"as experienced by George and Lennie.

    George looks out for Lennie. George never wavers, disappears, or forgets on his commitment to Lennnie. The strange relationship highlights the importance of relationship in a novel, and the other characters are lonely and have no commitments to relationships. The story takes place after the Great Depression of 1929 and the climatic changes between 1880 and 1930 that resulted in the destruction of fertile land which forced many to lead the harsh life of George and Lennie. This meant that hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs, business failed and financial institutions collapsed. Wages for workers who were lucky enough to have jobs fell drastically.

    • Word count: 2321
  3. My dream and where it would take me.

    - Storm arises, wind is fierce and swells are great. I am very alone and although before I appreciate the solitude, now I am terrified - I feel blind, entirely helpless, requires use of new sense: touch and hearing - Fog lets up and I am able to sight a protected inlet on shore - I avoid the rocks and pull My Dream on to shore - I reach land and leave it up to the reader to imagine how I get home, not vital to the topic/plot development - I reach home, Nana is not worried, she knew all along that My Dream would bring me safely home *

    • Word count: 2249
  4. How does Hansberry write about dreams in ‘ A Raisin in the Sun’?

    The carpet is threadbare and faded; the furniture upholstery has been covered and the apartment is so overcrowded that Travis, the young son of Walter Lee and Ruth, has to sleep on the living-room sofa. The family poverty is so dire that the ten-year old boy has to struggle to get fifty cents out of his mother or offer to earn the money by carrying groceries for shoppers at the local supermarket. The horrible poverty despite, an audience would observe a proud, law-abiding family held together by Walter and Beneatha's sixty-year old mother, Mama Lena Younger, whose manner portrays dignity and a set of values that date back many years.

    • Word count: 2246
  5. Dear Diary.

    My mind wandered, and wondered about the reasons I have for staying here. I have many. I can't leave this place, even though it is the one place where I am always unhappy. It's just the fact that I'm a black man, I suppose. I haven't got any choices. It's either here or nowhere. It was silent as hell. I gazed up from my thoughts and realised Lennie, the new guy was standing in my doorway. I heard things like he was a big fella and everything but by god!

    • Word count: 2225
  6. Pretty woman is a conflicted tale about prostitution and dreams - how we prostitute ourselves to achieve our dreams - and how those dreams are defiled and compromised by our prostitution - Discuss.

    Whereas Vivian's dream is to make is dad jealous by becoming a successful business man and very wealthy. In both dreams the characters have to sacrifice different things to try and achieve their own dreams. Vivian has to sell her body as a prostitute to be able to afford the money to achieve her dream. Whereas Edward has had to sacrifice his soul and conscience to be able to get his dream, this means that he is able to develop lasting relationships.

    • Word count: 2242
  7. Immigrants dreamed of a better life in America.

    George and Lennie got their works cards from Murray and Ready's, one of these agencies. Lennie and George lived in the bunk-house, the place where most of the other migrant workers lived. The bunk-house has white-washed walls and an unpainted floor. Against the walls stand eight bunks, which are not very comfortable. Over every bunk is nailed an apple-box, in which the workers keep their personal belongings. In the middle of the room there is a table with boxes, where the workers can sit on. Inside the bunkhouse it is dark and dull. Each man's bunk is the same as the others.

    • Word count: 2788
  8. What differing views of heroes and heroism are explored in Mice and Men, and the Sexton’s Hero?

    It was not until the late 19th Century that the female figure became more independent. An example of this change is in 'Turned' by Charlotte Gilmore- Perkins where the well-educated Mrs Marroner leaves her husband and is able to support herself. Heroes and Heroines then moved into the modern day. They were now seen as people of any class who were willing to risk their own life, make sacrifices and stick to their principles. Cartoon heroes were also introduced in the modern day and although the modern view of a hero not having to be male prevailed, their heroism still evolved around strength and courage.

    • Word count: 2108
  9. How does the writer explore the idea of doomed aspirations in "of mice and men".

    "Of mice and men" opens with an extensive description of the Salinas River and the western American outback. These constant descriptions of nature and the characters surrounding are a key feature throughout the book. We then meet George and Lennie who are on their way to a new ranch, it obvious as soon as we meet them that lennie is mentally retarded and that George is looking after him. We are told of how they were chased out of weed for Lennie touching a girls dress and of George and Lennies American dream.

    • Word count: 2003
  10. Of Mice and Men.

    The dream is to be able to afford their own piece of land and live in peace and harmony, however the dream interprets two opposite trains of thought. For Lennie it means that he can look after the rabbits, therefore it creates a childish reality. For George he craves independence to make his individual character content, however George knows that this is a dream, he is not thinking about what will most likely happen. This was the case for many American ranch workers; they fulfilled these dreams by reading magazines with stories such as 'The Dark Rider'.

    • Word count: 2734
  11. Of Mice And Men - Character analysis.

    Skinning (for assorted reasons, mostly for making covers for things). 'Rassel' grain bags (this is simply loading BIG grain bags onto a truck to be taken away, usually 1 grain bag takes at least two men to lift it but Lennie can lift one by himself). Drive cultivators (these are machines that collect the grain). Load bales (this is pretty much the same as 'rasseling' grain bags except with hay bales). All involve hard physical work labour with little reward at the end of it but one mans nightmare, is another mans goal.

    • Word count: 2197
  12. Discuss how three or more important symbols add to your understanding of Of Mice and Men.

    Candy can lead a safe life, not having to worry about being "canned". Candy's stumped wrist is a result of an accident on the ranch. Candy is a prime example of being caught in the Migrant Worker's Cycle- moving to one job, before leaving and moving somewhere else. A link can therefore be established with George, and Lennie, who appear to have been traveling around working before the time of Of Mice and Men. This is another case of the cyclic nature of the novella, and a reflection of the American way of life in the 1930s.

    • Word count: 2187
  13. Vendetta, by Guy de Maupassant - The Wasteland, by Alan Paton - Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck - All of these texts use dramatic tension. Investigate the techniques the author uses to maintain the readers interest and create suspense.

    The authors can use the sense of time to create tension, by having the characters acting in a hurry or rush, or having several pieces of action happening at the same time, creating suspense. Confrontation between characters in the story is a method used to create tension. The reader knowing something about a character in the story that another character does not know yet is another way of making dramatic tension. All these methods can be used to create dramatic tension.

    • Word count: 2683
  14. Consider how the social and economic problems of the era contribute to the theme of loneliness in the novel?

    Also during this period of failed businesses, harsh poverty and long-term unemployment, hoards of migrant workers came to California from other parts of America in search of work. Throughout this book, Steinbeck portrays certain characters with specific stereotypes to demonstrate to us the typical personal opinions of people during this era and how negative opinions were socially acceptable at this time. In the opening chapter, Steinbeck introduces us to George and Lennie, they are two migrant labourers seeking work in California.

    • Word count: 2216
  15. Examine the theme of status in 'Of mice and men' - In what ways does the character status influence their actions?

    Although, George and Lennie still hold faith in the American dream, that one-day they will get their land. "Everyone wants a bit of land, not much Jus' something that was his." One character in `Of Mice and Men', who has an extremely low status, is Crooks. Crooks is intelligent but has no outlet. He is restricted because of his race and physique. "Crooks was a proud aloof man. He kept his distance and demanded that other people kept theirs" In Steinbeck's novel, we first hear about Crooks from Candy. "Ya see the stable bucks a nigger", this shows he is known to everyone as a `nigger'.

    • Word count: 2520
  16. In what ways does “Of mice and men” show how individuals can be hampered by the society in which they live?

    George's life of tough manual labour amounts to nothing, and he escapes from this reality by dreaming of what will be one day. George is drawn in to believing the dream he shares with Lennie, living the American dream. With promise of money from Candy, the dream seems soon to be complete. But the reality becomes clear at the end. Without Lennie's childlike enthusiasm to fulfil his dream- it will not happen. This shows how George is hampered by society.

    • Word count: 2390
  17. "The Country of the Blind' and 'Of Mice and Men' are very different stories, however there are similarities in the style, structure and themes explored".

    Both the novel and the novella begin in a similar style by setting the scene and the distance. 'Of Mice and Men' uses smaller distances such as 'A few miles south of Soledad', which makes the scenario it describes more believable in the mind of the reader, and therefore relates to the realist theme. In contrast 'The Country of the Blind' sets the story '300 hundred miles' away from the civilisation giving the novella a mythical remoteness, distancing the tale from the audience.

    • Word count: 2681
  18. Of Mice and Men - The film is severely different from the novel, as the director, Gary Sinise, made deliberate changes to influence the audience's feelings and reactions.

    Because of his "condition", he likes to keep mice. But once again his strength is a problem. When he's scared he holds onto things, so, when the mice bite him he crushes them to death. These problems echo through the story, Curly's hand, the pup and ultimately Curly's wife. There are three particular differences, the beginning and the end and Curly's wife. In the beginning of the novel, the author sets the scene quite vividly, and explains it in explicit detail. In the beginning of the film there are white credits on a black background this creates a sombre atmosphere.

    • Word count: 2046
  19. Comparing and Contrasting The Conflict Scenes in "Great Expectations" and "Of Mice and Men".

    We find out later that Magwitch is an escaped convict and so he was merely trying to get food. In of Mice and Men, however, we do know some past history behind the conflict. Curleys' wife is a flirt but Curley doesn't seem to realise this so when people say something about his wife he feels confronted and in this case he releases his aggression physically and he releases it on Lennie because he thinks that is the fight he is least likely to loose.

    • Word count: 2663
  20. Both of Mice and Men and The Mayor of Casterbridge end in tragedy. In what ways and to what extent do the characters in these novels contribute to their own downfalls? In you answer comment on and discuss the importance of dreams.

    Of Mice and Men is a compassionate story of the harsh realities of life for poor economic decline and high unemployment in Western industrialised nations. It is set in California in the mid 1930's. In America, the Depression began abruptly in October 1929 and lasted in to the mid 1930s. The Mayor of Casterbridge is set in Wessex which is an imaginary county based upon Hardy's upbringing in the south of England and his consequent life in Dorchester. This is also a county relying heavily on the work of the farming community for its opulence.

    • Word count: 2014
  21. 'Of Mice and Men' shows how factors beyond the characters' control prevent them from leading fulfilling lives. Discuss

    The cruel thing is that the employers in California had paid their original workers more than they paid the migrant workers, and the migrant workers only worked because they were so desperate. The employers took advantage of their situation for their own benefit. It was very much every man for himself in that time, though in this novel there is an exception, Lennie and George, who for Steinbeck are the stereotypical migrant workers. I believe George to be living a fulfilled life within the dream he shares with Lennie and, later on in the novel Candy: the popular American dream of the period, to own a piece of land and be entirely self-sufficient from that land.

    • Word count: 2132
  22. A classic example of socialism is John Steinbeck's

    Steinbeck, through his novel, brought the worst stories of America and showed them to the world. He did this in hope of spreading the idea of socialism. Steinbeck shows the spread of socialism through two main characters: Jim Casy and Tom Joad. He displays them as wanting, wanting a better life, wanting something more spiritually, wanting something more for "their folks". The only thing that seems to cure these wants and aches are social reforms funded by the government. The character who seems, from the beginning, to have such a want for these reforms is Jim Casy.

    • Word count: 2524
  23. What does the novel "Of mice and men" reveal about the situationof black people during the depression of the 1930's in the USA.

    By making Crooks have a crooked back which makes him continuously lent over and lower than the rest could be to show the way black people always had to look up at any white man and that they were at a very much lower social place then white men. But it could also be there to illustrate the heavy burden of white prejudice that black men had to cope with, I believe that he has a crooked back for a mix of both reasons.

    • Word count: 2348
  24. Comparison between Lennie Smalls and Isaac Statchard in these two texts, "Of Mice and Men" and "The Ostler".

    The U.S. economy had gone into depression six months earlier; the Great Depression may be said to have begun with a catastrophic collapse of stock-market prices on the New York Stock Exchange in October 1929. The result was a large decrease in output and large increase in unemployment. There are similarities linking the backgrounds of the two texts. The employment situation is similar as in "The Ostler" it is hard to get casual work and in America where "Of Mice and Men" is set work, is almost non-existent.

    • Word count: 2307
  25. Of Mice and Men - The character of Curley's wife can be regarded as a tragic figure in the story by John Steinbeck. But is she the only one?

    I think that Curley is a self centered man who cares about no one except himself. This influences on her a lot as well, I think that this is why she acts like she does. The only reason she did get married to Curley was to spite her mother. To answer the question fully I must first find out what the work 'tragic' means. The meaning is a) Disastrous; generally distressing; very sad. b) Of tragedy. So to answer the question fully I will have to explain how Curley's wife and a few other characters fit in to this description.

    • Word count: 2120

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