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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 social and historical implications of the dreams of American migrant workers in the 1930s and compare the ways these are expressed through the media of Steinbeck's novel, cinema, stage and contemporary country music.

    During the course of the novel, we meet a character called Candy, a "tall, stoop-shouldered old man". Steinbeck immediately makes a point of that he is old and disabled, telling us that American society discriminates against the elderly - "I got hurt four year ago. They'll can me purty soon." The dog he owns is also old and "useless". The other workers decide to shoot the dog in the back of the head, simply because he "stinks" and is not helpful in work. Candy's dog was his only friend, and Steinbeck is telling us how profoundly cruel American society is.

    • Word count: 2720
  2. Death of a Salesman PC Version.

    he wants the dream but is not willing to work hard for it, he as a Loman believes things should happen for him. The American Dream is how success is measured in an American capitalist society. The belief in America is that if you work hard and believe in yourself then you will catch the dream, however Willy does not follow this, Willy believes that if you are good-looking and well liked then you will be successful and Miller suggests this is where the American Dream has its downfall.

    • Word count: 2579
  3. John Stienbeck (Nobel Prize winner) said that all his writing had the underlying message that people "should try to understand each other." This is particularly evident in the famous tale "Of Mice and Men".

    This gives us the impression that Lennie needs George because of his handicap. He would be all alone if he didn't have George and probably grow up to be ignorant and may hurt other people. For example in the beginning of the book he drinks some water out of a river that isn't running. George tells him he shouldn't drink water that isn't running because it may have bacteria in it. This is also the first time we see Lennie's admiration for George, Steinbeck shows us this by telling us "George drew up his knees and embraced them.

    • Word count: 2307
  4. Compare the experiences of Gertrude Lodge in "The Withered Arm" with those of Curley's wife in "Of Mice And men"

    Thomas Hardy's "The Withered Arm" is set during the years 1819-1825, in the small village of Holmstoke, Wessex. It too, is a working society, where the amount of money you earn is reflected in the standard of living you endure. Unlike "Of Mice And Men" the community is reasonably close, and has a rural setting, common to English countryside. Women are treated with slightly more respect than that of "Of Mice And Men", but are still regarded with little consideration, as can be seen from Farmer Lodge's lack in interest for his wife, as her arm deteriorates. The society they live in is an extremely superstitious one, where people such as conjurors and witches are believed to be in existence.

    • Word count: 2149
  5. To what extent is their dream typical of the time and what does John Steinbeck conclude in the novel as to the feasibility of pursuing dreams in 1930s America.

    They are also different from the other migrant workers ('the loneliest guys in the world1') in that 'I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you2.' As well as being different from that of other people and the other characters in the novel, the idea of the small farm means different things for George and Lennie. To George, it is the idea of being independent and free to do as they like. When discussing it with Candy and Lennie in the bunkhouse he says 'we wouldn't ask nobody if we could...we'd just go to her'3.

    • Word count: 2916
  6. For our media coursework we have been looking at a novel called 'Of Mice and Men', written by John Steinbeck and comparing two film versions.

    Hardly anyone could find work easily and many people were driven to become workers travelling from place to place not getting much money, like George and Lennie. Other problems of that time were that farming was easier, they used combine harvesters and other machinery, and so fewer men were needed to do the same jobs. Poor farming methods of that time meant that thousands of acres of farmland dried up rapidly, and became dry deserts. The landscape in the new film reflects the reality of the landscape more clearly and the viewers understood what it was like by watching it.

    • Word count: 2572
  7. "Guys like us, that work on ranches are the loneliest guys in the world" Discuss the significance of loneliness in Of Mice and Men.

    Companionship is a foreign aspect of life for him and he cannot understand it. Another character who remarks on this friendship is Slim who has a different opinion to the boss saying that he cannot understand why there aren't more friendships in this world and then he puts it down to 'the whole damn world being scared of each other' There are those who long for companionship such as Candy, Crooks and Curley's wife but generally the men on 'the ranch don't never listen nor he don't ast no questions' and they keep themselves to themselves.

    • Word count: 2233
  8. Hierarchies In Of Mice And Men

    Characters do not necessarily have to be at the same position in both of these hierarchies. For instance, Curley, the boss's son, is second highest in a power ranking, as he stands to inherit the entire ranch when the boss dies, and can quite easily get any worker "canned" for the slightest misdemeanour, or, more likely in the case of Lennie, simply being large. His ranking in a hierarchy of respect is close to the exact opposite - second or third from the bottom.

    • Word count: 2432
  9. The significance of Slim in 'Of Mice and Men' By John Steinbeck.

    For example Crooks is alone because he is a victim of racial prejudice, because he is black. Crooks, does not choose to be alone, but he is alone with no one to talk to. Also Candy is lonely because he is old. Steinbeck gives the impression that Slim is a character, which most of the men respect and the boss describes Slim as being "A big tall skinner". He seems to be his own boss, and no one can tell him otherwise.

    • Word count: 2399
  10. What anxieties and guilt does Craven experience during the story? And how does the atmosphere contribute to these feelings?

    The area attracts prostitutes and as he walks down the street, he can see the people in the cars looking out to see who they can pick up in the light drizzle. The reader also begins to feel sorry for Craven when he says, 'but you needed money for love. All that a poor man could get was lust.' You feel sorry for Craven because he does not have the money for love and can only get lust. Some readers may have interpreted this as self-pity.

    • Word count: 2164
  11. Of mice and men

    She looks like she has been attacked, although the dress is torn we only see a petty coat and not any flesh so this suggests that it might not have been sexual. But we can't really say for sure. The red dress represents passion so this says it could be sexual. We the see the two main characters running so we now think that they are connected to this. We never see this woman again in the whole of the story.

    • Word count: 2399
  12. A Comparison of the Final Chapter of "Mice & Men" and the Final Scene

    In the third and forth paragraph the only sound that broke the silent calmness was the wind which is specified using a simile "like a wave" which gives us a sense of how quiet it was to be disturbed by a gust of wind. These paragraphs are portrayed in this detail to show that it would be a good place to hide for Lennie as it is very quiet and there is no indication of humans being nearby. After the four paragraphs of the detail description on the surroundings and atmosphere, Lennie appears suddenly out of the brush.

    • Word count: 2060
  13. The novel 'Of Mice and Men' was written by John Steinbeck and was set in the 1930s around the time of The Wall Street Crash.

    ain�t a coloured on this ranch� Despite the fact that time has moved on Crooks is still lonely, he�s still trapped in his coloured outer shell, though beneath his skin he is still just like other men. When Lennie visits Crooks� room however he feels he has rights and is desperate to protect them, he does this by being hostile towards Lennie however his hostility soon turns into bitterness. Though Lennie doesn�t notice this and soon Crooks realises Lennie�s childlike tendencies and begins to confide in him knowing there is no danger of anyone finding out his secrets.

    • Word count: 2541
  14. A Comparison of two stories 'of Mice and Mice' And 'The Ostler'.

    The landlord hurried in and asked him "What had gone on"? Isaac told him the full story. The landlord didn't believe him and threw him out. Isaac wandered home in the early hours of the morning. When Isaac returned home he told his mother what had happened in every little detail. Some years later Isaac met up with a prospering young attractive women on his birthday with no will to live, this is ironic because Rebecca returns every year after this to haunt him. At this moment Isaacs mother recognises her and says she was the woman of his dream.

    • Word count: 2625
  15. Both 'Of Mice And Men' and 'The Mayor Of Casterbridge' end in Tragedy. In what ways and to what extent do the characters in the novels contribute to their own downfall? Discuss the importance of dreams

    "I'd wish't we'd get the rabbits pretty soon" Lennies dream is very simple. This is for a variety of reasons. The main one being that he is mentally handicapped, and knew not of what life could hold for him. In contrast to this, The Mayor of Casterbridge offers a more complex view to a dream. The chapter when Henchard sells to wife to the sailor makes Henchard make a solemn vow to never drink again, and also to make something better of himself. This is his dream. A difference between the two novels is that Henchards dream is realised whereas Lennies is not.

    • Word count: 2651
  16. Is the film 'Of Mice and Men' a successful presentation of the novel?

    He is childlike and with this innocent, he doesn't mean any harm nor does he know any better. He trusts everyone and doesn't prejudge people just like a child does. Malkovichs ability to step into this role is remarkable and he obviously did a lot of research to develop his character to reach the high standard that he achieved. There are numerous aspects of the character that only Malkovich could execute to such a standard. To begin with, his stature is exact to that of how I feel Lennie's is described in the book.

    • Word count: 2959
  17. With its appealing elements of naivet, humour and pathos Of Mice And Men is Steinbeck's tableau of the oppressed in post-depression US society. It has strong imagery, decisive action, authentic dialogue and cinematic tension.

    It displays affection, emotion, friendship and love, as well as loneliness, discrimination, prejudice and anger. These are all basic human qualities and liabilities, which makes the novel both wonderful and important in a way that few people will ever really understand. Even though I don't know what Steinbeck's inspiration and reason for writing this novel was I personally respect the way in which he sums up such important parts of life in six short chapters. These are the only reasons I found to justify why "Of Mice and Men" should be classed as "great", however there are countless reasons for this novel to be classed as "timeless".

    • Word count: 2845
  18. What does a reader of Steinbeck's "Of Mice And Men" learn about the lives of itinerant ranch workers in the 1930s?

    Instead of the characters dreams turning into reality making them happy, it leave's them with pain. Steinbeck gives the impression to the reader that in the greater scheme of life no matter how small or big you are, you don't have control over fate and what will happen to you. Steinbeck also use's the title as a reference to Lennie and his fondness of mice. Mice symbolise vulnerability. Society in the end crush's Lennie, and like mice he had no control over when he would die. Itinerant ranch workers were always on the move, as Steinbeck describes in the book through the characters working on the ranch.

    • Word count: 2739
  19. Choose two characters from the novel 'Of Mice and Men' who illustrate what life was like in America in the 1930's

    Slavery meant big business in America. In the north most Negroes were free but in the south it was the way of life. Slaves were employed as either field workers; they worked long hours, lived in huts and slept on the floor. Then there were the house workers who would cook, clean, run the masters house and bring up the children, they lived a more comfortable life, but caused mistrust between the two. Sometimes a way to solve this was to split up families, selling the children.

    • Word count: 2114
  20. A comparison of the heroic figures within Of Mice & Men (John Steinbeck, published 1938) and The Sexton's Hero (Elizabeth Gaskell, 1950s)

    Although both characters are both seen as heroes they are very different people, with very little in common. The stereotypical hero that many of us are used to today through watching television and films would be a character like Superman or Spiderman, a person who is typically strong, fearless, brave, and has some sort of special power. They also end up catching the villain and saving the girl. We can see from the example of Gilbert and George that this stereotype of a hero does not always apply to all heroes and that Gilbert and George are not stereotypical heroes, although both do share certain aspects of the stereotypical hero.

    • Word count: 2756
  21. Compare the beginning of the novel and Sinise’s film version “Of Mice and Men”

    Suddenly the film explodes into colour in a dramatic style as a panic-stricken woman, with her dress ripped, runs towards a group of men working on a ranch. The next clip is of the group of men, carrying guns on horseback, all laden in denim chasing two apparently un-armed men. These two men are Lennie and George, who are racing through the grassy shrubs of the plains. A sense of danger and menace is created as George is continually looking over his shoulder and dragging Lennie along as the men on horseback continue to hunt the two men.

    • Word count: 2216
  22. Write about the way that Steinbeck and Hardy explore the idea of outsider in “Of Mice and Men” and “The Withered Arm”

    That's why he was so interested in writing about men and women in working class. The definition of an outsider is a person or thing excluded from or not a member of a group, set. But in "The Withered Arm" and "Of Mice and Men" is a lot more than just a person exclude from a group. In the stories characters are not only physically got kick out of the group because of their disability and color, for example Candy and Crooks.

    • Word count: 2074
  23. Comparative Essay on the endings of ‘Of Mice & Men’ and ‘The Half Brothers’

    She gives a detailed history of most of the characters involved. Where 'The Half Brothers' has a strong narrative voice you are told the story and are given little chance to have your own opinion in comparison 'Of Mice & Men' has no narrative voice and lets to make your own opinions throughout the novel. 'Of Mice & Men' is set in California in the 1930s during the Great Depression; 'The Half Brothers' is set in Northern rural England, in the 1850's.

    • Word count: 2247
  24. Book report: Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

    He could only sympathise and relate to the millions of people who were suffering. America was not a paradise but a place of anguish and despair. Steinbeck's personal involvement with the struggle of the people, who depended on the soil for their livelihood, meant he could write a series of novels and short stories depicting the suffering. Such novels include The Pastures of Heaven about southern California farmers, In Dubious Battle concerning a strike with migratory fruit pickers, and one of the stories I am reporting on, Of Mice and Men (1937) about farm labourers yearning for a small farm of their own.

    • Word count: 2727
  25. The American Nightmare: Is Death of a Salesman a stanch critique of the American, capitalist dream?

    He challenges him to a fight and then while he is distracted, knocks him to the floor commenting: BEN: Never fight fair with a stranger, boy. This shows that Ben has little regard for Biff's feelings and is more obsessed with the American Dream than anything else, including the things that most people (even Willy himself) desire most from life: the respect and support of their families and friends. The fact that Willy talks to Ben would seem normal and not indicate any obsession with the American Dream on Willy's part.

    • Word count: 2976

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