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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.

  • Marked by Teachers essays 43
  • Peer Reviewed essays 19
  1. Marked by a teacher

    How does Steinbeck present the character of Crooks in the novel 'Of Mice and Men'?

    5 star(s)

    The title 'Of Mice and Men' was taken from a famous poem written by Robert Burns. The meaning behind the title is that 'the best laid plans often go awry'; this is a pessimistic phrase that associates with Crooks. This analysis of Crooks will show how Steinbeck presents Crooks as a lonesome and a lack of social interaction with the other white characters in the novel. The name 'Crooks' arose from the character having a crooked back; however he is often referred to as 'nigger'. This reflects the casual racism which was present in America during 1930's. The first reference the reader gets of Crooks is in chapter 2 during a conversation between two other characters.

    • Word count: 2739
  2. Marked by a teacher

    The Slave's dream

    5 star(s)

    The rhyme scheme is regular and the lengths of lines have a repetitive pattern. The poet has conformed to such a rigid way of writing poetry, as a slave in America would have to conform to their master's commands. The poet may also have chosen to write in this regular way because it is similar to the slave's life, which is monotonous. A slave does the same thing everyday like the stanzas all follow the same pattern. In stanza one, there is also the internal rhyme of the words "bare" and "hair". This emphasises how uninteresting the slave's life is.

    • Word count: 2442
  3. Marked by a teacher

    How is the theme of racism and loneliness shown through the character of Crooks in OF MICE AND MEN?

    3 star(s)

    This all shows that black people was still treated in an appalling manner and the other white ranch worker still have a disuse for 'niggers and make him an out cast and disempowered because he is an afro-American which I find absolutely appalling. Through the character of Crooks in chapter 4, John Steinbeck shows the loneliness and desperation of the character. Steinbeck describes him in great detail because chapter 4 is the only time we are really introduced to him, Steinbeck has to create a believable and sympathetic character at this time, so we will care about and sympathise with his point of view.

    • Word count: 2270
  4. Marked by a teacher

    How does Steinbeck present Crooks in the extract? What is the importance of crooks in the novel as a whole? Of Mice and Men is a powerful and moving portrayal of two men striving

    3 star(s)

    On one side of the little room there was a square four paned window, and on the other, a narrow plank door leading into the barn. Crooks' bunk was a long box filled with straw, on which his blankets were flung." From this extract, we are told many things about crooks. Firstly, in the opening sentence of the extract, we are told that crooks is a "negro stable buck". We know straight away that he is different because of the fact that his colour was mentioned; none of the other characters in the book were described by the colour of their skin, showing that crooks has been separated from them based upon his colour.

    • Word count: 2422

Conclusion analysis

Good conclusions usually refer back to the question or title and address it directly - for example by using key words from the title.
How well do you think these conclusions address the title or question? Answering these questions should help you find out.

  1. Do they use key words from the title or question?
  2. Do they answer the question directly?
  3. Can you work out the question or title just by reading the conclusion?
  • Compare and contrast the characters Curley's Wife from 'Of Mice and Men' and Mally from 'Malachi's Cove'

    "In conclusion I think that Curley's Wife and Mally are to completely different characters with totally different personality but as the novel progresses you get to know the characters and you get to know the real Curley's Wife and the real Mally e.g. when Curley's wife died "the meanness and the plannings and the discontent and the ache for attention were all gone from her face. She was very, pretty and simple, and her face was sweet and young" whilst Mally ended up marrying Barty "how beautiful he was in Mally's eyes with that pale face". I think that Steinbeck and Trollope have made the characters this way because it makes the reader think and then feel all sorry for them at the end. So in conclusion my opinion of Curley's Wife and Mally both change as the story progresses because both Steinbeck and Trollope keep the reader in suspense and makes both characters come to life."

  • From a close study of the opening of the novel; and with reference to other stages throughout, discuss the relationship of George and Lennie, commenting on how it relates to the theme of loneliness

    "In my opinion, the novel was very good, the shock ending was very surprising and unexpected, but a closer look throughout the novel foreshows us what happens, such signs as what happened in Weed, the mice that Lennie kills, the need to pet soft things, all of this gives the reader clues to what happens at the end. In my opinion, the relationship between George and Lennie is less than a relationship between two equal adults, and more like father-son, as one of the pair continually leads the other, while the other always follows"

  • Discuss how three or more important symbols add to your understanding of Of Mice and Men.

    "During the novella, the recurrence of loneliness, and speculating at a lonesome finale, is ever present, especially in the form of playing cards. The bunkhouse is often the scene of the games, with George the dealer. This is significant, as George frequently exclaims his desire to be alone, "If I was alone I could live so easy." However, solitude is George's enemy, and he is fearful at the prospect of living alone. This is projected through his card playing, "Slim sat down...across from George...He studied the solitaire hand that was upside-down to him." Inadvertently, George has dealt a game of solitaire- a single player game, an insinuation at the conclusion of the story, when George ultimately kills his companion. A similar event arises when Candy's dog is led by Carlson to be shot. "'Anybody like to play a little euchre?'" asks George. The key theme of loneliness is being forced away by George, who refuses to be alone, opting to ask the group to play cards. The constant reminding of impending solitude, and its effects, enable the reader to understand and fully interpret the inevitability of what is to come. Hands play a vital role in the symbolism of Of Mice and Men. There are various"

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