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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. With reference to the ways Steinbeck presents Curley, show how far you agree that he is a danger to others

    He has to pick on the weak in society to make himself feel better. Another thing to note in Steinbeck?s presentation of the bunkhouse is that there were, ?small, square windows.? This use of alliteration emphasises that the bunkhouse must have been quite dim, representing an absence of hope. It also tells us that Curley prefers to hide in the shadows, striking when it is least expected. In this way the setting conveys that he is a danger to others. Furthermore, his actions are a key way to examine his character. The way Steinbeck presents his actions paints him as nothing more than an impulsive, short tempered scoundrel.

    • Word count: 1082
  2. With reference to how Steinbeck presents Lennie show how far you agree that Lennie is to blame for what happens to him.

    Lennie cannot perceive these racial tensions that were so prevalent at the time. He is totally ignorant of reality, so therefore we cannot say what happened was his fault. Even though he does many things that would be considered wrong in that society, he never deliberately sets out to harm anyone. Elsewhere in the novel Steinbeck uses more settings to present Lennie. At the opening of the novel we are told that there were, ?Willows fresh and green?carrying in their lower leaf junctures the debris of the winter?s flooding.? This could symbolise George and Lennie: they keep trying to make a fresh start, but they will always be burdened by the debris of the past.

    • Word count: 1149
  3. How does Curleys Wife appear to be weak "In Of Mice and Men", and how does she manipulate her power?

    She is not independent, as she does not have her own separate name, and shows that her position of authority is lower than Curley?s ? he is the dominant one. Her status is lower than Curley?s because she does not have her own separate title, and gets objectified towards Curley ? she is ?Curley?s? rather than her own self. Due to the context of the time, being a woman gave you a lower social status than men ? many were seen as second rate to their male equivalents.

    • Word count: 762
  4. What does the reader learn about Curley's Wife (in Of Mice and Men) from Chapter 2?

    The fact that she?s blocking this light from entering the bunkhouse gives the reader a sense of foreboding ? it suggests that she will block George and Lennie?s dream of the farm with the rabbits. Her physical appearance, dress and make up also tell the reader about potential danger. For example, Steinbeck describes her as having ?red? nails and ?rouged? lips. She also wears a ?white cotton dress? with ?red mules?. Steinbeck?s colour choice of red suggests imagery of danger, passion and anger.

    • Word count: 704
  5. Setting plays a pivotal role in Steinbecks Of Mice and Men, and it is used frequently to portray central themes, ideas and moods.

    The bunkhouse is very elemental and the ?bare necessities? attributes it holds emphasises this tool like attitude towards the ranch hands. The description of the structure is that the walls were ?whitewashed and unpainted? ? just a protective coating on the walls to keep it structurally intact, not for decoration, but for the necessities of keeping the structure whole. The windows, for example are described as ?small? and ?square?, to cut the costs of expensive glass, and to hint at the idea of an enclosed space, like a prison, which signals the lack of hope associated with the itinerant workers, of which Lennie and George both are examples.

    • Word count: 1136
  6. Explore Some Of The Ways That Steinbeck Presents Good And Bad In His Characterisation Of Curleys Wife

    Steinbeck use different language techniques to create a mental image in readers mind before she even enter the novella. Candy introduced Curley?s wife to George and Lennie saying that she?s ?Purty? but more importantly, that she?s ?got the eye.? She likes to look at other men, Candy says he?s seen her look at slim, for instance, and Carlson too. Candy sums up his comments about Curley?s wife by concluding ?well, I think Curley?s married?.tart?. This perception is further emphasized by Curley?s wife?s first appearance in the novella. ?The rectangle of sunshine in the doorway was cut off. A girl was standing there looking in?.

    • Word count: 958
  7. How is Curley's wife presented in "Of Mice and Men"?

    ?Fingernails were red?cotton house dress and red mules?red ostrich feather.? As she is wearing a lot of red, it could be telling us that Curley's wife is attempting to attract the attention of the other ranch workers, because of her being lonely. This is because he is the only female on the ranch. Curley's wife is also wearing red as a sign of love, which she may not be getting from Curley ? this could be the reason why she is seeking attention of other men.

    • Word count: 1804
  8. Assess how Steinbeck presents the character of Curleys wife throughout "Of Mice and Men".

    Candy regards her as ?Jailbait? indicating she is a young female seeking to get men into trouble. Jailbait is slang for a minor who is younger than the legal age of consent for sexual activity, with the implication that an older person might find him or her sexually attractive. ? I never get to talk to anyone? on the ranch there is a strong prejudice towards Curley?s wife, the men of the ranch have some very strong opinions however Candy is rather cruel about her throughout the novella and even when she is dead he verbally abuses her; ?You god

    • Word count: 1014
  9. How does Steinbeck use Crooks to present attitudes to black people at the time the novel is set?

    Crooks is openly referred to as ?nigger?, which exemplifies the casual racism directed towards him, and how people in the 1930?s had no regard for human feelings, especially if those people were black. Steinbeck shows the reader that black people are looked down on in the ranch even before we have met Crooks, ?smitty took after the nigger?, from this we know that he is looked as to the other ranch men as a toy, when they want to fight him they can, and when they want him to do their dirty work they can.

    • Word count: 609

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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