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AS and A Level: John Steinbeck

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John Steinbeck's biography

  1. 1 John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California in 1902. His family owned land in the area so he spent a lot of time outdoors and had a strong appreciation for the natural world.
  2. 2 Most of his early work is set in Southern California and describes the life of people working on the land. Many of his novels, including Of Mice and Men, are set in this area and portray the lives of working men and women. The natural world he describes is beautiful, but it is also wild and can be cruel and savage.
  3. 3 In his early novels Steinbeck portrays a world of men, and violence is a common occurrence. His female characters have little status, reflecting the role of women at the time.
  4. 4 During the war years Steinbeck worked for the American government and in 1943 he went to Europe as a war correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune. He lived the latter part of his life in New York where he died in 1968.
  5. 5 The title of Of Mice and Men is taken from Robert Burns’ famous poem To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough (1785). The last line of the poem refers to things often going wrong and Steinbeck links this to the poor men whose plans were often wrecked by an unkind fate.

Five facts about 'Of Mice and Men'

  1. 1 It was first published in America in 1937. In the same year it was adapted as a stage play and later as a film. The novel is short and has only a few characters. There are no chapters but the action is broken up into six distinct parts which made it easy to adapt for the stage.
  2. 2 The novel is set in the 1930s which was a period of economic depression. During this time of failed businesses, harsh poverty and long-term unemployment, hoards of migrant workers went to California in search of work. Men travelled alone, moving from ranch to ranch on short-term, poorly paid contracts.
  3. 3 By setting the novel on the ranch, Steinbeck shows the reader a microcosm of 1930s American society and portrays the life of the migrant workers in California at the time of the depression. Workers, like George and Lennie, were hoping to earn enough money to settle down on their own piece of land.
  4. 4 Steinbeck has a distinctive style and structure; the novel starts and finishes with the same description and setting, and each section opens with a specific description of a scene which establishes the setting of place and mood.
  5. 5 As each character enters we get a brief physical description of him/her. Aspects of the characters are conveyed through their actions, their dialogue and how they respond to each other.

Writing about 'Of Mice and Men'

  1. 1 When studying the novel it is important to know the social, cultural and historical background of the text. Having this knowledge will help you better understand why Steinbeck has included his characters and how they relate to the themes.
  2. 2 Characters in the text are revealed through a variety of stylistic features: description, narrative style and how they communicate with each other. All of these features are so that the reader can empathise with the characters.
  3. 3 There are several themes running throughout the novel: loneliness, friendship, isolation, prejudice, and dreams; and you must understand how the themes are woven through the text and how they link directly to the characters and the society portrayed in the novel. For example, Curley’s wife links to the theme of loneliness because she is the only woman on the ranch and has no-one with whom to talk.
  4. 4 You must be able to analyse how Steinbeck has used language to create effects – some of his description and storytelling reads almost like stage directions through which he creates a strong sense of atmosphere and mood. This analysis of language is needed to achieve a high grade.
  5. 5 You must develop your own critical sense and personal response to the novel, showing that you have thought about it, and that you have ideas and reactions of your own, not just those of your teacher. You must never write to a formula or try to recreate an essay you have previously done; you must approach every essay with a fresh, open mind.

  • Marked by Teachers essays 1
  • Peer Reviewed essays 5
  1. Peer reviewed

    Curley's Wife

    4 star(s)

    She walks round the ranch dressed inappropriately and seductively. She admits to Lennie that she doesn't like her husband and regrets marrying him. She seems to be of limited intelligence, as she was taken in by other men's promises of film parts. She is frequently associated with the colour red, a colour symbolizing an impure woman, as well as one calculated to enrage a "bull" such as Lennie. It is partly her desire to be petted and admired and allow Lennie to stroke her hair, which in turn leads to her death at Lennie's hands.

    • Word count: 756
  2. Peer reviewed

    Of Mice and Men essay on Crooks character.

    3 star(s)

    Among his possessions, in his room he has some books, including "a tattered dictionary and a mauled copy of the California civil code for 1905" This tells him his rights as a black man, so he obviously does not want to get on the wrong side of the law, so he keeps to his limits. Him having books suggests to us that he may have been well educated as a child. When he was young boy he lived on a smallholding with his father, so he was probably treated with a bit of respect, however, now he is just a

    • Word count: 801
  3. Peer reviewed

    How does John Steinback convey the tension of the situation in the card-playing passage in chapter 3?

    3 star(s)

    about Lennie's dog, though it didn't seem to lift the mood any or make the time pass quicker. "I bet Lennie's out there with his pup..............The silence fell on the room again" The time is shown to be going slowly by commenting on every minute that passes. "A minute passed and another minute." This shows how stuck for words everyone is and that no one quite knows what to do or how to act. Throughout the passage, the writer continuously refers to the silence in the room.

    • Word count: 688
  4. Peer reviewed

    'Of Mice and Men' - The killing of candy's old dog foreshadowed Lennie's death. Describe the two killings, pointing out any similarities and differences between the two.

    3 star(s)

    Carlson proceeds to describe to candy how he will kill the dog, "shoot him right in the back of the head" this shows the brutality in how he wants to kill the dog, Carlson does not realise how much what he is saying was hurting candy. Carlson can not understand the love the candy has for his dog. Candy does not put up much of a fight and the dog is lead away by Carlson. Tension is created in the bunk house before the dog is shot.

    • Word count: 684

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