Of Mice and Men – Analysis of Curley

I’m betting my three remaining hairs that Curley will come up in the exam this year. To ensure you think carefully about how Steinbeck uses specific language and techniques to present Curley’s personality, please see the close textual analyses below.


Curley – Extract One

Part (a)  How does Steinbeck present the character of Curley in this extract? Refer closely to the passage in your answer.

Part (b)  In the novel as a whole, how are violence and hostility portrayed? How do these link to the economic and social conditions of 1930s America?

Curley's wife analysis

Part B – points you could mention: VIOLENCE & HOSTILITY

Violence is referred to when Crooks is first mentioned as being allowed in the men’s bunkhouse at Christmas but had to fight one of the men “If he coulda used his feet, Smitty says he woulda killed the nigger.” Demonstrates the casual  racism of the times.

Candy explains how Curley picks on bigger guys but whether he wins or loses, he comes off as the hero. “Seems like Curley ain’t givin’ nobody a chance.” – Steinbeck presents the win-win situation that those in positions of power exercised, whilst the underdog can never win.

Carlson is an aggressive, domineering and unsympathetic character – representing the type of man who has no roots, no friendships. He typifies the men of the depression era who moved from place to place in search of work, never getting close to people, unable to empathise with the friendship that George and Lennie share or even that of Candy and his dog. He is quick to seek retribution and join a search party for Lennie.

There is hostility shown towards Curley’s wife by the men “jail bait” “tramp” – typical of the double standard at the time shown towards women perceived as ‘easy’ whereas the men, married Curley included, openly visit the brothels.

Curley’s wife displays her cruel hostility towards Crooks when she threatens “I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny.” – as a woman, the only person over whom she has more status, is Crooks.

Crooks is hostile towards the white men, bitter at how he “ain’t wanted” in their room.

Curley’s rage towards Lennie on discovering his wife’s body is probably more to do with needing revenge for his humiliation and injured hand, than avenging her death. He intends to “shoot the guts outta that big bastard myself” – a slow painful death.

Conversely, the violent death of Lennie is shown as an act of mercy, with George deeply upset at what he does. “his hand shook violently” and he speaks “shakily” but ensures Lennie dies with the Dream on his mind.

Curley Extract Two

Part (a): How does Steinbeck present Curley in this extract? Refer closely to the language used in your answer.

Part (b): Life is hard and unfair for many of the characters in the novel. In the novel as a whole, consider how Steinbeck shows this and how it relates to the social/historical context of the era.

Curley's wife analysis II


The Woman in Black – Close Analysis of ‘Whistle and I’ll Come to You’

There is a possibility that there may be a question based around the Chapter Whistle and I’ll Come to You. (past years have looked at the preceding chapters in order, so maybe…..)

This is a précis of the key points of interest in this chapter. It is likely any question will be along the lines of how tension is created….

(all page numbers refer to the original books with small writing)

P123 – The chapter opens with pathetic fallacy as it describes a storm/heavy winds. “The house felt like a ship at sea” (simile) – Gives the reader a sense of imbalance, insecurity – prepares us for a rollercoaster ride ahead.

P123 – The description of the noises are also reminiscent of ghostly sounds: “Windows rattling …the sounds of moaning down all the chimneys”. On the following page, she compares the wind to a banshee which is a type of ghost said to signify impending death. This warns us that there may be trouble ahead…..

P123 – Hill briefly breaks this with Kipps remembering the safety and security of his own nursery, long ago, contrasts with how he heard “The wind rage round like a lion, howling at the doors and beating upon the windows but powerless to reach me.”

P124 – Tension is increased when Kipps forgets his torch, meaning he has to investigate the house in darkness. She plays with our imagination by describing the sense of someone having walked by Kipps, but shows his uncertainty by having him question this: “And the person who had gone by and who was now in the house with me?” Later on (p125) he admits that he was “beginning to doubt my own reality.”

P125 – Having set the reader up for the fear that Kipps is not alone, she then makes it even more tense when he drops the torch. The short sentences “No light came on. The torch had broken” are a dramatic end to this paragraph.

P125 – Kipps’ emotional state is also highlighted by the list of abstract nouns “despair and fear, frustration and tension”, followed by “violent rage”. The reader is invited to experience these emotions alongside him.

P125 – The dog, Spider, is yet again used to signify when the moment of tension has passed as she licks Kipps’ hand.

P126 – Kipps writes how “A man cannot remain indefinitely in a state of active terror” – this is precisely why Hill raises then drops the tension, for the reader cannot maintain this either. Therefore she allows this moment of fear to pass and reassures us that “all sense of another one’s presence had faded away.”

P127 – Kipps re-enters the nursery and is swept with feelings of “overwhelming grief and sadness, a sense of loss and bereavement, a distress mingled with utter despair” – This list of three pairs of negative emotions present a very different emotional response for the reader as they contrast with the sense of evil encountered so far and also add to the mystery surrounding the Woman in Black.

P129 – Having established a calm tone again, Hill then heightens tension again through Spider’s reactions. “scratching and whining at the door” so we expect ghostly activities again – only to be reassured she simply needed to be let out. Therefore we are not expecting trouble until the ghostly whistle comes: “not from any human lips”.

P130 – Tension is at its height here as Kipps struggles in the mud to rescue Spider. The use of many dynamic verbs here exaggerate the sense of action; Spider “yelped” and “struggled” and Kipps is “straining” against the “whirling sucking bog”.

P130 – the sense of isolation is again underlined – “alone in the middle of the wide marsh” – it is Kipps up against the power of the Woman in Black – Good v Evil.

P130-131 Hill’s use of adverbs “furiously” and “cautiously”, as well as more dynamic verbs, “lunged”, “grabbed”, “hauled”, “tugged” create a very frantic pace, whilst the adjectives “treacherous”, “agonizing” and “slippery” all add detail to the danger of the situation he is in.

P131 – Kipps triumphs and saves Spider but Hill’s use of a list of three shows us at what cost: “chest burning, lungs almost bursting, my arms feeling as if they had been dragged from their sockets”.

P131 – Just when we feel the tension starting to recede, Kipps looks up at the house and there he sees “A woman. That woman. She was looking directly towards me.” Short, sharp sentences reinforce the link between what happened to Kipps and her reappearance.

P132 – The chapter ends with the replaying of the terrible noise, which serves as a motif for the tragedy: “It was the sound of a pony and trap”. The pony and trap are a recurring motif, both as the replayed sound of the tragedy from years before, but also because the pony and trap are intricately linked to the woman in black. This means that when in the final chapter, Stella and the baby choose to ride it one, the reader recognises the significance and anticipate tragedy.


  1. Explain how Hill creates tension and fear in the chapter ‘Whistle and I’ll Come to You’

By Miss Marvell

The Woman in Black – The Structure and Plot

Book Cover - The Woman in Black

When answering section A of the AQA Literature exam on ‘Modern Texts’, it is essential for you to know the plot and structure of the novel you have been studying. Unlike section B, you will not have the opportunity to rely on an extract from the text, and therefore you must revise the main events, how these events unfold from chapter to chapter, and how Hill uses structure to make an impact on the reader. The novel is separated into the chapters, each with its own title. It

Conventions of a Victorian Ghost story:

  • A ghost (funnily enough)
  • An isolated haunted house
  • Extreme weather conditions
  • The motif of sleep and lack thereof
  • First person narrative
  • The use of women and children who are vulnerable/evil
  • A Byronic hero – A key protagonist who doesn’t believe in ghosts at the outset but changes when he has experienced the presence of one. They are intelligent, sophisticated and educated, but struggling with emotional conflicts, a troubled past and ‘dark’ attributes.

Chapter 1: Christmas Eve

  • Arthur Kipps (the narrator and protagonist), an old solicitor, is sitting by a serene fireside with his family on Christmas Eve.
  • Arthur’s wife, Esme, and her family are introduced to establish a pleasant domestic scene, and to begin the novel in a calm and peaceful manner.
  • However, as Kipps’ step-children begin to tell each other ghost stories, supressed emotions and fear is stirred up in Arthur and he rushes out of the house to calm himself and reminisce on his previous life.
  • These characters are only introduced in this chapter to provide a frame for Kipps’ narrative. We are reminded of this in the following chapters when Arthur mentions his love of Stella, leaving the reader to infer that all will not end well for their relationship.
  • Kipps resolves to write down his own ghost story

Key Quotations

  • “… a true story, a story of haunting and evil, horror and tragedy”
  • “Tomorrow was Christmas Day, and I looked forward to it eagerly and with gladness, it would be a time of friendship, fun and laughter. When it was over, I would have work to do”
  • “My spirits have for many years now been excessively affected by the ways of the weather…”
  • “I was trying to suppress my mounting unease, to hold back the rising flood of memory”
  • “I wanted to banish the chill that had settled upon me and the sensation of fear in my breast”
  • “The truth is quite other, and altogether more terrible”

Chapter 2: A London Particular

  • London is described in an atmospheric way, focusing on the engulfing fog and hell-like imagery – this add to a sense of foreboding for the evil that awaits the reader
  • A younger Arthur Kipps visits his employer, Mr Bentley.
  • He is sent by Mr Bentley to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow, who died in Crythin Gifford at the age of 87.
  • An air of mystery is built up around Mr Drablow, and the reader is only told simple facts about her life, courtesy of a reserved Mr Bentley.
  • After learning of Alcie Drablow’s remote and isolated past, Kipps leaves the office and writes a letter to his fiancé, Stella, stating that he will be away fro a few days.

Key Quotations

  • “ – but because of the fog, the thickest of London peasoupers, which had hemmed us in on all sides since dawn – if, indeed, there had been a dawn, for the fog had scarcely allowed any daylight to penetrate the foul gloom of atmosphere”
  • “It was a yellow fog, a filthy, evil-smelling fog, a fod that chocked and blinded, smeared and stained. Groping their way blindly across roads, men and women took their lives in their hands, stumbling along the pavements, they clutched at railings and at one another, for guidance.”
  • “Mrs Drablow was, as they say, a rum’un.”
  • “’Children.’ Mr Bentley fell silent for a few moments, and rubbed at the pane with his finger, as though to clear away the obscurity, but the fog loomed, yellow-grey, and thicker than ever, though, here and there across the Inn Yard, the lights from other chambers shone fuzzily. A church bell began to toll. Mr Bentley turned.

Chapter 3: Journey North

  • The journey by steam locomotives from King’s Cross to Crewe and across the fictional town of Homersby near the east coast.
  • The weather is emphasised (pathetic fallacy)
  • The introduction of Mr Samuel Daily
  • Note the curious place names and the author’s description of sounds.
  • ‘we tuck ourselves in with our backs to the wind, and carry on with our business’.

Key Quotations:

  • “We tuck ourselves in with our back to the wind, and carry on with our business.”

Chapter 4: The Funeral of Mrs Drablow

  • The comfort of the Griffin Arms
  • The strange reaction of the landlord when he discovers Kipps’ business
  • Introduction of Mr Jerome
  • The funeral
  • The appearance of the woman in black
  • Mr Jerome’s alarm (his reaction)
  • Kipps returns to the Gifford Arms
  • Mr Daily’s successful day at the auction
  • Kipps learns there will be no buyers for Eel Marsh House

Key Quotations

  • “Indeed, even now in later life, though I have been as happy and at peace in my home at Monk’s Piece, and with my dear wife Esme, as any man may hope to be, and even though I thank God every night tha it is all over, all long past and will not, cannot come again…”
  • “… it seemed poignant that a woman, who was perhaps only a short time away from her own death, should drag herself to the funeral of another”
  • “she was suffering from some terrible wasting disease”
  • “Mr Jerome stopped dead. He was staring at me.”

Chapter 5: Across the Causeway

  • Keckwick arrives in a pony and trap to take Kipps to Eel Marsh House
  • We see the magnificent landscape and wildlife as they cross the causeway
  • Eel Marsh House is described
  • Kipps sees the woman in black again
  • Seriously shaken, Kipps returns to the house
  • Kipps decides to set off for Crythin Griffin on foot.

Key Quotations

  • “the ill looking, solitary young woman”
  • “the sudden, harsh, weird cries form the brids near and far”
  • ‘a tall, gaunt house of grey stone”
  • “a desperate, yearning malevolence”
  • “an ugly satanic-looking thing”

Chapter 6: The Sound of a Pony and Trap

  • A sea fret descends and Kipps decides to return to the safety of the house
  • He hears the cry of a child and the sinking of a pony and trap in the quicksand. He assumes they are with Keckwick.
  • Kipps is helpless and once more returns to the house, terrified.
  • Fortified by brandy, he explores the house and finds a locked door with no key hole
  • He falls asleep on the sofa and is awoken by Keck wick at 2am
  • They return to the Gifford Arms where Kipps relives the nightmare, dreaming of the woman in black

Chapter 7: Mr Jerome is afraid

  • Kipps decides to stay in Crythin Gifford to complete his task
  • He goes to see Mr Jerome, Mrs Drablow’s land agent, to ask for help in sorting out her papers and possessions
  • He learns that no-one will dare to help him
  • Mr Jerome is visibly scared when Kipps tells him of the second apparition of the woman in black
  • Kipps now accepts that Eel Marsh House is haunted but in a fit of bravado determines to complete his business


Chapter 8: Spider

  • Kipps decides to spend two night at Eel Marsh House to complete his business
  • He goes to dinner at Mr Daily’s house
  • Daily fails to dissuade Kipps from returning to the haunted house and lends him Spider, his dog, for protection and companionship. 

    Key quotations

  • “At my feet stood a sturdy little terrier with a rough brindle coat and bight eyes”

Chapter 9: In the Nursery

  • Kipps returns to Eel Marsh House with Spider
  • From Alice’s letters he learns that she adopted Nathaniel Pierston, the illegitimate son of a close relative
  • Again he hears the ghostly sound of the pony and trap and the cries of the dying child
  • He discovers the source of the bumping sound and the nursery behind the locked door


Chapter 10: Whistle and I’ll Come to You

  • Kipps has another sleepless Night
  • Spider nearly drowns
  • The woman in black appears at the nursery window
  • Kipps hears the sound of the pony and trap again

Chapter 11: A Packet of Letters

  • Kipps has collapsed and is revived by Samuel Daily.
  • Spider survives but is exhausted
  • Kipps visits the nursery for the last time
  • Kipps recovers at Daily’s home
  • Kipps reads Alice’s papers and pieces the mystery together
  • Stella arrives

Chapter 12: The Woman in Black

  • Stella and Kipps return to London and marry six weeks later.
  • At Kipps’ request, Mr Bentley does not involve him further in Alice Drablow’s affairs.
  • A year later Stella gives birth to a son.
  • A year after Stella gave birth the woman in black reappears and causes the deaths of both Stella and their child
  • Kipps concludes his story


Character and Voice – AQA Literature Past Papers

poetry past paper

Please find below all the Character and Voice questions from the AQA Literature exam from the past few years. As you can see, the question asks you to compare a subject/topic with a specific poem from the cluster, and another one of your choice.

Furthermore, in both the Higher and Foundation tier, you will have a choice of two questions. You must only answer one of them. Therefore, if one question ask you to analyse a poem you absolutely detest (mine would definitely be the ridiculously annoying ‘Singh Song’), then avoid it like the plague. If you don’t like either poem, shed a momentary tear and crack on with the one you find less loathsome.

You should spend no more than 45 minutes answering this question. The remaining 30 minutes should be spent answering the unseen poem. There is no set rule, but I personally recommend that you spend five minutes planning your response (look at how both poets explore the theme/topic of the question using specific language, imagery and structural devices), write your response for 35 minutes, leaving 5 minutes for proofreading your work.

The question is marked out of 36, with marks being awarded for accurate and sophisticated spelling, punctuation and grammar. Therefore, please ensure that you edit your work in the final few minutes of the exam, correcting simple mistakes.

Should you need assistance answering the questions, please look at our previous blog here on the poetry exam. Here’s our suggested four-stage structure on how to approach the comparative question:

  1. What do I think the poet is saying in poem A? How does this compare to what the poet is saying in poem B?
  2. Why does poet A feel like this? What is their attitude to the theme of the question? Does the poet have a purpose? what is the tone/mood of the poem? Does this change towards the end of the poem? How does this compare to poet B’s attitude, feelings and tone?
  3. How does the poet express himself/herself through the language, imagery and structure used? Compare each technique you write about in poem A with a similar or different technique used in poem B. Then focus on the different effects this creates in the reader.
  4. Finally, focus on how you feel about the two poems. Compare your personal response to each poem, expressing a preference and stating why. Explain which poem you empathise with more, which techniques made the biggest connection with you and why you think the poet wanted you to feel this way.

Please feel free to attempt any of the following questions and add your response in the comments section. I will happily mark all answers and provide you with critical feedback.



Higher Questions:

1) Compare the ways poets present ideas about identity in ‘The Clown Punk’ (page 4) and one other poem from Character and voice.   (Jan 2012)

2) Compare the ways poets present isolated characters in ‘The Hunchback in the Park’ (page 18) and one other poem from Character and voice.   (Jan 2012)

3) Compare the methods poets use to present an interesting character in ‘Singh Song!’ (page 9) and in one other poem from Character and voice. (Jan 2013

4) Compare how poets use language to present ideas and feelings in ‘Horse Whisperer’ (page 7) and in one other poem from Character and voice. (Jan 2013

5) Compare the ways poets present powerful characters in ‘My Last Duchess’ (page 15) and one other poem from Character and voice. (June 2011)

6) Compare the ways poets present strong emotions in ‘Medusa’ (page 8) and one other poem from Character and voice. (June 2011)

7) Compare how poets use language to explore ideas and feelings in ‘Checking Out Me History’ (page 5) and in one other poem from Character and voice. (June 2012)

8) Compare the ways poets present ideas about power in ‘Ozymandias’ (page 14) and in one other poem from Character and voice.  (June 2012)

9) Compare the ways the poets explore ideas about control in ‘The River God’ (page 17) and in one other poem from Character and voice. (June 2013)

10) Compare the methods the poets use to explore a character’s sense of identity in ‘Casehistory: Alison (head injury)’ (page 20) and in one other poem from Character and voice. (June 2013)


Foundation Questions

1) Compare how poets present an unusual character in ‘The Clown Punk’ (page 4) and one other poem from Character and voice.    (Jan 2012)

2) Poets sometimes use a speaker to narrate a poem. Compare how poets present the speaker in ‘My Last Duchess’ (page 15) and the speaker in one other poem from Character and voice. (Jan 2012)

3) The writer of ‘Checking Out Me History’ (page 5) expresses his ideas in an interesting way. Compare the ways he uses language with the ways one other poet uses language to express ideas in Character and voice.(Jan 2013)

4) Compare how the poets present an interesting character in ‘On a Portrait of a Deaf Man’ (page 21) and in one other poem from Character and voice. (Jan 2013)

5) Compare how the poets present characters in ‘Singh Song!’ (page 9) and one other poem from ‘Character and voice’.   (June 2011)

6) Compare how the poets present feelings about a person in ‘Brendon Gallacher’ (page 11) and one other poem from ‘Character and voice’. (June 2011)

7) Compare the ways the poets present characters suffering in ‘The Horse Whisperer’ (page 7) and in one other poem from Character and voice. (June 2012)

8) Compare the ways the poets present a character in ‘The River God’ (page 17) and a character in one other poem from Character and voice. What do you like or dislike about these characters?  (June 2012)

9) Compare how the poets use language and structure to present a character in ‘The Ruined Maid’ (page 19) and one other poem from Character and voice. (June 2013)

10) How do you feel about the character of the hunchback in ‘The Hunchback in the Park’ (page 18)? Compare how Dylan Thomas makes you feel about this character with the way a poet makes you feel about one other character in  Character and voice. (June 2013)

Of Mice and Men – Context

In Section Two of your AQA English Literature exam, you will have to comment on how John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was influenced by its social, historical and cultural context. Essentially, this means that you need to explain how the novel encapsulates the thoughts and feelings of American society in the 1930s. Like much of Steinbeck’s work, and rather a large proportion of American literature at the time, Of Mice and Men depicts the relatively poor working class of men on whom the US economy depended. The novel is set during a time known as The Great Depression, in the state of California.

The Life and Times of John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck was born in 1902 in Salinas, near the coast of California, 40 km north of the region that became the setting for Of Mice and Men. Steinbeck’s father passed on a love of nature to his son, which can be seen in the opening paragraphs of each section. Furthermore, his mother was a former school teacher who encouraged a love of reading and writing in her son. As a teenager, he spent his summers working as a hired hand on neighbouring ranches, where his experiences of rural California and its people impressed him deeply and became the inspiration for many characters in the novel. In 1919, he enrolled at Stanford University, where he studied intermittently for the next six years before finally leaving without having earned a degree. For the next five years, he worked as a reporter and then as caretaker for a Lake Tahoe estate while he completed his first novel, an adventure story called Cup of Gold, which was published in 1929.

‘Steinbeck’s best-known works deal intimately with the plight of desperately poor California wanderers, who, despite the cruelty of their circumstances, often triumph spiritually. The economic conditions of the time victimized workers like George and Lennie, whose quest for owning their little piece of land was thwarted by cruel and powerful forces beyond their control, but whose tragedy was marked, ultimately, by steadfast compassion and love.

Critical opinions of Steinbeck’s work have always been mixed. Both stylistically and in his emphasis on manhood and male relationships, which figure heavily in Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck was strongly influenced by his contemporary, Ernest Hemingway. Even though Steinbeck was hailed as a great author in the 1930s and 1940s, and won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1962, many critics have faulted his works for being superficial, sentimental, and overly moralistic. Though Of Mice and Men is regarded by some as his greatest achievement, many critics argue that it suffers from one-dimensional characters and an excessively deterministic plot, which renders the lesson of the novella more important than the people in it.’ (SparkNotes)

The Great Depression

Even with an investment banker for a brother, I am still completely confuddled as to what actually caused the New York Stock Exchange to collapse in 1929, leading to what is known as The Great Depression. Wall Street’s value of shares in companies collapsed drastically, making investors sell their falling shares rapidly, which in fact just increased the speed of the crash. Consequently, businesses went bankrupt, fortunes were lost, and people became homeless, almost overnight. In the following months and years, unemployment and poverty increased dramatically, forcing men to travel great distances to find work.

The Dust Bowl

In addition to this widespread poverty, the problem was intensified by terrible drought and even worse farming techniques. In the mid-West of America, the once-fertile landscape was decimated due to over-farming and low rainfall, meaning the land became eroded and exhausted. This concoction of catastrophes is known as the Dust Bowl. Thousands of poor ranchers (farm workers) headed west to California in the hope of prosperity, just like to novel’s main characters, George and Lennie. This influx of unskilled and uneducated labourers meant they were at the mercy of the bosses, who treated the workers as they wished. Wages were low and living conditions were awful. Steinbeck tries to capture this hardship through certain characters and settings in the novel: the over-populated bunkhouse, the treatment of Crooks and the arrogance of Curley are just a few.

The American Dream

America has always been known as a ‘land of hope and opportunity’, where the likes of Dellboy and Rodney go to become mill-yan-airs. The early migrants to America went to achieve a better and happier life than the hardships they were escaping, and this mentality and faith that hard work will be rewarded with success has been passed from generation to generation. In its infancy, America was a land of rich material resources and copious amounts of space, and its society was not confined to the rigid class system of Britain. As the founding fathers had expressed, it was a land of equality, and possible for anyone to get rich as long as they were willing to work hard for it.

However, as many American novelists have portrayed in the past, in reality there is no society where only a handful of people become rich. In a depressed 1930’s California, the majority of people were poor and had very few opportunities to succeed economically. Nevertheless, the belief that the opportunities existed still created expectations and disappointments. Throughout the novel, Steinbeck cleverly shows the juxtaposition between the ideal of ‘the American dream’ and the reality of widespread poverty, loss and deprivation.

All the main characters in Of Mice and Men acknowledge, at one point or another, to envisaging a different and better life. Before her death, Curley’s wife confesses her desire to be in the ‘pitchers’. Crooks, ‘proud and aloof’ as he is, allows himself the idyllic fantasy of working on Lennie’s farm one day, and Candy latches on desperately to George’s vision of living ‘off the fatta the lan’. However, Steinbeck’s pessimistic view of the harsh reality of 1930s America is alluded to before the story begins: circumstances have robbed most of the characters of these dreams before they could become reality. Curley’s wife, for instance, has resigned herself to an unfulfilling marriage. What makes all of these dreams typically American is that the dreamers wish for untarnished happiness, for the freedom to follow their own desires. George and Lennie’s dream of owning a farm, which would enable them to sustain themselves, and, most important, offer them protection from an inhospitable world, represents a prototypically American ideal. Their journey, which awakens George to the impossibility of this dream, sadly proves that the bitter Crooks is right: such paradises of freedom, contentment, and safety are not to be found in this world.


Despite slavery being abolished in 1865, from the 1880s into the 1960s, a majority of American states enforced segregation through “Jim Crow” laws (so called after a black character in minstrel shows). From Delaware to California, and from North Dakota to Texas, many states (and cities, too) could impose legal punishments on people for consorting with members of another race. The most common types of laws forbade intermarriage and ordered business owners and public institutions to keep their black and white clientele separated. In Of Mice and Men, the theme of racism is expressed throughout by the character Crooks. The treatment of Crooks is both interesting and startling to a modern reader: he has some social contract with the rest of the ranch workers but is still persecuted by them for being black. In the routinely racist world of 1930s California, Crooks’ colour is his defining feature, as Candy explains, ‘Ya see the stable buck’s a nigger’. However, he follows this definition with an additional description of how he is a ‘nice fella’. We also learn that he is accepted into the men’s game of horseshoes, where he shoes proficiency, yet is entirely isolated in his stable room for the rest of the time. He is described as an ‘aloof’ man with ‘pain tightened lips’ connoting the harsh life of silence and deprivation he has had to endure. Finally, the racism in the novel is driven home dramatically when Curley’s wife expresses how she could ‘get [Crooks] strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny’. Afterwards, what little hope of Crooks fulfilling his American Dream with George and Lennie has been extinguished, showing he has no rights at all on the ranch.


Answer any of the following questions in the comments section below. In your response, try to include quotations, zoom in on the language used by Steinbeck, analyse the effect this creates in the reader, and try to link your ideas to the historical, social and cultural context of the novel.

  1. In your opinion, which how did Steinbeck’s life influence the themes, characters and narrative of Of Mice and Men?
  2. How did the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl create the poverty-stricken society that is the background of the novel?
  3. How is racism in the 1930s captured in the novel?
  4. What is the role of the American dream throughout the novel?
  5. How is the novel culturally and socially similar to modern Britain?

Finally, please watch this wonderful video by the English department at Portchester School… it’s spiffing.