Of Mice and Men – Exemplar essay of Curley

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 analysis

Part A)

In the extract, Steinbeck uses vivid description of Curley’s physical appearance, speech, personality and the reactions of other key characters to present him as a character whom the reader immediately dislikes. Curley’s status as the boss’s son is emphasised by his clothing; he wears “high-heeled boots” as a reflection of his high status on the ranch. Steinbeck uses the phrase “tightly curled” to describe his hair, a description which aptly represents his personality too – a tightly coiled, volatile character who is always ready to spring into violent action.

Curley’s speech is blunt and direct, even to characters like George and Lennie, whom he has yet to meet. His first piece of dialogue is a direct question which requires a response from the others – “Seen my old man?” – which places him in control of the environment. He then asserts that he will try to “catch” the boss. The use of the verb “catch” here, whilst slang, implies that Curley is a predatory character, always looking to catch others out verbally and physically.

Upon encountering George and Lennie, Curley’s personality is revealed to be guarded yet simultaneously aggressive. Steinbeck uses the adverb “coldly” to suggest that he is emotionally uncaring. Curley’s aggressive stance causes Lennie to “twist with embarrassment.” As the reader has been positioned to empathise with the innocent Lennie over the last chapter, Curley’s actions towards him make him instantly dislikeable. The reader is told that Curley is a boxer, and he continually seems to carry himself in a guarded manner – the phrase “stiffened and went into a slight crouch” describes a boxer’s stance. However, it is clear that Curley guards himself not only against physical threat but also emotional connection – Steinbeck describes his glance to Lennie as “calculating and pugnacious”. Curley evidently sizes Lennie up as a potential physical threat (which links to why he steps “gingerly” towards Lennie – he is clearly wary of Lennie’s size and strength) but also subsequently alienates the other characters through his actions.

George’s attitude towards Curley is typical of that of many of the other males on the ranch – “say, what the hell’s he got on his shoulder?” Steinbeck intends for the reader, too, to perceive characters through the lens of George’s perspective, and as George judges Curley as superior and cruel, so too does the reader. This links to Candy’s assessment of Curley, who laments that he “won’t ever get canned ‘cause his old man’s the boss.” Curley’s entitlement alienates him from other characters on the ranch, so perhaps in some ways he is not dissimilar to other characters in the novel who exist as ‘loners’. However, Curley is different in that his callous personality is the cause of his own isolation.

Part B:

Curley’s callousness is emblematic of an era of American society in which life was cruel and often vicious; in the novel, this is certainly true for working class males. Whilst many male characters are aggressive and chauvinistic, some characters demonstrate more progressive attitudes. The era of violence and mistrust in 1930s America was a product of the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression, which left many young men out of work and poverty-stricken. The resulting boom in itinerant work indirectly leads to the entitled attitudes of landowners such as the boss and his son, Curley, as well as the aggressive and isolated attitudes of the workers themselves, such as Carlson. George states that “guys like us got no family”, suggesting the isolation of many males in his and Lennie’s position. Carlson and Candy are the best examples of generational isolation – Carlson’s results in violence; he taunts Curley (“you’re as yella as a frog belly”) over his cowardice, is obsessed with his “luger” and even shoots Candy’s dog, simply because “he stinks” and is old and useless. On the other hand, Candy’s forced isolation leads to depression and weakness (“they’ll can me when they got no more use for me”). In both cases, the harshness of the characters’ society leads them to become emotionally deprived. This is emphasised by Steinbeck’s choice of the last line of the novel – “Now what do you suppose is eatin’ them two guys?” – in which he demonstrates how Carlson is so affected by society’s harshness that he cannot recognise George’s obvious emotion at having shot his best friend.

Male attitudes to sex and females are also shown to be damaging throughout the novel. Again, Curley is the prime example of this. His reaction to his wife’s death is not one of mourning, but of anger and the excitement of vengeance – “I know who done it… I’m gonna get him.” This is indicative of the chauvinistic attitudes towards women in the 1930s, who were viewed as sexual objects by men and, after marriage, as property. Indeed, Curley only ever refers to his wife in those terms, not naming her and, thus, dehumanising her. Other references to females in the novel are similarly chauvinistic. The male workers travel to “cat-houses” in town (popular during the Great Depression amongst migrant workers) to “get it all out of their system.” The fact that males simply use females as sexual gratification and as a means to stave off loneliness implies how little they are valued by males in society.

However, attitudes of characters such as George and, in particular, Slim, suggest that male attitudes can be more progressive than those defined by a cruel society. George takes care of Lennie like a brother or a father, thus demonstrating more love and care than the majority of male characters in the novel. Slim notes how “I hardly ever see guys travel together”, a statement which holds historical accuracy, mainly due to the unstable nature of itinerant work. Slim, too, is compassionate and caring towards his workers and even to the marginalised characters like Curley’s wife and Crooks. He is one of the few characters to pay Curley’s wife a compliment (“Hey, good lookin’”) and addresses Crooks not by a racial slur, but by his name. Even though Slim holds authority as the “prince of the ranch”, he has a balanced attitude towards this authority, and values kindness above aggression and violence. In many ways, the description of Slim as an old-fashioned rancher and cowboy, complete with “Stetson” and “bullwhip”, present him as the last survivor of a better time for American males, in which skills and character were valued ahead of the scramble for labour and physical dominance brought on by the Great Depression.

The Woman in Black – AQA Literature Past Papers

Please find below all of The Woman in Black questions from the AQA Literature exam. As you can see, the questions focus on a range of topics, including themes, characterisation, setting, structure and narrative perspective. In your exam there will be a choice of two questions on this novel; you must answer only one. If you are sitting the higher paper you will just see the two questions. In the foundation paper, you will find an additional set of bullet points to support you (see below).

It is really important that you spend no more than 45 minutes on your one question, leaving enough time to answer the question on Of Mice and Men or To Kill a Mockingbird. Within this short time frame, you should aim to write 3-5 analytic paragraphs answering the question.

How to answer the question:

  • You will be asked to closely analyse the methods and techniques used by Hill to create a particular atmosphere, describe an important setting, convey a particular theme or present an interesting character. It is imperative that you think carefully about why Hill has chosen specific words and images, and the effect this creates in the reader. For this question, really ZOOM IN on the connotations of language and feelings presented.
  • To achieve the highest marks, you will have to ZOOM OUT and explain how different parts of the novel link to the question. Furthermore, you can explore how Susan Hill uses literary conventions from the Gothic genre and how this creates tension for the modern reader.

The question is marked out of 30, with four 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.

Finally, 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 feedback.




  1. How effective is the first chapter, ‘Christmas Eve’ in introducing characters and ideas which are important to the novel as a whole?
  2. Write about two places in the novel where setting is important to the story.
  • Describe these places and briefly say what happens in each of them.
  • Say why they are important to the story, explain the atmosphere of each place and what the writer wants the reader to think or feel.
  • Explain how successful she has been. Give your reasons.
  1. Explore how Hill creates fear in the chapter ‘Whistle and I’ll Come To You’?
  2. How does Susan Hill explore the theme of revenge in this novel? You should make detailed reference to Christian beliefs and moral attitudes Of the time and the language used to express these ideas in the novel.
  3. Arthur Kipps is both the narrator and a central character in the ghost story. How does he change from the young lawyer about to travel to Crythin Gifford to the middle-aged step-father who feels compelled to write his story?
  4. Consider Kipps’ role in The Woman In Black and how effectively Hill portrays him.
  5. Choose two of the following characters and write about their importance in the novel:
  • Mr Bentley, Mr Samuel Daily, the landlord Of the Gifford Arms, Keckwick.
  • Write about their role in the novel, referring to what they say or do.
  • Write about what Kipps thinks about them.
  • Write about what you think about them and their role.
  1. Why do you think Susan Hill called her story ‘The Woman In Black’? How effective is it as a title?
  • Write about the appearance and the importance of the ghost in the story.
  • Write about religious beliefs at the time.
  • Explain your feelings about what she does and her intentions.
  1. A critic described ‘The Woman In Black’ as a ‘rattling good yarn, the sort that chills the mind as well as the spine.’ What methods does Hill use to create suspense and tensions in the novel?
  2. Write about two episodes in the novel that you think are frightening.

Write about:

  • What happens
  • The techniques used by Hill to frighten the reader.
  • Why you think these events are important.
  1. Near the start of the novel Arthur Kipps says ‘l did not believe in ghosts.’ How does Hill show the way Arthur changes during the novel?

Write about:

  • What happens to Arthur and how these things change him
  • The methods Hill uses to show the changes in Arthur.


SAMPLE ESSAY ANSWER: How effective is the first chapter, ‘Christmas Eve’ in introducing characters and ideas which are important to the novel as a whole?

The first chapter introduces the narrator, Arthur Kipps, during a happy, family occasion, on Christmas Eve. Initially, the language used to introduce him is filled with positive images of “happy, festive” times, his “lightening heart” and his oneness with his natural surroundings. Yet there are clues from the very first that he may have a less than happy past: his home bears the name ‘Monk’s Piece’, which has connotations of monastic solitude, suggesting he may have chosen it to shut himself away from the world, whilst ‘Piece’ is also a homophone for ‘Peace’ suggesting he has sought peace in his life at this place. When he refers to “the long shadows cast by the events of the past”, the reader is immediately intrigued as to what these may be: the metaphor of shadows implies something dark and unpleasant, whilst ‘long shadows’ suggest that this is in the distant past, something that has troubled him for many years.

Kipps’ description of his wife, Esme, and his step-children, introduce the theme of family bonds and the security and happiness one finds from these. Kipps comments how he enjoys “the happy company of my family” and how they give him “an uprush of well-being”. This is most likely a familiar feeling for the reader but we are also aware that he has been widowed earlier and this makes us wonder whether his dark shadows are somehow linked to his first wife. The idea of family bonds is repeated later when Hill introduces the tragic tale of Jennet Humfrye, torn from her son’s life and kept away from him, unable to share the mother-child bond. As the story unfolds, the reader cannot help but notice the difference between Kipps’ happy family life and that of the woman in black. Kipps too suffers the agony of losing those dearest to him though he finds a second chance at happiness with Esme, even though it can never be as deeply fulfilling as that first marriage and his own blood-child.

In this chapter, Hill also outlines the archetype of the Victorian gothic ghost story when Kipps describes the family telling traditional ghost stories, including the “inner locked rooms”, “footsteps creaking on staircases”, “swirling mists and sudden winds” and “curses upon heirs”. She later invokes all of these features in her novel, so that the reader becomes immersed in the genre she has set out for us to explore. Those already familiar with the genre, will already be expecting the pleasurable thrill of fear from this type of story and the methods of bringing suspense to the page. She also uses this to underline that Kipps recognises in these Stories, an element of reality that he alone can relate to, being “set apart” and “an outsider” since he has experienced these things for himself. Hill describes the “rising flood of memory”, a metaphor for the build-up of suppressed terror that he has never been able to address since losing Stella and Joseph. Although the reader does not know his story, this acts as a signal that he will shortly allow us to hear his tale.

Another theme that is introduced in this chapter is that of good and evil and how the power of religious belief can bring peace. Kipps, struggling to compose his emotions in this chapter, is driven to prayer, “a simple, heartfelt prayer” and also recalls a poem of religious significance, which helps to calm him. This is later echoed when, having left Eel Marsh House he contemplates the events he witnessed there and realized “there were forces for good and those for evil doing battle together.” Whilst the novel is intended to reflect the flourishing Christian ethos of its time-setting, it also invites the reader to decide whether good and evil, right and wrong, are simple black-and-white concepts.

As we investigate the morality of Jennet’s enforced separation from her child, then we begin to question whether the Christian belief of the time, that a child born out of wedlock should be taken from its ‘sinful’ mother, was a morally right one or not.

By opening the story at Christmas time, with its focus on the family and togetherness, the events that unfold in Kipps’ story are all the more contrasted as they focus on families torn apart and the inability to forgive, a most un-Christian sentiment.

The IGCSE Language Exam (Reading)

good luck The CIE IGCSE (0522) English Language reading paper is fast approaching. Please do not panic, as you will be thoroughly prepared to succeed in this exam, due to the inspirational teaching of the English department and the countless hours of revision you have completed!

In addition to a series of short posts on each question of the exam, this piece is a general introduction to the paper, a guide to what to expect in the exam and how to revise for it.


This exam is a ruddy long one: 2 hours to be precise. Your paper is marked out of a total of 50 marks, with 40 marks available for reading and understanding two extracts, and 10 marks available for the accuracy and sophistication of your writing. Because this is an English Language exam, I’m afraid we can’t run away from the fact they will be assessing your ability to use English correctly. Therefore, a high proportion of the ten marks are rewarded for correct spelling, punctuation and grammar.

For both Paper 1 (Core) and Paper 2 (Extended), you are required to read two non-fiction sources (these are usually a travel article, an excerpt from an autobiography, a journal entry, etc.). I highly recommend that you spend at least 15 minutes reading these sources, after you have read what each question is asking you. This will give you a greater chance of identifying the necessary features for each question. In the Extended paper especially, these texts will be quite lengthy and probably rather dull. However, you must make sure you read each text fully and annotate as you go along. The Extended paper is split into just three questions. On both papers, it is imperative that you answer all the questions on the exam. Here’s a breakdown of the extended questions on Paper 2:

  1. Retrieval of information and inferring meaning (what the text is about)
  2. Analysis of language techniques (what are the thoughts and feelings of the writer and the effect language has on the reader)
  3. An informative and factual summary

The Core paper tests exactly the same skills, but question one is broken down into Parts A-G, combining elements of inference and language analysis. Question two on the Core is identical to the first question on the Extended paper, testing your understanding of what you have read and your ability to synthesise. Sometimes you are asked to explain in your own words or find key details. This tests your ability to skim read a text, scan for details and make inferences. Question three on the Core paper is identical to the Extended paper.

As English teachers, we always encounter the age-old question of ‘How long do I have to write for each question?’ Well young folk, we recommend that you spend around 40 minutes on question 1, 25 minutes on question 2 and 35 minutes on question 3 (leaving enough time to re-read the extracts and proof read your work).


To achieve spiffing results in this exam, you will need to demonstrate your ability to read for meaning and understand the nuances of language. When reading the two extracts, be sensitive to the atmosphere being created and show appreciation of the feelings of any characters in your response. This means you need to don your detective hat, retrieve the most important information by highlighting the details and picking up on clues in the passage as you read. In each question, you are rewarded not only for identifying relevant material in the passage but also for development of those ideas and use of supporting detail. Some ideas might be quite subtle and implied. This means that you will need to infer meaning and read between the lines in order to write a convincing response. When you are preparing to write your answer, ensure that you understand exactly what the question is asking of you. It will really help you to highlight the material you are going to use in the text – using a pencil so that you can change your mind if you need to. Next, draw up a quick plan in order to organise the ideas you’ve found into a logical structure before you start writing your response.

Each question will tell you exactly what you need to focus on. For example, in question one you are given bullet points to remind you what should be included; in question two you are given two specific paragraphs to analyse, as well as a particular theme within them; and in question three you are given a particular focus to plot your own bullet points and summary. Please ensure you have covered what is asked of you. These bullet points and paragraphs can also help you to structure your answer. Be careful: select the most appropriate material for each section and do not repeat yourself. Do not drift away from the text. For example, in question one you are asked to synthesise the extract and infer meaning about a character/experience; this is not an asking you to write a narrative or short story.

Everything you write must be directly connected to the passage and be supported by references to it. In question one and three (b), you will be asked to use your own words. Embedding technical terms and short phrases from the passage here and there when you are giving details within your answer is fine. However, do not life large quantities of text, as this does not demonstrate your ability to understand meaning, just you can copy like a parrot. A stupid parrot.

Essentially, you should try to use your own words as far as possible when the question asks it of you. Furthermore, before you start writing, you will need to decide on the appropriate tone to use – you will decide this based on the audience outlined in the question and the purpose of your writing. In question one, you might even be writing in character in a different context. However, you can expect that you will have to write in a reasonably formal style – after all, this is an English exam, not PE.

You also need to give some consideration to the genre you have been asked to write in for question one. Even if the task is to write a letter to a relative or a journalistic article, still use a formal tone but do not worry about the presentational devices (letter head, address, newspaper columns, etc). Authenticity is key: try to imagine that this is a real situation (as far as possible) To achieve an A* in this exam, you must ensure think beyond just using some of the rhetorical devices you have been taught. Remember to use sophisticated language, ambitious punctuation and use a variety of different sentence types and starters. Show flair and originality by using satire and irony. Be creative; be impressive.


Many students think that you can’t revise for this exam. Many students who think this fail the exam, epically. The easiest way to revise for this exam is to read, read and read some more non-fiction stuff. Choose a newspaper article, a blog, a travelogue and identify and evaluate the different devices used for effect. Try becoming the character and write about your experiences using synonyms and creative devices. Brush up on your knowledge of word classes and descriptive language techniques – especially the more complex ones such as pathetic fallacy/plosives/juxtaposition/etc. Zoom in on specific words and explore the different connotations one can infer from the lexis used. Think about the different interpretations from different audiences. Then try to summarise the article in your own words, after highlighting at least fifteen different key pieces of information.

Next, there are a variety of different websites out there to help you revise (far better than this one, of course). Here are a few I recommend: https://bbaenglish.wordpress.com/category/english-language//, http://www.bbc.co.uk/skillswise/english, and http://milneenglishaccident.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/IGCSE  – also, there are many helpful videos on YouTube (just type in ‘CIE Reading Paper/Extended/Core’)

Finally, attempt as many past papers as you possibly can in exam conditions. Make sure you are strict with your timings and have no distractions. All past papers can be found here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/7llnxxwy068e798/AABt9iC-LerkmrHrqLVg4Ri_a?dl=0

If you would like to receive feedback for your answers, please do not hesitate to waft it under your teacher’s nose – we really do like this! Well that’s it for the content and summary of your exam.

Watch this space over the next few days for different posts for each question and the style of the exam. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Enjoy revising!


English Awards 2014 – Alexa Greer (Y11)

When Alexa was choosing her A Level options, I believe I may have offered her everything available to persuade (read: bribe) her to opt for one of our English subjects offered. Fortunately, after the promise of providing her with cake every lesson and the next school building named in her honour, Alexa decided that both Language and Literature would suffice. Alexa is one of the rare students who is just exceptional at absolutely ruddy everything, often frustrating her proud yet envious teachers with her sheer brilliance. Alexa has been an enthusiastic, hard-working and high achieving student of English throughout all her Whitbread years. Always succeeding with an air of humility and humbleness, she worked incredibly hard to achieve her A* in Literature and should be very proud of attaining 100% in all components of her English Language GCSE; a truly remarkable feat. Her writing, which has always been a pleasure to read, is concise, sophisticated and her vocabulary developed. An exceptional example of this can be found in her Literature essay below, which scored 40 out of 40. Although she would hate for me to state so, Alexa is one of the finest English students in Whitbread history, and I look forward to her success in the future.

‘Brand, burn up, bite into its grace’ (The Laboratory)

The speaker in the Laboratory by Robert Browning and Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s Macbeth are both disturbed characters, but the speaker is more so. Discuss.

Firstly, the authors of these two works portray disturbed characters through guilt (or lack thereof). Before the murder of Duncan, Lady Macbeth attempts to push away any potential guilt about killing another human being by saying ‘stop up the access and passage to remorse’, implying that she knows that what she is planning to do is wrong and she expects to feel bad later, yet she believes that her quest for power is more important than simple human emotions. In contrast, Speaker displays no such expectations of remorse as she asks the apothecary ‘which is the poison to poison her, prithee?’ The repetition of ‘poison’ suggests a certain level of excitement, as if she thinks the whole idea of murder is an enjoyable game. This repetition also draws attention to the word ‘poison’, making it apparent that Speaker has a fascination with the method of death, not just the possible rewards gained upon the task’s completion, unlike Lady Macbeth, who upon first impression may seem as disturbed as a character can get, but in this case is outdone by Speaker.

After Macbeth has become king and Lady Macbeth is queen, the guilt she has tried so hard to keep under control takes over and her true feelings spill out as she sleepwalks. While imagining that Macbeth is by her side, Lady Macbeth admits that ‘all the perfumes of Arabia could not sweeten this little hand’. It could be argued that this scene is the weakest we see Lady Macbeth, and it is only in this scene that any character describes any part of her as feminine; she describes her own hand as ‘little’, a typically female characteristic. Finally she thinks of herself as feminine, when she is no longer strong and is too evil to be redeemed, which shows her disturbed nature in her disgust for her own sex, as although the inferiority of women was a commonly held view at the time Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, this extent of self-loathing because of it would have been unusual. The Laboratory finishes before any killings take place, but at the end, Speaker talks of her plans to ‘dance at the King’s’ once the deed is done. Even before the killings, Lady Macbeth never expresses such a blasé attitude towards the act of murder, whereas Speaker goes so far as to say that she wants to party, completely unaffected, demonstrating her extremely disturbed nature.

Love, one of the main themes in almost all literary texts, is somewhat put on hold in Macbeth and the Laboratory. Lady Macbeth’s feelings towards Macbeth are in no way romantic and she only uses him to gain power; after she has been informed of Macbeth’s potential to rule Scotland and she starts to come up with a plan, she spares not a though for Macbeth as she thinks about how Duncan will meet his end under ‘[her] battlements’. Since Macbeth is the man and Lady Macbeth should look up to him, this immediate dismissal of him proves that Lady Macbeth is disturbed. At the other end of the scale of ‘love’, Speaker is completely obsessed with Partner, so much so that she is unable to place any blame about his unfaithfulness on him, instead focusing her anger on Woman, whom Speaker believes has ‘ensnared him’. Speaker’s disturbed nature is enhanced by the delusion that Partner is weak and needs to be freed by her.

Lastly, the two’s dastardly characters are made all the more intense by their connections to the apparent devious nature of women. Their cruelty is part of this theme. Lady Macbeth is the epitome of cold calculation and believes Macbeth to be weak because he is ‘too full of the milk of human kindness’. To her, the ends more than justify the means – as long as the ends include her gaining power – and kindness is an obstacle that needs to be overcome. ‘Not that I bid you spare her the pain’ is one line in which Speaker’s own brand of cruelty is abundantly clear. Her sadistic satisfaction in imagining her victim’s pain and suffering as she dies shows how, while Speaker cares about the means just as much (probably more than) the ends, the particular way in which she wants the means to be carried out is disturbing, rather than just.

In the Jacobean era, when Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, people wholeheartedly believed in witchcraft and the evil associated with it was, in their minds, completely real. Women had always made up the vast majority of the accused of this then-crime, so seeing Lady Macbeth say ‘come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts’ would most definitely have had a negative effect on public opinion of her character. Some probably equated her with evil. In the Victorian times, when Browning wrote the Laboratory, though the government no longer punished so-called witches, there were still communities whose beliefs in the occult had not quite dissipated. In the poem, Speaker compares the apothecary’s laboratory to a ‘devil’s smithy’, yet she is still there, watching him work. This displays her somewhat demon-like nature, as no person with pure intentions would want to be in a place linked with the devil. As her enjoyment of this experience is revealed just a short time after she makes this comparison, it is obvious that she knows how terrible what she is doing is but she still derives pleasure from it.

The accepted views of masculinity and femininity were similarly rigid in both the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries; men were powerful and women were subservient (or else they would have been punished). Lady Macbeth, a strong female character, actually shared this view and even asked for spirits to ‘unsex’ her so that she could gain power. Extreme, perhaps, but she had been brought up in a world dominated by male leaders, with women in the background, so the only way to fulfil her desires would have been to be a man, as even women called queens and ladies (including Lady Macbeth herself) only had their titles because they were married to men with the equivalent status. The way her mind has been twisted to believe totally in her own gender’s inferiority makes Lady Macbeth a disturbed character to us in the twenty-first century, but to people living in Shakespeare’s time, it would have been very strange if she did not. The Laboratory, written 238 years after Macbeth, was still published in a period of gender inequality, even though the current monarch was Queen Victoria. When Speaker says that a certain poison ‘never will free the soul from those masculine eyes’, she is saying that Woman must have man-like features because she holds power over Partner. However, the way in which Speaker describes her plan to kill all parts of her victim’s femininity as she says ‘her breast and her arms and her hands, should drop dead’ implies that she values femininity, because she wants to remove it from Woman so that all that’s left is a masculine corpse, and the way in which she insults Woman’s character and then calls her eyes ‘masculine’ proves that, while Speaker recognises the fact that men hold the power, she actually thinks women are better. Feminists are still fighting to be heard today, and in Browning’s time they were almost unheard of, making Speaker a rather disturbed character due to her nonconformist views.

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.