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.

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Of Mice and Men – Analysis of Curley

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

 

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.

Racism

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.

TASK

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.

Themes in ‘Of Mice and Men’ – The Loss of the American Dream

loss of 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 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. (BBC Bitesize)

Key Quotations and Analysis:

Quote One:

George: ‘”O.K. Someday—we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and—”

“An’ live off the fatta the lan’,” Lennie shouted. “An’ have rabbits. Go on, George! Tell about what we’re gonna have in the garden and about the rabbits in the cages and about the rain in the winter and the stove, and how thick the cream is on the milk like you can hardly cut it. Tell about that George.”

“Why’n’t you do it yourself? You know all of it.”

“No…you tell it. It ain’t the same if I tell it. Go on…George. How I get to tend the rabbits.”’ (P. 32)

The particular version of the ‘American Dream’ that sustains George and Lennie’s hope for a better life is the dream of buying and farming their own small piece of land and being independent. If they can achieve this, they will have to answer to no one and free from the monotony of moving from ranch to ranch. The biggest attraction for Lennie is that they will be able to have rabbit and he will be able to look after them. George, in response to Lennie’s constant nagging, describes how they will have ‘a little house and a couple of acres’ and be free to enjoy the unrestricted lifestyle attributed to being your own boss. As Lennie famously quotes, they will ‘live off the fatta the lan’.

Steinbeck’s use of sensory language here is interesting, especially the gustatory imagery (linked to food) when describing the ‘cream on the milk’. This reflects how poor the two drifters are as they are looking forward to days when they no longer have to eat a tin of beans to get by. Furthermore, the fact that George declares that Lennie knows ‘all of it’, show the reader that the description of their dream is recounted regularly, showing how much of a source of comfort it is to them.

Quote Two:

Crooks: ‘seen hundreds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an’ that same damn thing in their heads . . . every damn one of ’em’s got a little piece of land in his head. An’ never a God damn one of ’em ever gets it. Just like heaven. Ever’body wants a little piece of lan’. I read plenty of books out here. Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land.’ (P. 81)

On the other hand, Crooks puts the dream into the context of harsh reality. He explains that he has seen hundreds of men with the same dream, and that it never comes true for any of them. The comparison between ‘heaven’ and ‘land’ is startling to the reader, as it suggests that God has abandoned ‘every damn one of ‘em’ and all hope is lost. Furthermore, the constant repetition of the ‘damn’ and ‘never’ shows how bitter and angry he is at the prospect of his dream of being accepted in society ever coming true. However, the repetition also suggest how hopeless the main characters are and how they are no different to the ‘hundreds of men’ Crooks has seen before.

Quote Three:

George: “Sure,” said George. “All kin’s a vegetables in the garden, and if we want a little whisky we can sell a few eggs or something, or some milk. We’d jus’ live there. We’d belong there. There wouldn’t be no more runnin’ round the country and gettin’ fed by a Jap cook. No, sir, we’d have our own place where we belonged and not sleep in no bunk house.”

They fell into a silence. They looked at one another, amazed. This thing they had never really believed in was coming true. (P. 66)

The men’s optimism is epitomised in this short section in chapter three. George is convinced that Candy’s financial contribution will allow them to achieve the dream of owning their smallholding. Furthermore, the fact that George states that they would ‘belong there’ highlights the nomadic migrant lifestyle they currently live. The use of sensory language once again suggests the importance of the dream, they ‘fell into silence’ creates a dramatic pause for the reader, allowing them to reflect on how dreams can become reality.

Quote Four:

Curleys’ wife: “I tell you I ain’t used to livin’ like this. I coulda made somethin’ of myself.” She said darkly, “Maybe I will yet.” And then her words tumbled out in a passion of communication, as though she hurried before her listener could be taken away. “I lived right in Salinas,” she said. “Come there when I was a kid. Well, a show come through, an’ I met one of the actors. He says I could go with that show. But my ol’ lady wouldn’ let me. She says because I was on’y fifteen. But the guy says I coulda. If I’d went, I wouldn’t be livin’ like this, you bet.” (P. 124)

Steinbeck presents Curley’s wife in a myriad of different ways throughout the text. We need to ask ourselves a variety of different questions regarding Steinbeck’s intentions. Overall, we should consider how Steinbeck wants us to perceive her. We can begin by exploring how the author first introduces the character of Curley’s wife via the perspective of other characters. For example, before we meet her, Candy tells George that he has seen her ‘give Slim the eye’ and that she’s ‘ tart’ (p. 49-50)

Her physical appearance reinforces the negative imagery created by Candy. Furthermore, her first appearance in the bunk house blocks out the light: ‘the rectangle of sunshine in the doorway was cut off. A girl was standing there looking in’ (p. 53). She is dressed all in red and is ‘heavily made up’, connoting a range of different emotions: danger, passion, seduction and love.

However, in section five the reader is finally introduced to the ‘real’ Curley’s wife. She is lonely, isolated by the rest of the men and unhappily married to Curley, who ‘aint a nice fella’. We can infer that she rarely has the opportunity to speak to other ranch workers by the fact the ‘her words tumbled out in a passion of communication, as though she hurried before the listener could be taken away’. This evokes a feeling of pity in the reader, as all she wants to in life is someone to confide in. Furthermore, her innocence, and perhaps naivety is shown when she believe that her ‘ol’ lady’ stole the letters from the actor away from her. Finally, Curley’s wife’s heart-breaking reality is summarised in the quote “I coulda made somethin’ of myself.” She said darkly, “Maybe I will yet.” One could argue that she never could have achieved her dream due to the social and cultural constrictions on her life due to her gender. Nevertheless, the ominous and foreshadowing adverb ‘darkly’ affects the reader greatly as we see how fragile and condemned she is.

Of Mice and Men – AQA Literature Past Papers

Of Mice and Men: with Notes (Longman literature: Steinbeck)

 

Please find below all Of Mice and Men questions from the AQA Literature exam from the past few years. As you can see, the question provides you with a short extract from the novel, and asks you to read the passage before answering part A and part B.

  • Part A asks you to closely analyse the methods and techniques used by Steinbeck 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 Steinbeck 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.
  • Part B will ask you to link the extract to the social, historical and cultural context of the novel – 1930s America. You will have to ZOOM OUT on the extract to examine how it demonstrates what life was like for those living in this particular time period, and how this is also presented in the rest of the novel.

You should spend no more than 45 minutes answering this question. There is no set rule, but I personally recommend that you focus on part A for 25 minutes, leaving 20 minutes for part B and proofreading your work.

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 critical feedback.

Enjoy!

Sir

Higher Tier Of Mice and Men – Jan 2011

candy

Read the passage and then answer part (a) and part (b).

 

The old man was reassured. He had drawn a derogatory statement from George. He felt safe now, and he spoke more confidently. ‘Wait’ll you see Curley’s wife.’

George cut the cards again and put out a solitaire lay, slowly and deliberately.

‘Purty?’ he asked casually.

‘Yeah. Purty … but ––’

George studied his cards. ‘But what?’

‘Well – she got the eye.’

‘Yeah? Married two weeks and got the eye? Maybe that’s why Curley’s pants is full of ants.’

‘I seen her give Slim the eye. Slim’s a jerkline skinner. Hell of a nice fella. Slim don’t need to wear no high-heeled boots on a grain team. I seen her give Slim the eye. Curley never seen it. An’ I seen her give Carlson the eye.’

George pretended a lack of interest. ‘Looks like we was gonna have fun.’

The swamper stood up from his box. ‘Know what I think?’ George did not answer.

‘Well, I think Curley’s married … a tart.’

‘He ain’t the first,’ said George. ‘There’s plenty done that.’

The old man moved toward the door, and his ancient dog lifted his head and peered about, and then got painfully to his feet to follow. ‘I gotta be settin’ out the wash basins for the guys. The teams’ll be in before long. You guys gonna buck barley?’

‘Yeah.’

‘You won’t tell Curley nothing I said?’

‘Hell no.’

‘Well, you look her over, mister. You see if she ain’t a tart.’ He stepped out the door into the brilliant sunshine.

 

Part (a)

(a) What methods does Steinbeck use in this passage to present Candy?

 and then Part (b)

(b) How do you think Steinbeck uses the character of Candy in the novel as a whole to

convey important ideas about society at that time? (30 marks)

 

 

Higher Tier Of Mice and Men – Jun 2011

G and L

Read the passage and then answer part (a) and part (b)

 

‘I don’t want no fights,’ said Lennie. He got up from his bunk and sat down at the table, across from George. Almost automatically George shuffled the cards and laid out his solitaire hand. He used a deliberate, thoughtful, slowness.

Lennie reached for a face card and studied it, then turned it upside down and studied it. ‘Both ends the same,’ he said, ‘George, why is it both end’s the same?’

‘I don’t know,’ said George. ‘That’s jus’ the way they make ’em. What was Slim doin’ in the barn when you seen him?’

‘Slim?’

‘Sure. You seen him in the barn, an’ he tol’ you not to pet the pups so much.’

‘Oh yeah. He had a can a’ tar an’ a paint brush. I don’t know what for.’

‘You sure that girl didn’t come in like she come in here today?’

‘No. She never come.’

George sighed. ‘You give me a good whore house every time,’ he said. ‘A guy can go in an’ get drunk and get ever’thing outta his system all at once, an’ no messes. And he knows how much it’s gonna set him back. These here jail baits is just set on the trigger of the hoosegow.’

Lennie followed his words admiringly, and moved his lips a little to keep up. George continued, ‘You remember Andy Cushman, Lennie? Went to grammar school?’

‘The one that his old lady used to make hot cakes for the kids?’ Lennie asked.

‘Yeah. That’s the one. You can remember anything if there’s anything to eat in it.’

George looked carefully at the solitaire hand. He put an ace up on his scoring rack and piled a two, three and four of diamonds on it. ‘Andy’s in San Quentin right now on account of a tart,’ said George.

Lennie drummed on the table with his fingers. ‘George?’

‘Huh?’’

‘George, how long’s it gonna be till we get that little place an’ live on the fatta the

lan’ – an’ rabbits?’

 

Part (a)

(a) How do the details in this passage add to your understanding of George and his

relationship with Lennie?

 and then Part (b)

(b) How does Steinbeck use their relationship in the novel as a whole to convey ideas

about America in the 1930s? (30 marks)

 

 

Higher Tier Of Mice and Men – Jan 2012

bunkhouse

Read the following passage and then answer part (a) and part (b).

 

The bunk house was a long, rectangular building. Inside, the walls were whitewashed and the floor unpainted. In three walls there were small, square windows, and in the fourth, a solid door with a wooden latch. Against the walls were eight bunks, five of them made up with blankets and the other three showing their burlap ticking. Over each bunk there was nailed an apple box with the opening forward so that it made two shelves for the personal belongings of the occupant of the bunk. And these shelves were loaded with little articles, soap and talcum powder, razors and those Western magazines ranch men love to read and scoff at and secretly believe. And there were medicines on the shelves, and little vials, combs; and from nails on the box sides, a few neckties. Near one wall there was a black cast-iron stove, its stove-pipe going

straight up through the ceiling. In the middle of the room stood a big square table littered with playing cards, and around it were grouped boxes for the players to sit on.

At about ten o’clock in the morning the sun threw a bright dust-laden bar through one of the side windows, and in and out of the beam flies shot like rushing stars.

The wooden latch raised. The door opened and a tall, stoop-shouldered old man came in. He was dressed in blue jeans and he carried a big push-broom in his left hand. Behind him came George, and behind George, Lennie.

‘The boss was expectin’ you last night,’ the old man said. ‘He was sore as hell when you wasn’t here to go out this morning.’ He pointed with his right arm, and out of the sleeve came a round stick-like wrist, but no hand. ‘You can have them two beds there,’ he said, indicating two bunks near the stove.

George stepped over and threw his blankets down on the burlap sack of straw that was a mattress. He looked into the box shelf and then picked a small yellow can from it. ‘Say. What the hell’s this?’

‘I don’t know,’ said the old man.

‘Says “positively kills lice, roaches, and other scourges”. What the hell kind of bed you giving us, anyways. We don’t want no pants rabbits.’

 

Part (a)

How does Steinbeck use details in this passage to present the bunkhouse and its

inhabitants?

 

and then Part (b)

In the rest of the novel, how does Steinbeck present the lives of ranch workers at that

time? (30 marks)

 

 

Higher Tier Of Mice and Men – Jun 2012

curleys wife

Read the following passage and then answer part (a) and part (b).

 

Both men glanced up, for the rectangle of sunshine in the doorway was cut off. A girl was standing there looking in. She had full, rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up. Her fingernails were red. Her hair hung in little rolled clusters, like sausages. She wore a cotton house dress and red mules, on the insteps of which were little bouquets of red ostrich feathers. ‘I’m lookin’ for Curley,’ she said. Her voice had a nasal, brittle quality.

George looked away from her and then back. ‘He was in here a minute ago, but he

went.’

‘Oh!’ She put her hands behind her back and leaned against the door frame so that her body was thrown forward. ‘You’re the new fellas that just come, ain’t ya?’

‘Yeah.’

Lennie’s eyes moved down over her body, and though she did not seem to be looking at Lennie she bridled a little. She looked at her fingernails. ‘Sometimes Curley’s in here,’ she explained.

George said brusquely, ‘Well he ain’t now.’

‘If he ain’t, I guess I better look some place else,’ she said playfully.

Lennie watched her, fascinated. George said, ‘If I see him, I’ll pass the word you was looking for him.’

She smiled archly and twitched her body. ‘Nobody can’t blame a person for lookin’,’ she said. There were footsteps behind her, going by. She turned her head. ‘Hi, Slim,’ she said.

Slim’s voice came through the door, ‘Hi, good-lookin’.’

‘I’m tryin’ to fi nd Curley, Slim.’

‘Well, you ain’t tryin’ very hard. I seen him goin’ in your house.’

She was suddenly apprehensive. ‘Bye, boys,’ she called into the bunk house, and she hurried away.

George looked around at Lennie. ‘Jesus, what a tramp,’ he said. ‘So that’s what Curley picks for a wife.’

 

Part (a)

In this passage, what methods does Steinbeck use to present Curley’s wife and the

attitudes of others to her? Refer closely to the passage in your answer.

and then Part (b)

How does Steinbeck present attitudes to women in the society in which the novel is set?

(30 marks)

 

 

Higher Tier Of Mice and Men – Jan 2013

crooks

Read the following passage and then answer Part (a) and Part (b).

Crooks possessed several pairs of shoes, a pair of rubber boots, a big alarm clock and a single-barreled shotgun. And he had books, too; a tattered dictionary and a mauled copy of the California civil code for 1905. There were battered magazines and a few dirty books on a special shelf over his bunk. A pair of large gold-rimmed spectacles hung from a nail on the wall above his bed.

This room was swept and fairly neat, for Crooks was a proud, aloof man. He kept his distance and demanded that other people kept theirs. His body was bent over to the left by his crooked spine, and his eyes lay deep in his head, and because of their depth seemed to glitter with intensity. His lean face was lined with deep black wrinkles, and he had thin, pain-tightened lips which were lighter than his face.

It was Saturday night. Through the open door that led into the barn came the sound of moving horses, of feet stirring, of teeth champing on hay, of the rattle of halter chains. In the stable buck’s room a small electric globe threw a meager yellow light.

Crooks sat on his bunk. His shirt was out of his jeans in back. In one hand he held a bottle of liniment, and with the other he rubbed his spine. Now and then he poured a few drops of the liniment into his pink-palmed hand and reached up under his shirt to rub again. He flexed his muscles against his back and shivered.

Noiselessly Lennie appeared in the open doorway and stood there looking in, his big shoulders nearly fi lling the opening. For a moment Crooks did not see him, but on raising his eyes he stiffened and a scowl came on his face. His hand came out from under his shirt.

Lennie smiled helplessly in an attempt to make friends.

Crooks said sharply, ‘You got no right to come in my room. This here’s my room. Nobody got any right in here but me.’

 

Part (a)

In this passage, how does Steinbeck present Crooks? Refer closely to the passage in

your answer.

 

and then Part (b)

In the rest of the novel how does Steinbeck use Crooks to present attitudes to black

people at the time the novel is set? (30 marks)

SPaG: (4 marks) 

 

Higher Tier Of Mice and Men – June 2013

slim

Read the following passage and then answer Part (a) and Part (b).

 

A tall man stood in the doorway. He held a crushed Stetson hat under his arm while he combed his long, black, damp hair straight back. Like the others he wore blue jeans and a short denim jacket. When he had finished combing his hair he moved into the room, and he moved with a majesty only achieved by royalty and master craftsmen. He was a jerkline skinner, the prince of the ranch, capable of driving ten, sixteen, even twenty mules with a single line to the leaders. He was capable of killing a fly on the wheeler’s butt with a bull whip without touching the mule. There was a gravity in his manner and a quiet so profound that all talk stopped when he spoke.

His authority was so great that his word was taken on any subject, be it politics or love. This was Slim, the jerkline skinner. His hatchet face was ageless. He might have been thirty-five or fifty. His ear heard more than was said to him, and his slow speech had overtones not of thought, but of understanding beyond thought. His hands, large and lean, were as delicate in their action as those of a temple dancer. He smoothed out his crushed hat, creased it in the middle and put it on. He looked kindly at the two in the bunk house. ‘It’s brighter’n a bitch outside,’ he said gently.

‘Can’t hardly see nothing in here. You the new guys?’

‘Just come,’ said George.

‘Gonna buck barley?’

‘That’s what the boss says.’

Slim sat down on a box across the table from George. He studied the solitaire hand that was upside down to him. ‘Hope you get on my team,’ he said. His voice was very gentle. ‘I gotta pair of punks on my team that don’t know a barley bag from a blue ball. You guys ever bucked any barley?’

 

Part (a)

In this passage, how does Steinbeck present Slim? Refer closely to the passage in your

and then Part (b)

In the rest of the novel, how does Steinbeck show that some people on the ranch are

considered more important than others? How does this reflect the society in which the

novel is set?(30 marks)

Themes in ‘Of Mice and Men’ – Loneliness

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Of Mice and Men is rife with lonely characters, all looking for friendship and a better existence. However, it is interesting to note that no one is really alone: people live and work in close proximity to one another and have different forms of relationships. The theme is introduced early in the novel, when George states to Lennie that ‘Guys like us, who work on the ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place.’ (P31-32) The use of the superlative ‘loneliest’ suggests that the migrant drifters are outcaste from society, hoping that one day they will find their place in the world. However, George goes on to state that he and Lennie are different from other ranch workers as they have each other. Therefore, Steinbeck is creating a world where isolation and loneliness is everywhere, yet friendship is an escape from it.

The friendship formed between George and Lennie is the only true relationship presented in the novel. Characters such as Crooks and Candy are too different from the other ranchers to be viewed as friends; Curley is just too unpleasant and mean; the Boss and Slim may have buddies, but we never meet them as a reader; and Carlson is just a bit of a dick (who really shoots a guy’s dog?) One could suggest that this is Steinbeck’s clever tactic not to overload the short novel with a plethora of unnecessary and forgettable characters (such as Whit – Who? Indeed), but it also helps to emphasise the loneliness of most characters, when compared to the friendship George and Lennie have.

Steinbeck litters his narrative with characters on the ranch who are lonely: rootless souls with no family connection or friends; but the three loneliest people in the novel are those who have no chance of escaping in the future:

Candy

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Candy is old. He has one hand, the other lost in a farming accident. His best friend is a dog, which Carlson takes out and shoots. As a swamper who cleans the living quarters of the ranch, he is denied the normal, masculine camaraderie of the heavy duty bucking of barley. He apparently has no family he feels he can go and live with in his old age.

Candy’s loneliness is reflected in his eagerness to gossip to newcomers George and Lennie when they arrive on the ranch, and is ready and willing to embrace and fund the dream George shares with Lennie. He enjoys George’s fantasy that he can ‘hoe in the garden even after [he] ain’t no good at it.’ (P88) but has a clear understanding that he will no longer be needed on the ranch soon. Steinbeck uses the metaphor of Candy’s dog to show that time is rapidly running out for him and that the boss will ‘can’ him just as soon as his use becomes unwelcome. Candy laments, ‘You seen what they done to my dog tonight? They say he wasn’t no good to himself nor nobody else. When they can me here I wisht somebody’d shoot me. But they won’t do nothing like that. I won’t have no place to go’. (P. 88) This evokes a feeling of pity and sadness in the reader, as Candy would rather end his suffering than continue his lonely and isolated existence. However, this feeling changes ever-so-slightly when his loneliness is matched by his bitter disappointment and anger when he finds Curley’s wife dead, and realises that now the dream will never come true. However, if one considers the cultural context of the time, as well as how tough and solitary his life is, we could perhaps forgive his lack of sympathy over the death of a ‘tart’ he believes has shattered his future.

Crooks

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Just like many characters in the novel, Steinbeck introduces Crooks from the perspective of other people before we meet him properly in section four. Characteristically, he is ‘aloof’ in his room, where he spends the majority of his time. Crooks is even lonelier than old Candy, due to him being a black, crippled man. He is entirely excluded from the bunk house, except for one occasion mentioned by Candy, when Smitty ‘took after him’ and ‘woulda killed the nigger’ if he was able to use his feet in the fight. (P. 41) In this brief introduction by Candy to George and Lennie, although repeatedly defined as a ‘nigger’, he is also classified as a ‘nice fella, too’, with ‘books in his room’, suggesting that this is one way Crooks stave off the loneliness he suffers as a result of his colour and ‘crooked back where a horse kicked him’ (P41).

Crooks is the only black character in the novel and is proud of the fact that he is not a ‘southern negro’ (P. 102), a reference to him having no recent family history of slavery. Nevertheless, if he was living in the southern states of Mississippi or Alabama, at least he would have much more of a black community around him. Here in Solidad, California, he does not suffer the obvious hatred and aggression of the South but he is very segregated and lonely. His one social outlet is playing horseshoes with the other workers, a game he seems to win a little respect for due to his prowess.

Crooks is a proud man, and it is this pride which makes him reject what he cannot have: Lennie’s friendship and a chance to share their dream of owning their own land. Therefore, when Lennie tries to befriend him at the beginning of section four, Crooks first tries to expel Lennie from his harness room, stating ‘You got no right to come in my room. This here’s my room. Nobody got any right in here but me’ (P. 99-101). Steinbeck’s repetition of the word ‘right’, highlights the fact that Crooks has very few civil rights on the ranch. Furthermore, he seems envious of Lennie’s close relationship with George, enough to torment the defenceless Lennie by suggesting that George has abandoned him forever and thus he will be left alone. Realising that he can state whatever he wishes to Lennie without anyone finding out, he confesses to him, ‘S’pose you couldn’t go in the bunk house and play rummy ‘cause you was black. How’d you like that? S’pose you had to sit out here an’ read books. Sure you could pay horseshoes till it got dark, but then you got to read books. Books ain’t no good. A guy needs somebody – to be near him’ (P. 105). This symbolises the shear isolation and seclusion suffered by Crooks, forcing the reader to empathise with his jealousy over Lennie and George’s friendship. The short pause created by the en dash after ‘needs somebody’ implies that Crooks realises he will always be lonesome, desperate for the need for human company.

Curley’s wife

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The loneliness endured by Curley’s wife is different again from that of either Candy or Crooks, and perhaps the most pitiful for a modern reader. She is the only woman on the ranch; therefore she can only turn to her new husband or to other men on the ranch for company, but Curley is jealous and suspicious if other men give her any attention. Curley appears to objectify her, viewing her as one of his possessions. One could argue that it his own self-consciousness which leads him to believe she will be unfaithful. Furthermore, Curley’s aggressive nature means that most of the men will avoid his wife, for fear of losing their jobs. In addition to this, the men see her interest in their company as improper and call her ‘a tart’ and ‘a tramp’ (p. 50). As she states herself, ‘If I catch one guy, and he’s alone, I get along fine with him. But just let two of the guys get together an’ you won’t talk. Jus’ nothing but mad… You’re all scared of each other, that’s what’ (P. 110). It’s interesting to note that she just focuses on talking and nothing else, stressing how lonely she is in the company of her mean-minded and boring husband.

When she confides in Lennie, she again voices her dislike of Curley: ‘I don’t like Curley. He ain’t a nice fella’ (P. 125). The emphasis on like is one of the reasons modern readers feel most pity for her in the novel: some women of the 1930s were expected to marry someone they did not love, yet she is newly wedded to a man she does not even like. Furthermore, Curley’s ‘glove fulla Vaseline’ that ‘he’s keeping soft for his wife’ could represent the constant beatings she receives when he is mad.

Finally, her name also symbolises her loneliness and isolation from society. The fact that she remains nameless evokes a feeling of sorrow in the reader, as this represents the complete lack of power, freedom and identity she has in the novel.

TASK

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 character do you consider to be the most lonely? Think of at least three reasons for your answer.
  2. Who is especially lonely because of being ‘proud and aloof’? How does his character represent segregation in the 1930s?
  3. Do you think Curley’s wife’s deserved to be isolated, and even killed, for her relationships with other men?
  4. How is old age represented in the novel and how do the other characters feel about this?
  5. Why does Crooks victimise and bully Lennie in section four?

Any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.

Best wishes,

Sir