Of Mice and Men

by John Steinbeck

Contents of this page
 Analytical Essay on the Closure in Of Mice and Men
Close Reading of a Passage
John Steinbeck's Life
Annotated List of John Steinbeck's Works
Links

Closure in Of Mice and Men
      Slim comforts George telling him "[y]ou hadda, George" after he shot Lennie. Lennie's death at the end of the book is incredibly saddening to the reader but it was necessary for conflict resolution in the story and, when examining the book closely, it is inevitable.  This was something that George had to do as Lennie’s best friend and caretaker.
      It is so easy to become attached to Lennie because of his juvenile nature and his generous personality.  Lennie is engulfed in his own childlike fantasy land full of nothing but his dream of living "off the fatta the lan'" and tending to the rabbits.  Whenever he does something wrong he worries that "...maybe George ain’t gonna let [him] tend to no rabbits, if he fin's out..."  None of Lennie's thoughts are grounded in reality.  They are all immature visions of a simpleminded and kind man.  Lennie’s compassionate nature is evident early on in the novel.  On page 12* George makes a hasty comment that he goes "nuts" sometimes because he is constantly responsible for Lennie.  Lennie automatically feels guilty and offers to "go off in the hills there.  Some place I'd find a cave."  These two qualities make it almost certain that the reader will really care about Lennie’s character therefore the ending is really sad, no matter how necessary it was for conflict resolution.
      Of course, this ending is necessary for conflict resolution.  Throughout the book George maintains that Lennie’s "jes' like a kid.  There ain’t no more harm in him that a kid neither, except he's so strong."  But, when Lennie kills his dog and Curley's wife it is obvious he has become a harm to others.  Now he is a serious danger to anyone who provokes him, so he must be stopped.  Curley is so upset that Lennie killed his wife he swears: "I'm gonna get him.  I'm going for my shotgun.  I'll kill the big son-of-a-bitch myself.  I'll shoot ‘im in the guts."  This would be an excruciatingly painful way to die.  George knows that he is actually helping Lennie to suffer less and he is eliminating the possibility of Lennie hurting someone else by killing him quickly.
      In many ways the incident at the conclusion of the book was inevitable from the beginning for many reasons.  First of all, it is clear from the initial chapter that Lennie has killed many mice without trying.  He simply "pet ‘em and pretty soon they bit [his] fingers and [he] pinched their heads a little and they was dead - because they was so little."  Lennie never understood his own strength.  One day "he damn near killed his partner buckin' barley" because of his uncontrollable might.  The second major clue is the fact that Lennie likes to feel things.  This seems innocent enough on its own except he never realized that he  was not supposed to touch girls he did not know.  One day he "jus' wanted to feel that girl's dress - jus' wanted to pet her like she was a mouse - ... She jerks back and [he held] on jus' like she was a mouse..."  The third hint would be Curley's numerous warnings to Lennie to stay away from Lennie's wife and her "her eye goin' all the time on everybody."  These sound like a volatile pair.  The fourth, and most obvious, example of foreshadowing was the execution of Candy's dog.  They shot it in the back of the head.  Carleson claims "he'd never know what hit him."  This seems like a common execution for animals.  In fact, they often refer to Lennie in animal terms, equating him to Carleson's dog.  Steinbeck claims that Lennie was drinking from the stream "snorting water like a horse" in the opening scene.  Later on Steinbeck claims he is "strong as a bull" and he crushes Curley's had with his "paw."  Each of these pieces of information comes together to form the inevitable ending to Of Mice and Men.
      The large amounts of foreshadowing create an ending that is satisfying to readers because it is not a surprise.  The ending is what they figured would happen throughout the book.  This ending also resolves all the major conflicts but still allows for some speculation about George's future.

* all page numbers refer to the 1993 publishing by Penguin Book
 
 top of page


Close Reading of a Passage
 
from pages 13-15

      George's voice became deeper.  He repeated his words rhythmically as though he had said them many times before.  "Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world.  They got no family.  They don't belong no place.  They come to ranch an' work up a stake and then they go inta town and blow their stake, and the first thing you know they're poundin' their tail on some other ranch.  They ain't got nothing to look ahead to."
      Lennie was delighted.  "That's it - that's it.  Now tell how it is with us."
      George went on.  "We got a future.  We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us.  We don't have to sit in no bar room blowin' in our jack jus' because we got no place else to go.  If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anyone gives a damn.  But not us."
      Lennie broke in.  "But not us!  An' why?  Because... because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that's why."  He laughed delightedly.  "Go on now, George!"
      "You got it by heart.  You can do it yourself."
      "No, you.  I forget some a' the things.  Tell about how it's gonna be."
      "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."
      "Well," said George, "we'll have a big vegetable patch and a rabbit hutch and chickens.  And when it rains in the winter, we'll just say the hell with goin' to work, and we'll build up a fire in the stove and set around it an' listen to the rain comin' down on the roof."
 
 

      This is the dream that George and Lennie have together.  I chose this passage because it is the basis of Lennie’s mindset for the entire story.  Everything that Lennie does in the whole story is directly related to his desire to achieve this fantasy.  He lives for the possibility that he may have a ranch and raise rabbits.  He constantly talks about these things.  Every mistake he makes or every temptation he is faced with is a threat to the possibility of him being able to raise his own rabbits. Although deep down George realizes that this is a dream he also lets himself believe this is a reality in the future rather than just a dream.
    This passage also demonstrates George and Lennie's relationship.  They are such close friends that they even share the same dream.  They realize how special it is for guys in their line of work to have someone to look after each other.  George takes his relationship with Lennie very seriously.  He realizes that he has to take care of Lennie because Lennie can't always take care of himself.
 
 top of page


Biography
      John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California, a small agricultural town of about 2,500 people, on February 27, 1902.  His mother, Olive Hamilton, was from a large Irish farm family.  She became the teacher at the local one room school house.  John Earnest Steinbeck, his father, was the son of German immigrants.  Their family, which also included three girls, lived in a Victorian house on a prominent corner in Salinas.  John was a very shy child, in fact his closest childhood friend was one of his sisters.  A book from his aunt, The Book of Arthurian Legends by Sir Thomas Mowrey, was his favorite book as a child and eventually helped to shape many of his later novels.
      By ninth grade Steinbeck knew he wanted to be a writer.  He enrolled at Stanford University in 1919.  He took only the classes that he believed would make him a better writer at Stanford for six years, but never earned a degree.  During breaks from school he would work in the fields for money and to hear the worker's stories.  Steinbeck would pay the workers for each tale they allowed him to record.
      In 1925 he move to New York City to become a journalist.  His first newspaper job was for the New York American.  It only lasted for a few months.  Steinbeck was forced to leave for being too involved with the people he wrote about.  He returned to California in 1926.  For two years he was a caretaker in Lake Tahoe.  This gave him ample writing time during the winter months.  During the next two years he wrote Cup of Gold.  During the summer of 1928 he met Carol Henning.  That fall he followed her to San Francisco and they eloped to California in 1929.  The couple was poor so they moved to Steinbeck's parent's vacation house in Monterey.  This is where Steinbeck met Ed Ricketts who became a very influential person in Steinbeck's life and the basis for the character of "Doc Ricketts" in Cannery Row.
      Pastures of Heaven, the novel Steinbeck releases in 1932, sold a mere 1,000 copies.  By the age of thirty Steinbeck was living in what he described as "comfortable poverty."  Steinbeck's mother suffered a stroke in 1933.  He moved home to take care of her.  During this time he wrote The Red Pony.  A year later she died.  This is the same time his father's health began to fail.  Steinbeck's response to this stressful time was a comic novel called Tortilla Flat.  His father died shortly before publishing of this book which became a best seller.
      Steinbeck soon wrote Of Mice and Men which he based on one of the stories he heard in the fields during his college days.  This book also became a book.  It was immediately made into a Broadway pay and eventually a movie.  Steinbeck traveled to Okie labor camps to research his next novel, The Grapes of Wrath.  This novel earned him the Pulitzer Prize, but it received horrible reviews from critics who suspected Steinbeck of being a Communist.  It also caused controversy in his home town.  The people of Salinas burned the book in front of the town library.  The instant success and quick money associated with Grapes of Wrath caused problems at home too.  His wife Carol began drinking alcohol heavily.  Soon Steinbeck met Gwen Conger, a young singer.  He divorced Carol and married Gwen.  The two moved to Manhattan in 1943.
      During a tour of bombing training camps and other World War II activities Steinbeck wrote a movie script, a book, and many news paper articles.  But, the war left him depressed, so he tried to recreate his past to remember happier times.  His old friendship with Ed Rickett inspired the book Cannery Row.
      His wife Gwen had two sons, but controversy in his hometown, which he had returned to again, and  problems with his marriage initiated a move to New York City and a new wife, Elaine Scott.  They were married in 1950.  In New York Steinbeck worked on various movie scripts.
      East of Eden, Steinbeck's next book, was based on his family history and his personal past.  Steinbeck and Elaine traveled internationally extensively.  They moved to Long Island and became social with a very elite group of friends.  Steinbeck felt he had lost connection with the American public because of his wealthy status so he took a cross country trip in his trip with his dog, Charley to meet typical Americans.  This trip inspired the book Travels With Charlie which was published in 1962.  Steinbeck was also awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in ‘62.  That same year he had a stroke and never fully recovered.  In 1963 Steinbeck visited Russia and he visited Vietnam in 1966.  Steinbeck died December 20, 1968. He has become the most read American author across the world.
 
 top of page

Annotated List of Works by Steinbeck
Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights - A modern version of the legends of King Arthur and
    the Knights of the Round Table.
Burning Bright : A Play in Story Form - A Story that deals with human struggle to lead not only a
    life, but a life with meaning.
Cannery Row - A story based on his friends in Monterey, California.  Cannery Row focuses on
    the acceptance of life as it is.
East of Eden - The New York Times Book Review" says this book about two families, the
    Trasks and the Hamiltons, is "A strange and original work of art."  Generations of these families
    reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the fights of Cain and Abel.
The Grapes of Wrath - The story of the Joad family who is forced to leave their Oklahoma farm in
    search of work in California during the Great Depression.
The Harvest Gypsies : On the Road to "The Grapes of Wrath" - a collection of newspaper articles
    written on farm workers in Okie migrant camps in California.
In Dubious Battle - Migratory workers in apple orchards of California  rise up against injustice
Journal of a Novel : The East of Eden Letters - A collection of diary entries or letters to friends
    that Steinbeck wrote while writing East of Eden.
The Log from the Sea of Cortez - A journal that Steinbeck kept during his ocean voyage with
    marine biologist friend, Ed Ricketts.
The Long Valley - A collection of short stories
The Moon Is Down - A small Norway town faces evil from the outside and betrayal from the
    inside when the Nazi troops invade.  Set during World War II.
Once There Was a War - A collection of articles that captures the essence of human feelings
    during World War II.
The Pearl - A Mexican pearl fisher finds a valuable pearl only to lose it.
The Red Pony - The story of a young boy and life on his father's California ranch, raising a sorrel
    colt.
The Short Reign of Pippin IV : A Fabrication - Pippin finds himself suddenly crowned king of
    France but problems result when he actually tries to use his power.
Sweet Thursday - The sequel to Cannery Row.  Takes place 5 years after the events of the first
    book.
To a God Unknown - A deeply religious book that presents a special connection between religion
    and nature.
Tortilla Flat - Arthurian legend is the inspiration for this book about a gang from a district called
    Tortilla Flat whose exploits compare to those of King Arthur's Knights.
Travels With Charley: In Search of America - Steinbeck tours the country with his dog Charley
    and discovers all kinds of people.
The Wayward Bus - Set inside a bus, it is basically a character study with the question: who is
    the most pathetic?
Winters of Our Discontentment - Ethan Allen Hawley's  struggle within himself causes the reader
    to look into their hearts and come to terms with their own morality.
Working Days: The Journals of the Grapes of Wrath 1938-1941 - The journal Steinbeck kept
    while writing The Grapes of Wrath.
Zapata - This short story was the basis for the movie Viva Zapata! Steinbeck tells the story of
    Emiliano Zapata as he championed the cause of the peasants during the Mexican Revolution.
 
 top of page

Links to other great pages about John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck : The California Novels - Includes basic summaries of many of Steinbeck's novels.
AITLC Guide to John Steinbeck - This has links to tons of stuff about Steinbeck and most of his works.
John Steinbeck Page - Includes his Nobel Prize acceptance speech and other lesser known writings by Steinbeck.
The Of Mice and Men Survival Guide (N. Rutherford) - Includes vocabulary, idioms, and allusions for each chapter.  A great place to go if you are having trouble understanding the book.
The Of Mice and Men Survival Guide (G. Lamont) - Great essay questions with answers.

 top of page


Bibliography
Steinbeck, John.  Of Mice and Men.  New York: Penguin Books, 1993.
A&E Biography: John Steinbeck.  March 23, 1999.
 
This page was created by Kristen O'Kane as a senior project for AP English Class.