Of Mice and Men

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 Of Mice and Men

In the GCSE Literature examination you will be asked to write
one question about the novel you have studied in class. You
will have 45 minutes.

You will need to:

   -   Analyse the decisions the writer has made
   -   Explore the techniques used by the writer
   -   Understand how context can change our perception of
       the novel
Setting and context are often thought to be the same thing. They
both are defined as the time and place the book is set in. However
there are important differences and they produce different responses
to the book.

Setting is the actual places the character visits and what the time is
when he does this. They tell us something about the character and
the effects of the environment on the character.

Context is the time and place the writer produced his novel and how
this is different to ours. This changes the ideas, beliefs and attitudes
of the reader to the events. This is a much more important idea, as it
is part of the grade descriptions for the higher grade.

The time and place that Of Mice and Men is set in is very important to understanding the
book. John Steinbeck’s main aim was to explore the idea of the American Dream. It is
important that you understand what the American Dream is and how it affects the
attitude of characters in the novel.

Task 1: Type “American Dream” into Google and look at three different sites and what
they have to say. Then, answer these questions:
a) What is the American Dream?

b) What are the dreams of the different characters in the novel? Complete this table.

Character                    Dream
Curly’ Wife

c) Slim is meant to be a symbol of the American Dream. Explain why he is thought to
have achieved the dream even though he works for the boss.
Task 2: Look up the following ideas on the internet or in the library. Write down some of
the most important ideas. Then, think carefully about how this links to the book and
what Steinbeck is saying about life at this time.
Idea                     Researched facts                    How does it link to “Of Mice
                                                             and Men”?
“Of Mice and Men”
features ‘migrant’ or
‘itinerant’ farm
workers. What can you
find out about farm
workers at this time
and what it was like to
live life this way?
What was the Wall
Street Crash in 1929
and how would it have
affected American life?

What is a ‘dust bowl’
and how did this
create havoc for
farmers like those
living on the ranch in

Task 3: The most important description of setting, or place, is at the beginning of
Chapter 1 and Chapter 6. Here the same place is described but in different ways. The
changes in description tell the reader a lot about the impact of the changes in the book.
Complete the table below. Find examples of where the same thing is described in
Chapter 1 and then again in Chapter 6, one has been completed to help you:

Chapter 1                                     Chapter 6
“A water snake slipped along on the pool,     “A silent head and beak lanced down and
its head held up like a little periscope”     plucked it out by the head, and the beak
                                              swallowed the little snake while its tail
                                              waved frantically.”

Task 4: Explain the changes in the description. This could be a question in the
examination, so make your answer as detailed as possible.
Plot refers to the events in the novel, the story that is being told. It is important to
know the plot well, as it will help you to provide evidence to support any of your
opinions. However, you need to avoid retelling the story in the exam.

Here are some pictures showing events from Of Mice and Men.

                                                    Task 5: Name the events that these
                                                    pictures show. Put these events into
                                                    the correct order and then explain
                                                    the importance of these events to the

                                                    Task 6: Which of these events is the
                                                    most important and why?

                                                    Task 7: Each of these events tells us
                                                    something about what Steinbeck was
                                                    talking about. Explain what ideas
                                                    crop up in each of these events.
Task 8: The structure of the novel is very important. It goes around in a circle.
Complete this plot diagram for the novel, giving each title a name.

                       Chapter 6                        Chapter 1

      Chapter 5                                                         Chapter 2

                       Chapter 4                        Chapter 3

Task 9: At the beginning of the book George and Lennie have to leave Weed because
Lennie gets into trouble for touching a woman’s dress. At the end of the book he is in
trouble for killing Curly’s Wife. At the beginning of the book George and Lennie are sat
in the brush by the lake having escaped Weed. At the end of the book George kills Lennie
by the same lake in the brush.

Why does Steinbeck make the events in the book come full circle? How does this help
explain why George had to kill Lennie?
 Characters have two purposes in novels. One is to explore a
 person and their character, looking at their motivations and
 reactions. Another purpose is to act as a symbol for an idea
 that is important in the novel or as a plot device.

Task 10: The characters of George and Lennie are at the centre of the book. Arguably,
they are the only two characters we really get to know as people. George and Lennie are
opposites in many ways and yet they have come to depend on each other.

a. Complete the table below. Think of four words to describe George and four words to
   describe Lennie. Then, find a quotation that supports your choice of word.

                 George                                       Lennie
Word            Quotation                    Word           Quotation

b. List the reasons why George needs Lennie and why Lennie needs George.
George needs Lennie because:             Lennie needs George because:

Task 11: Lennie is described as walking slightly behind George. He is also compared to
animals: including a horse, a bear and a dog. Why is this important? How does it explain
Steinbeck’s choice to make such a big deal about Candy’s dog?
Task 12: Some characters in the book tend to be used as a symbol. The biggest group of
characters are the outsiders, those who are unable to achieve the American Dream
because they don’t have the same options available to them. They help to prove
Steinbeck’s point that not everyone is born equal so they don’t have the same chances.

   a. Sketch a picture of these four people.
   b. Label the sketch with the name of the character.
   c. Explain why each of these characters is considered an outsider.

Task 14: In Chapter 4 all the outsiders gather in Crooks’ place in the barn. Pick out a
quotation for each of the outsiders in this chapter. Then, explain what it tells us about
the character and their chances in life.
Character and quotation                        What does this tell us about their character
                                               and their chances in life?
These are the ideas behind the novel. Of Mice and Men is an
allegory. This means it has a moral meaning. This informs the
reader that Steinbeck’s intentions were to teach the reader
something or ask them to consider particular ideas or issues.

Task 15: What does Steinbeck have to say about each of the following themes? For each
idea that you suggest you need to say which part of the book makes you think this. Some
bullet points have been given to help you.

Theme 1:
Fate and Destiny
    - The title
    - Mice
    - Dreams
    - The novella’s
Theme 2:
Dreams and Reality
    - Owning a ranch
    - Crooks and Candy
    - Curley’s wife
    - The American
Theme 3:
    - George and Lennie
    - Candy and his dog
    - Crooks
    - Curley’s wife.
Theme 4:
    − George and
       Lennie’s speech
    − The Bosses reaction
    − Bill Tanner
    − The ending.

Task 16: Which of these themes and ideas would you consider to be the most important
message of the novel? What is Steinbeck’s moral?
As Of Mice and Men is an allegory and because it is a novella, or a very short novel,
Steinbeck uses a lot of symbolism and comparisons to explore complicated ideas.

Task 17: Of greatest importance are the animals that Steinbeck uses to symbolize the
important ideas in his book. Fill in the table below. In one column explore what you
believe the symbol to represent. In the other column find a quotation from the novel to
support you idea.

Symbol               Quotation                       Explanation


Old Dog


Heron and Snake

Task 18: Also important are the choices that Steinbeck makes when he describes the
characters in the book. For each of the main characters: George, Lennie, Slim, Crooks,
Candy, Curly and Curly’s Wife, pick out adjectives and verbs that are used by Steinbeck.
For instance, you might notice that everything that Slim does is god-like; whilst Curly’s
Wife is described as a “tart” and “bitch” amongst others.
The most important part of writing an essay on a novel is making sure you
answer the question. It is easy to fall into telling the story; therefore you
need to pick out the key word(s) and use topic sentences effectively.

Here are some examination questions:

         a)   Do you sympathise with the character of Curley’s wife?
         b)   Does Steinbeck create a believable character in Lennie?
         c)   How are animals featured in Of Mice and Men?
         d)   What is the significance of loneliness in this novel?
         e)   How does the ending emphasise the relationship between George and Lennie?
         f)   How far do you agree that the death of Lennie is inevitable?
         g)   Hopes and Dreams are important in Of Mice and Men – discuss.
         h)   How does the author make George a sympathetic character?

Task 19: Pick out the key idea(s) from each of the questions above. The first one has
been done for you:
   a) Sympathise/ Curley’s wife







Task 20: For one of the questions, complete this paragraph map. Follow the instructions
in italics to ensure that you include all the necessary parts of an essay plan – all
responses should be bullet pointed not in sentences.

Introduce the text,
giving background
details that are
important to the

Paragraph One
Give an answer to the
Bullet point examples.
Bullet point what you
will say about the
Paragraph Two
Give an answer to the
Bullet point examples.
Bullet point what you
will say about the
Paragraph Three
Give an answer to the
Bullet point examples.
Bullet point what you
will say about the
Paragraph Four
Give an answer to the
Bullet point examples.
Bullet point what you
will say about the
Answer the question
directly whilst
summarising what you
have said in the essay.
Here is the mark scheme that your examiner will use to mark the essay that you write.

Task 21: Circle the key words in the mark scheme.

Grade     Description
U         Something specific about the text
          Some specific features identified
          Some awareness of content of text
G         Familiarity with specific part(s) of a text; Familiarity with the narrative sequence;
          Reference to some detail(s); Simple comment; Simple response to text and task
F         Selection of appropriate material; awareness of explicit meaning(s); range of
          details, some inference/deduction; simple identification of a method or an effect;
          simple response to characters/ situations/ ideas
E         Support points made; generalization(s) about text/ subject matter; some
          comment on specific details; some awareness of specific details; some
          awareness of a writer at work; supported response to characters/ situations/
D         Some focus on question; awareness of feeling(s) and attitude(s); range of
          comment on specific details; awareness of effects intended/ achieved; explained
          response to character/ situation/ ideas.

C         Structured response to question; sustained relevant knowledge; appropriate
          comment on meaning/ style; understanding of how effects are achieved; effective
          use of details to support answer; sustained response to situations or ideas
B         Sustained and measured response to the question; some exploration;
          appreciation of writer’s concerns/ attitudes/ ideas; details linked to writer’s
          intentions and purposes; measured/ qualified response to writer’s ideas and/ or
A         Exploratory response to terms of the question; insight into writer’s methods,
          purposes and characteristics; developed exploration of context/ meaning/
          response; insight into structure and significance of patterns of detail; evaluative
A*        Subtle/ forceful response to implications of the question; consistent insight;
          independent discovery and interpretation of significant details; convincing
          interpretation; close textual evaluation or analysis; independent, analytical,

Task 22: In your own words explain what you have to do well to achieve your challenge
Here is an answer to an essay question:
Explore the role of friendship in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
Steinbeck’s novella, Of Mice and Men, focuses on the friendship of two men George and
Lennie. The novel recounts the pair’s journey from one problem in Weed to a much more
serious situation in Soledad. Ultimately, the novel marks the end of their friendship
when George is forced to kill Lennie.

Despite the fact that one of the major themes in the novel is friendship, most of the men
in the book are lonely. The novel is set in a time of migrant workers and high
unemployment. Therefore, many men just take a job for a month and move on, with no
one getting a chance to bond with others. This is clearly illustrated by the letter written
by Bill Tanner. All the men in the bunk house were comforted by the idea that they knew
this man, even just for one month. The fact that few men have friends is further
exemplified by the fact that the Boss and Slim were surprised and suspicious of the close
bond shared by George and Lennie.

Therefore, friendship in the novel is clearly symbolised through the bond shared by
George and Lennie. Throughout the novel Lennie demands that George remind him why
they move around the country together. George reminds him that it is because “I can
take of you and you can take care of me.” It is the idea that they can look out for each
other. This is something that even Slim finds appealing and he seems to look on with
admiration when George speaks with pride about Lennie. However, the friendship is
hardly reciprocal. Lennie is not capable of looking after George; in fact he often gets
him into trouble. It is significant that Lennie always asks for the speech after George
talks about how difficult his life is because he is with Lennie. George himself admitted
that he only stuck with Lennie because of guilt at some of the things that he used to
make Lennie do and because he felt he owed it to Lennie’s Aunt Clara to look after him.

It could be argued that Steinbeck’s ending to the novel can be seen as evidence that
George was not prepared to spend the rest of his life dealing with Lennie and his
problems. It is difficult to understand why he and George just couldn’t run again, as they
had done from Weed. However, it is hard to believe that the moral to Steinbeck’s
allegory would be that men cannot be friends. Alternatively, the ending of the novel
could be seen as the ultimate act of friendship. George was aware that Curly wouldn’t
give up his pursuit of Lennie and would make sure that his death was slow. Therefore, to
spare him this agony, George killed him humanely, shooting him in the back of the head
as he thought about the dream. Parallels can be drawn with the shooting of Curly’s dog,
however unlike Curly George took responsibility for the shooting of his loyal friend so that
he could be there for him at the end.

Therefore, overall, Steinbeck seems to be suggesting that men at this time found it
difficult to bond with other men and because of this they were lonely, whilst the
friendship between George and Lennie will continue to be a matter of debate. Was it
true friendship or was it feelings of obligation on George’s part? Was the killing of Lennie
at the end an act of desperation for George to have a normal life or was it the ultimate
act of friendship?
Task 23: What grade would you give this essay and why?