Circular narrative and symbolism
L.O To be able to comment on
form, structure and setting in
To understand Steinbeck‘s use of
symbolism and the main themes
of the novella.
OF MICE AND MEN
WJEC English Literature Unit 1, Section
Prose (different cultures)
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
• Assessment Objectives
• Respond to texts critically and imaginatively; select and evaluate
relevant textual detail to illustrate and support interpretations
• Explain how language, structure and form contribute to writers‘
presentation of ideas, themes and settings
• Relate texts to their social, cultural and historical contexts;
explain how texts have been influential and significant to self and
other readers in different contexts and at different times
• You have to answer two questions on the play.
• Part (a) is based on a short extract and will be marked out
of ten using AO1 and AO2.
• For part (b) OR part (c) you will have to write an essay on
• You will have a choice of two essay titles. Your essay will be
marked out of twenty using AO1 and AO4.
• You are NOT allowed to take copies of the play into the
• You will have one hour to complete both of your answers on
Of Mice and Men. (Don’t forget, this is just one section of
a two-hour exam.)
• You should spend about 20 minutes on part (a) and about 40
minutes on part (b) OR part (c).
WJEC Question Mark / AO1 AO2 AO3 AO4
a) / 10 5 5
b) OR c) / 20 7 13
•A notional indication of how the marks are allocated across the Assessment
Objectives can be found in the table below.
•In practice, however, examiners will give an overall mark based on appropriate
coverage of each Assessment Objective.
• Of ‗Mice and Men‘ has a circular narrative.
• This means that the novel ends in the same
situation and setting as it begins.
• The characters and events have come full
• What has happened at the end of the novel
to make ‗Of Mice and Men‘ have a circular
Much of the plot in the novel is cyclical, as are
the lives of the characters. The story opens
and closes in the same place, the men‘s lives are
a routine of work - earn money - spend money in
the flop-house - work, and many of the
chapters begin and end in similar ways.
The book begins and ends in the same clearing.
The deaths of the animals also show a cycle –
just as Candy‘s dog is killed, so is Lennie killed.
Lennie and George have to move on again after
the death of Curley‘s wife, just like they had to
after the girl in Weed. This time, though,
George has to end the cycle.
The issues between George and Lennie are introduced
in the clearing and, finally, resolved in the clearing.
The four scenes in between show how they reach this
conclusion. Each of these scenes includes an
• The shooting of Candy‘s dog
• The damage to Curley‘s hand
• The confrontation between Crooks and Curley‘s wife
• The death of Curley‘s wife
Although the first chapter and the last chapter
share the same setting, there are some obvious
differences between the two chapters.
Draw a Venn Diagram like the one below to
illustrate these differences and similarities.
Chapter 1 Chapter 6
COMPARING CHAPTER 1 AND CHAPTER 6:
- Lennie – ―like a bear drags his paws‖ ―Lennie dabbled his big paw in the water…‖
CHAPTER 1 CHAPTER 6
Energetic wild animals Lennie is like a hunted animal –
―came as silently as a creeping bear moves‖
Strong Characteristics are more cautious
Clumsy Reader‘s sympathy grows towards him further
- Death of animals – Candy‘s dog / Mice / Puppies: Hints (foreshadowing) that George‘s ‗pet‘ (Lennie)
must die too?
- DIGNITY AND RESPONSIBILITY – Candy wishes he had shot his dog himself – Links to George
taking responsibility for
REPETITION OF FARM STORY:
- Chapter 1 represents hope and dreams when Lennie and George are discussing the farm.
- In Chapter 6, George uses the farm to comfort Lennie.
ƒ Very poignant and emotive – George and the reader know that the dream will never come true. The
reader empathises with George‘s situation and decision.
ƒ The sadness surrounding the death of Lennie and the dream is furthered because the reader is
aware that the dream was about to come a reality with the help from Candy.
- Novel starts and ends in the same setting – brush
- This emphasises that no matter what dreams they have, the ranch workers are destined to just move round
from ranch to
ranch until they eventually die – Reader feels increasing sympathy for these helpless and isolated characters.
SETTING: HERON AND WILDLIFE
- Same setting in chapter 1 and 6 – chapter 6 is written with a more negative perspective:
CHAPTER 1: CHAPTER 6:
peaceful ―twinkling over yellow sands…‖ Sense of peace from chapter 1 turns to isolation:
―the golden foothill slopes…‖ ―Sun had left the valley…‖
―Still late in the afternoon‖
- Lennie is in the middle of the setting in a vulnerable childlike position:
• ―…he embraced his knees and laid his chin down on his knees…‖ – builds sympathy for
HERON – Chapter 1 – Heron spares snake‘s life
Reflected - George saves Lennie‘s life by helping him escape Weed.
Chapter 6 - Heron stands motionless in the water then kills the snake
Shows smarter animal killing helpless animal – FORESHADOWING – George and Lennie - Circle of
life / nature
Importance of setting – the idyllic setting turns predatory – instead of a place of
sanctuary, the pool is now a place of death. Instead of the rabbits playing in the brush, the
heron is swallowing the little snake whole. Instead of green leaves and a gentle breeze,
there are brown, dying leaves and a gush of wind. Instead of safety for Lennie, there is
death. Instead of companionship for George, there is a future of loneliness.
Poignancy of the last scene – Lennie dies in blissful ignorance in the place -- for George, this
final description of life with Lennie, of the farm and the changes it would have brought
about, is a surrender of his dreams.
Relinquishment of George‘s hope for a different life. Lennie was the only thing that
distinguished his life from the lives of other men and gave him a special sense of purpose.
Without Lennie these hopes cannot be sustained. Dreams are fragile – they have no place
in a harsh and predatory world filled with such injustice and adversity.
Carlson and Curley represent the harsh realities of the real world, a world in which the
weak will always be vanquished by the strong; a world in which the rare, delicate and
beautiful bond between friends is not appropriately mourned because it is not
Parallelism between Lennie‘s death and putting Candy‘s dog to silence – reaction of other
The novel follows a simple chronological structure. There
are no flashbacks (unlike the film). The novel begins on a
Thursday night and ends on the following Sunday. One of
the key things about the novel is its simplicity.
•Peaceful scene by river
•George and Lennie are introduced
•George makes Lennie give up the dead mouse
•George tells Lennie how to behave at the new ranch
•George complains about life with Lennie
• They eat supper
•Dream of owning land
•George tells Lennie to come back to this place if he get into
•Description of Bunk house
•Candy shows George and Lennie where they
•George and Lennie meet the Boss Curley
•George warns Lennie to stay away from Curley
•Curley’s wife – George warns Lennie against her
•George and Lennie meet Slim and Carlson
•Candy has an old dog,Slim’s dog has puppies
•George confides in Slim
•Lennie is given a pup – delighted
•Carlson persuades Candy to shoot his
•George, Lennie and Candy plan to buy
•Curley picks up a fight with Lennie
and gets his hand crushed
•Description of Crook’s room
•Lennie visits Crooks in his room
•Crooks makes Lennie think that George might
•Candy joins Lennie and Crooks in dreaming
about their own farm.
•Curley’s wife comes in. Crooks tries to make her
leave and she threatens him.
•Description of barn
•Lennie kills his puppy
•Curley’s wife tells Lennie her life story
•Lennie unintentionally kills Curley’s wife
•Lennie goes to the pool by the river
•Curley’s wife body is found
•The men set off hunt for Lennie
•The quiet scene at the pool by the
river is described.
•Lennie imagines being told off
•George tells Lennie about the
dream farm for one last time
•George shoots lennie
Plot and Structure
• The action is mainly related through dialogue.
• Steinbeck intersperses scenes of quiet (the clearing in
Chapter One, the barn in Chapter Five) with scenes of
• The use of the third person, without a narrative voice
passing judgement or guiding the reader, gives the reader
a feeling of being a fly on the wall. Inner thoughts are
only indicated through speech and action. Only once in the
novel are we given a look at anyone‘s private thoughts –
when Lennie hallucinates at the end.
The dialogue is colloquial, showing a realistically as possible
the way the ranch hands talk. This makes the writing
more realistic and vivid.
Note, as well, that people sometimes say things that they
don‘t mean – for example, when Candy praises Crooks‘
room or Crooks‘ describes his room as ‗swell‘ or when
Curley‘s wife calls her husband a ‗swell guy.‘ The effect of
this is ironic.
Almost as a mirror to the simple language used by the
ranch hands, Steinbeck keeps his own description in the
book very simple. He does not use a lot of difficult
metaphors or difficult words. This simplicity mirrors the
lives in the book.
He also does not speak directly to the reader giving his own
point of view. Steinbeck‘s style here is to show life as it
is and leave us to make our own judgements.
• Steinbeck‘s description of natural world is often poetic and
lyrical – although he reveals that nature can be cruel and
Peace and harmony of the natural world contrast to the
violent behaviour of the people in the story.
• The scene in the bunkhouse contrasts with the natural
surroundings of the previous section – Antithesis.
Used in literature to represent
something else .
Images of light are used again and again in the novel, from
the light on the Gabilan mountains to moments in the
bunkhouse and the barn.
e.g. ―The rectangle of sunshine in the doorway was cut off‖
when Curley‘s wife enters the bunkhouse. The light
symbolises the way that she cuts into people‘s
conversations, interrupting things, and how her own life is
‗cut off‘ when she is killed.
When Lennie and George
appear in Chapter 1,
rabbits run for cover
They are the only real
rabbits in the novel.
Lennie is obsessed with future
rabbits. His first fear when he
does something wrong is that
George won‘t let him feed the
rabbits in their future farm.
A gigantic rabbit comes out of
Lennie’s head at the end of the
novel. The rabbit tells him off
and says: “You ain’t fit to lick the
boots of no rabbit.”
Animals in the novel
Mice are vulnerable physically.
Lennie is vulnerable psychologically.
Lennie says he petted
the girl in Weed‘s
dress: ―jus‘ wanted to
pet it like it was a
Lennie loves to pet mice, but he kills them by
petting them. This is an example of
Animals in the novel
In Chapter One, Lennie is described as:
‗a huge man, shapeless of face, with large pale eyes,.‘
‗the way a bear drags his paws‘
The fight between Lennie and Curley resembles bear-baiting.
Animals in the novel
The killing of Candy‘s dog shows the harsh treatment that
animals (and people!) receive when they are no longer seen
as useful. It foreshadows Lennie‘s death.
The puppy that Lennie is given shows how Lennie cannot
help but kill the things he loves. The puppy‘s mothers
reaction to the murder scene shows how unnatural and
wrong it is.
Animals in the novel
• Candy and his dog are linked – the dog represents old age and
how workers like Candy outlive their usefulness.
• A theme is the central idea or ideas explored by a literary
Dreams and plans
Many of the characters in the novel have
dreams and plans for the future. George,
Lennie, Candy, Crooks and Curley‘s wife all
aspire to something. For these characters,
it is these dreams which keep them going.
Remember that the title of the novel is
taken from a Robert Burns poem which
says; ‗The best laid schemes o‘ mice and
men often go wrong.‘
The novel explores the issue of power through
the character of Curley and the influence he
has over the ranch hands and his wife.
George also wields power over Lennie.
Curley‘s wife seems powerless, but she could
have Crooks killed if she wanted.
Crooks seems powerless, but he is able to make
Lennie believe he‘s been abandoned.
Candy seems powerless, but he has the money
to make George and Lennie‘s dream a reality.
Whit, Carlson and George
Candy, Crooks Curley’s wife
The Boss owns
the ranch and
hires and fires
Slim is a skilled
worker. He is
respected by the
men on the
Curley is the
due to age, race
Position of women
The portrayal of women in Of Mice and Men is limited and unflattering. We learn early on
that Lennie and George are on the run from the previous ranch where they worked, due to
encountering trouble there with a woman.
Misunderstanding Lennie‘s love of soft things, a woman accused him of rape for touching her
dress. George berates Lennie for his behaviour, but is convinced that women are always the
cause of such trouble. Their enticing sexuality, he believes, tempts men to behave in ways
they would otherwise not.
A visit to the ―flophouse‖ (a cheap hotel, or brothel) is enough of women for George, and he
has no desire for a female companion or wife.
Curley‘s wife, the only woman to appear in Of Mice and Men, seems initially to support
George‘s view of marriage. Dissatisfied with her marriage to a brutish man and bored with
life on the ranch, she is constantly looking for excitement or trouble.
In one of her more revealing moments, she threatens to have the black stable-hand lynched
if he complains about her to the boss. Her insistence on flirting with Lennie seals her
Although Steinbeck does, finally, offer a sympathetic view of Curley‘s wife by allowing her
to voice her unhappiness and her own dream for a better life, women have no place in the
author‘s idealized vision of a world structured around the brotherly bonds of men.
He is a small man, but has brains and a quick wit.
He is short-tempered but a loving and devoted friend, whose frequent protests
against life with Lennie never weaken his commitment to protecting his friend.
George‘s first words, a stern warning to Lennie not to drink so much lest he get
sick, set the tone of their relationship. George may be terse and impatient at
times, but he never strays from his primary purpose of protecting Lennie.
He has been a good friend to Lennie, ever since he promised Lennie's Aunt Clara
that he would care for him. He looks after all Lennie's affairs, such as carrying
his work card, and tries to steer him out of potential trouble.
He needs Lennie as a friend, not only because Lennie's strength helps to get
them both jobs, but so as not to be lonely. His threats to leave Lennie are not
really serious. He is genuinely proud of Lennie.
He shares a dream with Lennie to own a piece of land and is prepared to work
hard to build up the money needed to buy it.
"...with us it ain't like that. 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 anybody gives a damn. But not us."
Simple character with a powerful impact -- He is a big man, in contrast to his
"Behind him(George)walked his opposite, a huge man, shapeless of face, with large,
pale eyes, with wide, sloping shoulders; and he walked heavily, dragging his feet a
little, the way a bear drags his paws. His arms did not swing at his sides, but hung
He loves to pet soft things, is blindly devoted to George and their vision of the
farm, and possesses incredible physical strength
He earns the reader‘s sympathy because of his utter helplessness in the face of
the events that unfold. Lennie is totally defenseless. He cannot avoid the dangers
presented by Curley, Curley‘s wife, or the world at large
Doomed from the beginning
His innocence raises him to a standard of pure goodness that is more poetic a
character whose innocence only seems to ensure his inevitable destruction
He is often described as a child or an animal - he drinks from the pool like a horse
and his huge hands are described as paws.
The old handyman, aging and left with only one hand as the result of an
accident, worries that the boss will soon declare him useless and demand
that he leave the ranch
Life on the ranch—especially Candy’s dog, once an impressive sheep
herder but now toothless, foul-smelling, and brittle with age—supports
Candy’s fears. Past accomplishments and current emotional ties matter
little, as Carson makes clear when he insists that Candy let him put the
dog out of its misery. In such a world, Candy’s dog serves as a harsh
reminder of the fate that awaits anyone who outlives his usefulness.
For a brief time, however, the dream of living out his days with George and
Lennie on their dream farm distracts Candy from this harsh reality. He
deems the few acres of land they describe worthy of his hard-earned life’s
savings, which testifies to his desperate need to believe in a world kinder
than the one in which he lives.
Like George, Candy clings to the idea of having the freedom to take up or
set aside work as he chooses. So strong is his devotion to this idea that,
even after he discovers that Lennie has killed Curley’s wife, he pleads for
himself and George to go ahead and buy the farm as planned.
You an’ me can get that
little place, can’t we
George? You an’ me can
go there an’ live nice,
can’t we, George? Can’t
You God damn tramp.
You done it, di’nt you?
I s’pose you’re glad.
you’d mess things up.
Steinbeck describes Curley‘s wife in terms of her appearance and the reactions of the
ranch hands toward her. She has been alternately a ―tart,‖ ―jailbait,‖ and various other
derogatory terms, used often by George. In the end she is seen as another victim of
Although her purpose is rather simple in the novel‘s opening pages—she is the ―tramp,‖
―tart,‖ and ―bitch‖ that threatens to destroy male happiness and longevity—her appearances
later in the novel become more complex. When she confronts Lennie, Candy, and Crooks in
the stable, she admits to feeling a kind of shameless dissatisfaction with her life.
Her vulnerability at this moment and later—when she admits to Lennie her dream of
becoming a movie star—makes her utterly human and much more interesting than the
stereotypical vixen in fancy red shoes. However, it also reinforces the novel‘s grim
worldview. In her moment of greatest vulnerability, Curley‘s wife seeks out even greater
weaknesses in others, preying upon Lennie‘s mental handicap, Candy‘s debilitating age, and
the color of Crooks‘s skin in order to steel herself against harm.
―Coulda been in the movies, an‘ had nice clothes – all of them nice clothes like they wear. An‘
I coulda sat in them hotels, an‘ had pitchers took of me…. Because this guy says I was a
Sympathetic treatment of Curley‘s wife prior to her death – once she lies lifeless on the
hay, Steinbeck writes that all the marks of an unhappy life have disappeared from her face,
leaving her looking ―pretty and simple . . . sweet and young.‖ After maligning women about
their flirtatious natures; it is disturbing, then, that Steinbeck seems to subtly imply that
the only way for a woman to redeem that nature and restore her lost innocence (?) is
Curley‘s wife – Key quotations
―Jesus, what a
tramp,‖ he said.
―So that‘s what
Curley picks for a
‗A girl was standing there,
looking in. She had full,
rouged lips and wide-
spaced eyes, heavily made
up. Her fingernails were
red.‘ She wore a cotton house
dress and red mules, on
the insteps of which
were little bouquets of
red ostrich feathers.‘
‗She was suddenly
boys‖ she called into the
bunk house, and she
―I‘m tryin‘ to
―Well, you ain‘t
hard. I seen
him goin‘ into
―If he ain‘t, I
guess I better
―I seen ‗em
but I never seen
no piece of jail
bait worse than
her. You leave
‗She smiled archly and
twitched her body.
―Nobody can‘t blame a
person for lookin‘‖, she
―Well, you keep away
from her, ‗cause she‘s a
rattrap if I ever seen
‗Her hair hung
in little rolled
‗She put her hands
behind her back and
leaned against the
door frame so that
her body was
How she‘s described…
‘bitch’ ‘a tramp’ ‘tart’
‘GOOD-LOOKIN’’ ‘jail bait’
‘got the eye’ ‘purty’
Curley – Key quotations
―Seen my old
‗…a thin young man with
a brown face, with
brown eyes and a head
of tightly curled hair.‘
‗He wore a work glove
on his left hand, and,
like the boss, he wore
―An you won‘t let
the big guy talk, is
―That‘s the boss‘s
son,‖ he said
pretty handy. He
done quite a bit
in the ring. He‘s a
―Curley‘s like a
lot of little
guys. He hates
big guys… kind
of like he‘s
mad at ‗em
ain‘t a big guy.‖
―Don‘t tell Curley
I said none of
this. He‘d slough
me. He just don‘t
give a damn.
Won‘t ever get
canned ‗cause his
old man‘s the
that hand soft
for his wife.‖
―Know what I think?‖…
―Well, I think Curley‘s
married… a tart.‖
―Look Lennie… I‘m
scared. You gonna have
trouble with that Curley
guy. I seen that kind
Crooks’ room shows how Crooks is different from the other ranch hands. Much of the
room is filled with boxes, bottles, harnesses, leather tools, and other accouterments
of his job. It is a room for one man alone. But scattered about on the floor are his
personal possessions, accumulated because, unlike the other workers, he stays in
this job. He has gold-rimmed spectacles to read (reading, after all, is a solitary
experience -- Sure you could play 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 … . A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t make no
difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you … . I tell ya a guy gets too
lonely an’ he gets sick
Physical disability sets him apart from the other workers ( makes him worry that he
will soon wear out his usefulness on the ranch )-- his isolation is compounded by the
fact that he is a black man.-- S'pose you didn't have nobody. S'pose you
couldn't go into the bunk house and play rummy 'cause you were
black...A guy needs somebody-to be near him....I tell ya a guy gets too
lonely an' he gets sick.―
Curley’s wife uses race against Crooks to render him completely powerless. When she
suggests that she could have him lynched, he is unable to mount any defence. –― Well,
you keep your place then, Nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree so
easy it ain’t even funny.‖
He is bitter about his exclusion from the other men, Crooks feels
grateful for Lennie’s company. Yet, as much as he craves
companionship, he cannot help himself from lashing out at Lennie
with unkind suggestions that George will leave Lennie.-- Crooks’s
behavior exemplifies the predatory nature of the ranch-hands’
world. The strong attack the weak but the weak will attack the
Crooks exhibits an insight that other characters lack. He is openly
sceptical of Lennie's claim that he will soon own a piece of land,
telling him that such dreams never come to fruition -- 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. It’s just in their head. They’re
all the time talkin’ about it, but it’s jus’ in their head.‖
Crooks acts brusque not because of any dislike for others; rather,
he uses it as a defence mechanism.