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Of Mice and Men

John Steinbeck

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Of Mice and Men | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


How is George in Of Mice and Men similar to and different from Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath?

George and Tom Joad are both outsiders in society. Neither of them trusts large landowners or ranchers. George, for example, is suspicious that his mattress might be infected with bugs, while Tom is suspicious of work conditions at a large peach ranch and decides to find out why some people are protesting about the ranch. George's and Tom's goals are also different. George has a longtime friend and makes concrete plans to buy a small farm with his companion. Most migrant workers don't do this. Tom wants to get a home with his family but does not dream of buying a small farm. Temperamentally they are also similar and different. Tom has a temper, which acts up when he's pushed around by authority figures. George also has a temper, but unlike Tom, he has learned to control his anger. For example, George hates Curley but realizes he must control these feelings to keep his job and obtain his dream.

How are Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath similar?

Both Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath deal with migrant workers and describe the hardships they face. The two novels also use California as a setting and expose how large landowners can take advantage of workers. In addition, the characters in both novels are placed in difficult situations that do not provide them with many good options. The characters in both books are striving to obtain a dream that will better their lives, but reaching this dream proves to be impossible. Finally, the novels include vivid, detailed descriptions of nature. For example, in Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck describes "sycamores with mottled, white, recumbent limbs and branches that arch over the pool." In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck describes "the surface of the earth crusted ... as the sky became pale, so the earth became pale."

In Of Mice of Men, what harsh truths about society's treatment of the mentally challenged during that time are revealed?

In Of Mice and Men, Lennie is viewed as someone who is strange and doesn't fit in with society. Many of the characters call Lennie crazy. For example, Crooks repeatedly refers to Lennie as being "nuts." Lennie seems both feared and scorned by people who meet him. When Slim says that Lennie will be strapped down if he is arrested, the idea that institutions in the 1930s often mistreated and even abused the mentally handicapped is clear. Indeed, throughout the novella, George's level of concern for and tight protection of Lennie reveal the realistic fears he has about what will happen to Lennie if he is placed in the care of governmental institutions for the mentally challenged.

In Of Mice and Men, what are Lennie's strengths and weaknesses?

Lennie has a strong loyalty toward his friends, especially George, and he values friendship deeply. For example, he becomes enthusiastic whenever George talks about how he and Lennie look after each other. Steinbeck emphasizes this enthusiasm by placing the following dialogue of Lennie's in italics: "Because I got you to look after me ... you got me to look after you." Lennie is never malicious: Slim says, "I can see Lennie ain't a bit mean." Lennie's main weakness is that he does not know the effects of his own strength, and as a result he can do harm without meaning to. He accidentally kills mice and a puppy while petting them, and he kills Curley's wife.

In Of Mice and Men, what do readers learn from Candy about how elderly ranch hands of the time should expect to end up?

Because Candy is old and has physical limitations, he is treated at the ranch as having little value. Candy knows that when he is no longer able to maintain the bunkhouse, the boss will fire him and kick him off the ranch. After this happens, Candy says, "I won't have no place to go, an' I can't get no more jobs." It seems clear that in the 1930s ranches did not provide safe havens for people who could no longer work. Without any sort of retirement benefits, elderly workers knew they were bound for a homeless and destitute life. They knew not to expect any sort of accolades for long service or to be sought after for their wisdom gained from years on the job.

In Of Mice and Men, how does the character of Candy develop?

At the beginning of the story, Candy is depicted as a lonely man who has been pushed aside as a member of the ranch. He is aware of the gossip and personal dynamics at the ranch but is mostly ignored, except as the owner of a dog that stinks. Because of Candy's low ranking in the ranch hierarchy, Carlson and others have no qualms about shooting Candy's dog, even though it is the old man's only source of companionship. However, Candy's character changes when George makes him a partner in the scheme of buying a small farm. Now Candy has friends and something to look forward to. He is constantly figuring on how to contribute to the future farm. Candy says, "We can make some money on them rabbits if we go about it right." Another change happens to Candy, though, when he realizes that George is abandoning the dream of buying a farm. Candy is devastated by this development and gets angry at the dead body of Curley's wife: "You done it, di'n't you? I s'pose you're glad. Ever'body knowed you'd mess things up." This development shows that outcasts like Candy have little chance of improving their condition, because they have little control over circumstances that affect them.

What is revealed about the treatment of minorities at the time of Of Mice and Men by what readers learn from Crooks and from how other characters respond to him?

In Of Mice and Men, Crooks is treated as an outcast and as an inferior person because he is an African American. He is careful to obey the rules of segregation, even though his pride is not broken by the treatment. However, he is very lonely. In Chapter 4, Crooks warns Lennie not to intrude on his space, just as Crooks himself is not welcome in the spaces occupied by the white workers. But when Lennie comes in and Crooks becomes comfortable talking to him, Crooks reveals how much he misses being around his brothers back home and then even seems pleased to have a visit from Candy as well. It is plaintively evident that Crooks suffers mentally and emotionally from his treatment and isolation, yet he usually hides his suffering behind anger. Even that defensive emotion must be put aside, however, in the face of suggestions such as the one by Curley's wife that she can have Crooks lynched. Clearly, as an African American, Crooks is never completely safe in the 1930s setting of Steinbeck's novella.

In Of Mice and Men, how does the character of Crooks develop?

Steinbeck depicts Crooks as a man who is bitter and angry from years of racial discrimination and who gets back at white people by discriminating against them by prohibiting them from entering his room. When Lennie appears at his door, Crooks says, "This here's my room. Nobody got any right in here but me." However, after a few minutes with Lennie, it becomes clear that Crooks still wants friendship. He tells him, "You might as well set down." Likewise, when he realizes that Candy has some money to buy a farm, Crooks offers to work on the farm for free. Through the development of Crooks's character, Steinbeck shows that even bitter and angry people want companionship but, because of years of abuse, it is difficult for these people to accept or trust in friendship. As a result, Crooks later backs out of his offer to work on the farm.

In Of Mice and Men, how does the character of George develop?

At the beginning of the story, George has plans to buy a small farm but does not fully believe that this goal will be achieved. But when the dream begins to look attainable, George tries to maintain more control. For example, George gets upset at finding Candy and Lennie in Crooks's room. George wants to make sure that nothing bad happens at the ranch that will get them fired and prevent them from getting the farm. He tells Candy and Lennie, "You guys get outa here. ... Seems like I can't go away for a minute." Later, after Lennie kills Curley's wife, George realizes his dream of getting a farm with Lennie will not happen. He tells Candy, "I should of knew. ... I guess maybe way back in my head I did." The development of George's character, therefore, shows his realization that he really never had a chance to break out of his way of life, because of the many circumstances stacked against him. He becomes a defeated man who will end up living like most other migrants.

In what ways is the novella Of Mice and Men a tragedy?

A tragedy is a drama about protagonists who come into conflict with a strong force, resulting in a sad ending that elicits pity for their downfall. In Of Mice and Men, George and Lennie are the protagonists. They come into conflict with strong forces, including the dynamics with Curley and his wife, society's treatment of outcasts, and the self-destructive tendencies of migrants. Eventually these forces entrap and defeat George and Lennie. They force George to make the terrible decision to shoot his friend, and they doom any hope of the fulfillment of the dream. The reader is left with a sense of great pity for George and Lennie.

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