Of Mice and Men: Approaching the “passage” question: A sample answer with notes on writing.
(a) Read the extract on the opposite page. Then answer the following questions:
(i) What do you think of the way Lennie speaks and behaves here? Give reasons for what
you say. 
(ii) What do you think of the way George speaks and behaves here? Give reasons for
what you say. 
Lennie spoke craftily: ‘Tell me – like you done before.’
‘Tell you what?’
‘About the rabbits.’
George snapped: ‘You ain’t gonna put nothing over on me.’
Lennie pleaded: ‘Come on, George. Tell me. Please, George. Like you done before.’
‘You get a kick outta that, don’t you. A’right, I’ll tell you, and then we’ll eat our supper . . .’
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 a 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. ‘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.’
Lennie broke in. ‘But not us! 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.’
‘OK. Some day – 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 – Nuts!’ He took out his pocket-knife. ‘I
ain’t got time for no more.
Two points to make before any writing is done: there are two parts to this question and you must answer them both, clearly! This seems to allow two completely separate sections to your response. I hesitate to say two paragraphs since you need to paragraph for clarity within your arguments at all times. There are only 5 marks for each. This I s not a deep analytical study but everything we try to encourage you not to do – a subjective reaction with reasons for what you feel. You might even use the first person, though I feel that the more objective third is better if only to keep you focused for the later responses.
Preparing to write:
Time is short in this paper, so a quick response is needed. Read through the passage, recognise and locate it and make quick notes relating to the focus of the question – how the characters speak.
Consider what you know without evening reading the passage – dialogue is always in the vernacular in Steinbeck, Lennie’s language is often very childish, George is a father figure to Lennie.
Notice also if there is a special reason for this passage being chosen – is there a change in emotion or vital point of characterisation?
Then re-read the passage and note carefully two or three sections worthy of comment. Make notes quickly to move from the general ( Lennie seems to be whining like a small child or George seeming to be angry…) to the specific – focusing on what they actually say.
Quick PEE paragraphs will ensure you remain focused. There is no need for the “I think” formula – if you didn’t, you would not be writing it! Remember tha the more your writing sounds like a mature and intellectual person, the more likely the examiner is to give you the benefit of the doubt.
This extract contains a great amount of dialogue which is written, typically in this novel, in the vernacular. This technique, showing the actual speech patterns of the two characters, greatly enhances the reader’s ability to empathise with the characters. Here I have tried to put the passage into context quickly and to highlight the distinctive feature of the writing. The reason given is a bit generalised, but the point is made.
Lennie has his emotions signalled by Steinbeck’s verb and adverb choices-“craftily, pleaded” and we see a suggestion that his manner of speech is that of a small child trying to get their own way or to persuade a parent. The focus is not just on what they say, but also how they say it – show that you can recognise this. This idea is continued in the actual speech: “come on George. Please. George. Tell me…” where the short sentences suggest continual nagging and the repetition of “George” maintains a sense that he his trying to persuade his father-figure to tell the story. Trying to show recognition of structure as well as language. He gets his way and becomes increasingly excited until he shouts in his enthusiasm and finally interrupts to finish George’s thought process.recognition of character change This is an oft told story but Lennie needs to hear it from George. Context. He insists that George tells “…how I get to tend the rabbits”. Again the manner is suggestive of a small child wanting to hear their favourite story and requiring the story itself to centre around him.
George begins the passage in a manner suggesting irritation (“snapped George”) and his manner “.. as though he had said them many times before” suggests boredom and a lack of engagement in the story. Quick and to the point with embedded quotations. It has become a ritual, a bedtime story for a small child. He seems to be happy for Lennie to take over the story and even at the conclusion seems irritated by the whole process: “Nuts, I ain’t got time for no more”. This relative expletive shows him to be at the end of his tether, but even now he makes an excuse so as to prevent Lennie from being too upset. The idea of his having no time at this stage of the novel is an obvious lie, but George does not want to hurt Lennie’s feelings. Slightly lengthier explanation here He tells the story that will develop into the “dream” with clarity and a lack of description – “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…” which supports the idea that he is not emotionally engaged with the story he is telling. The language simple and unexaggerated and shows how little George is trying to engage Lennie’s imagination.