Tag Archives: Of Mice and Men

OMAM introducing Curley’s wife

A short ppt to work on the first appearance of Curley’s wife

curley wife intro

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“To know Curley’s Wife would be to love her…” A response

Driven by a feeling that students tend to take Curley’s Wife at facevalue, even when encouraged to think beyond the obvious, I recently set an essay based on this quotation by John Steinbeck. The PowerPoint attached seeks to address the whole quotation as a means of engaging consideration of a wider perspective on Steinbeck’s (and my) favourite character in the novella Of Mice and Men.

I hope to have time to deliver this PPt as a short revision lecture and will post a sound file if I get that chance.

17/12/15

Re-reading today I noticed something that had passed me by on my innumerable visits to the well:In her disclosure to Lennie about her “dream” – the “pitchers”, have you noticed what it is that attracts CW to that life? ” Could’ve been in the movies an’ had nice clothes…” “all them nice clothes like they wear” is repeated twice following this comment.  There you have it – the real reason for the clothing so carefully delineated by Steinbeck.  This little girl (Candy “…go along an’ roll your hoop”) simply wants to dress up prettily.

Funny what you notice when you read!

Getting to know Curley’s wife

A screencast for further discussion:

A screencast for further discussion:Curley’s wife screencast from You Tube
https://www.evernote.com/shard/s211/sh/62f88fd2-7c36-40c5-8f72-99730ce717c6/1a8b9a124983e11054ae752a1c8e8f1c

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Approaching Of Mice and Men as a societal critique

I often pursue aspects of a novel with a question such as “why did the author write this text in this way at this time in their life or in the context of the worlds in which they live?” I am concerned that it is often hard for students to approach an essay about the significance of a certain character unless they can see how the character fits into the overall vision of the writer. Instead, they often resort to focusing on the action rather than looking at a wider perspective rooted in the intended function of the character and thus how they are presented by their words and deeds.

In OMAM this can be an issue. I want to take as a starting point the this novella houses a critique of American Society at the time of the Great Depression. If this is accepted, then I want to explore the notion of a divided society at a crossroads – the moment of balance from which society can develop in either direction – dark or light.

As ever, this is not intended as a formal essay but rather as a stimulus for thought for the students I teach – an invitation for debate, if you like.

If we start with power, it seems to me that the dichotomy between the two models of power seen in Slim and Curley is clear. If Slim represents the “light” and Curley the “dark” side, then a clear choice exists between an unforgiving but fair ruler, who uses his intuition to judge and whose word is “law” and a ruler who imposes authority by the force of his fists and who suppresses any challenge to his rule by the threat of “canning”. Thus the reader is in the place of George and Lennie, arriving as outsiders and being required to navigate through the novel whilst deciding which path to follow. The ending is splendidly ambiguous, as though Steinbeck is requiring all who come into contact with the book to decide whether society should be based around support and friendship or whether, like Carlson, they simply do not understand what is “eatin’ them two guys”.

After the initial spell in their own private Eden where society can not trouble them, George and Lennie have to move into the world of the Dark Side, like some mythological pair of innocents being put to the test. Once they arrive at the ranch, which surely is symbolic of the new society that has developed since the Crash, they meet an elderly guide, crippled and full of information who acts as the guardian of the inner sanctum. In this role Candy is a figure recognised as the Gatekeeper of Mythology – just as Charon in Greek Myth, he is an elderly cripple who carries the new arrivals into the kingdom of the Dead. Now, it is going too far to suggest that the ranch is a “Hell”, but the idea of limbo in which the souls are somehow processed is not too far fetched. Candy is a gossip with a cruel tongue, though at first he is taken at face value as he defends the cleanliness of the soulless and prison-like bunkhouse.
His primary function, once the newcomers are settled is to lead them to the presence of the ruler – an old man who seeks to hide his dwarfishness behind a pair of high heeled boots with spurs. This man plays little part in his world but has abrogated command of the ranch to his son – Curley- who takes on the role of a Dark Ruler, with the elderly “king” left in his ranchouse as Curley’s new world unfolds.

From his first appearance in the novel Curley’s savagery and brutality is evident. Steinbeck uses a semantic field riddled with power and violence : “glanced coldly, fists, stiffened, crouch, calculating and pugnacious, lashed, stared levelly” in a mere two paragraphs. In the face of this onslaught, the innocent but flawed hero – Lennie – can only “squirm” and “twist with embarrassment”. From this first meeting, the lines are drawn up – Curley is a clear challenge to the two new arrivals, yet they will have to find a way to live within his world if they are to be able to carry on a normal and successful life.

As in any good mythological story, the Dark World is not all it seems at face value and there is a test for the innocents when Curley’s wife is introduced. We will look later at her role as temptress/trapped and repressed feminine.

The alternative path which can be followed is that embodied by Slim. Steinbeck does not pull his punches when he introduces Slim. In contrast to Curley, the language is so purple in the description as to provoke a sense of disappointment when Slim finally speaks – no one can be that good! However we are told that Slim is “God-like, the Prince of the ranch, majesty achieved only by royalty and master craftsmen”, not only that but he “invites confidence” and will be seen as a priest-like figure when he allows George to salve his conscience and confess the truth about the events in Weed.

Slim is good – the “light”, but he is still a harsh and occasionally cruel ruler. He discusses the drowning of his excess puppies with ease and takes no part in any hope of saving Candy’s dog. When it is right to kill, he will kill. He will not, however, abuse his power and accepts George and Lennie at face value with ease. In the same way, he seems relaxed around Curley’s wife who is an object of lechery and fear for everyone else on the ranch -“hey, good looking”. He is portrayed as being prepared to use his own power to ensure that the weak are not bullied or treated badly when he offers to stop Curley’s thuggery towards Lennie, yet he is never going to intervene to stop his eventual death and will take his place in the posse. At this stage the choice of Light or Dark will still end in death for the innocent fool, but there is a clear sense that the choice is between swift and fair judgement for a clear sin, or a painful and sadistic response to the same event. All Slim will do to try to weight the scales in his favour is to suggest to Curley that he remains with his wife. He is rebuffed and leads the posse out to search for Lennie.

Since death is the only possible outcome for Lennie, given the nature of his crime, it is appropriate that George should deliver it alone – as the only true supporter and friend that we have seen. Slim re-emerges at the very close of the novel to offer George the hand of friendship and a drink. He comforts George and the pair walk off. Had Steinbeck closed the novel here, we might discern the outline of a possible “happy ending”, albeit, not one with a resonance of the “rags to riches” storyline that has occasionally developed. However, the last words are given to the “dark” side and it is this ambiguity that gives the novel its strength. Ultimately each reader needs to decide where to position themselves in terms of this question. Doubtless, many will side with Slim and George and mentally try to explain to Carlson the error of his ways, but many will not. There is no happy ending. Even with Slim as a friend, surely George is at risk of being canned now that the harvest is in, and even if he is not, Curley still rules over this microcosm of society. I sense that Carlson and Curley in their “might is right” manner are the predecessors of great self-driven characters from American fiction or film from the later 20th Century such as a Sherman McCoy or Gordon Gecko.

It seems that the dark side in the novella has lost touch with nature and with humanity. The settings of the story make this abundantly clear as soon as the second section opens with no narrative prelude but a description of the alien world that the ranch represents: “the bunk house was a long rectangular building.” There is no room for the rich palette of colours or for the peace and calm of the natural world here. All is bleached of colour, lacking in soul and essentially entrapping. As the gatekeeper welcomes the two travellers to this world, there is a sense that the peace and inner content of the previous night is about to be lost. It is not that nature is soft and gentle – it isn’t, after all it is the setting for death and for anguish, but it has a humanity which is absent from life in the ranch. Slim, through his job and through his “good” character has not lost his humanity. Most of the other members of this small community seem to have lost or to be losing theirs.

Candy is slightly enigmatic. He is a gossip who seems keen merely to ingratiate himself with George and Lennie on arrival whilst trying to deflect George’s criticism of the ranch. He is complimentary about the Boss, yet his further comment that “You got to take him right” suggests that the Boss’s good nature is not something that can be relied upon. It seems that Candy has been so long a servant of this world that he fails to see its faults clearly. Once his only companion is removed he does “come over” to the Light, for as long as he feels his own ends can be met. The last memory of him, however is his tirade of unjustified abuse delivered to the corpse of Curley’s wife. Steinbeck has been at pains to use her death as a chance to re-establish respect and affection for this misunderstood girl and shortly after her brief “requiem” – “a moment settled and hovered… for much, much more than a second”- Candy attacks her and blames her for the loss of his dream future. This is not a world where femininity has any chance of survival, indeed so strong is the masculine in the ranch that the body is left alone in the straw – the pursuit and capture of Lennie being more important that respect and care for the weak.

Curley’s Wife, the only female in the story, has already made this clear when she arrives in Crooks’ room saying that “they left the all weak ones here”. She is included in the statement as much as any of the three men, yet she has no access to their support, so much have they lost touch with their Light sides. Curley’s Wife shows this more clearly than anyone. She is denied a name, is the possession of a violent husband who we are told is obsessed with the fear of being a cuckold and is so denigrated by the men that no one addresses her with anything other than contempt. Apart from Slim. She is assumed to be a flirt, though this probably bears as much relation to the testosterone fuelled atmosphere of the bunkhouse that to anything else. Only as she dies do we learn of her sad past, her broken dream and her pathetic attempts to maintain her femininity in her new world. Her colour is red – danger and passion and also the extreme feminine end of a spectrum dominated by harsh male blues in the denim worn all around her. Her initial introduction sees her clearly portrayed as a temptress or some form of dark feminine character who will lure men (Lennie) to his death. This illusion is maintained deliberately by Steinbeck who ensures that the reader believes this tale and shares the fears of the dark characters. This new world is, afterall, a heartless, man’s world. One in which the weak are free to be targeted by the strong. One in which everyone takes their chance to exercise what little power they have. In her single moment of power, she behave atrociously in Crooks’ room. Her vile racism and the invocation of possible lynching can not be defended, though there should be an open mind to a degree. Is this her view or is it the effect of living on the ranch for even a short period?

I began by stating that I intend this to be provocative and to encourage students to respond with their own ideas. Hopefully many of my readers will use this as I intend. Look closely at the text, find further examples and allow the thought process to develop from here. When faced by a “what is the significance of the setting…?” or a “how does Steinbeck use the character….?” essay, consider what he is trying to do in terms of the social context of his readership and then answer the question.

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An introduction to OMAM screencast

This screencast, linked to my school YouTube page is designed to introduce OMAM to my new Year 11 class. It is not aimed at providing close analysis, but rather as an overview to stimulate and prepare.

OMAM screencast

I hope it helps.

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Mice and Men revision podcast

I have been trawling on the PC at home, and found this, which I made about 4 years ago!

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/18050380/mice%20and%20men.wmv

I hope it helps.

and this on Atmosphere in M+M

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OMAM revision classes 2013

My PPt for the Sheep group 30 minute revision class:

OMAM
And a podcast to accompany it:

The session is designed to last for 30 minutes and knowledge of the text is assumed!

130220_001

Enjoy and good luck!

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Y11 OMAM passage annotation exercise

Year 11 are working on OMAM – this is the material to download for your files, based on three passages from OMAM.

new doc (10)

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An introduction to Of Mice and Men.

This is intended for my current Year 11 set as an introduction to this text which they are reading as part of the EDEXCEL Certificate (IGCSE) English Literature course. It is not intended to cover everything/anything in depth, but to stimulate thought and to encourage them to read the text independently.

intro M+M

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Suggestions about approaching a “setting” essay.

USE OF SETTING ESSAYS:

Many students seem to see use of setting essays as an excuse to write as much as they can about the plot of the novel, whilst opening each paragraph with a comment reflecting the location of the material which they discuss is.

The sad fact is that such “narrative driven” essays will score few marks, particularly at advanced level, and this document has been prompted by a batch of IBDP essays concerning the use of setting in The Awakening (Chopin) and Snow Falling on Cedars (Guterson).

APPROACH:

It is important to note that setting refers to the whole “world” of the novel – location, era, culture, use of time of day (“hour”) and that any response should show an awareness of each of these ideas if possible. Ideally the response will be able to consider contrasts within the novel to build a sense of debate in the essay.
Once this is established then the writer needs to consider the link between any of these elements and the themes of the novel or the characters described.
Thus each paragraph should open with a clear statement of intent linked to the title of the essay before the discussion commences.

Using texts familiar to a range of my students, I will look briefly at each of the elements outlined above to suggest some stimuli:

LOCATION:

This is the most obvious area of response, and I will look at The Awakening, Macbeth and Of Mice and Men.
The Awakening uses location in two ways – the general difference between the worlds of Grand Isle and New Orleans, and the specific as found within rooms used in the story. The sense of separation caused by placing any narrative on an island is straightforward to se. Grand Isle is different to some due to the regular contact with the “real” world due to the coming and going of Leonce, among others. Nevertheless, the creation of a temporary place of refuge for the women in the story helps to spark the whole story into action – women may well alter their behaviour on the island (the role of the eunuch-like Cajun male seems to suggest this), but it is never long lasting. After a time the freedom of the island, suggested by a relaxed dress code and regular forays into the sea is replaced by the stern societal norms of the city. The houses here have barred windows and columns standing phallically erect outside their doors – this is a man’s world and one in which society is to be obeyed. Given this, Edna’s response to her arrival is shocking.
Her home is carefully described, and the possessions within, including Edna herself, are carefully scrutinised by Leonce. Only after he leaves for New York can Edna begin to Awaken in a passage in which she subverts the “correct” use of the location by eating her (masculine) meal of beer and cheese in the living room. This clear statement of a wish to shatter society is backed up by a contrast of use of the garden in respect of nature. Gardens are often representative of “tamed” nature and here we see the same – although Edna begins to take an interest in her version of tamed nature, we note that it is only in the garden that any link to the sea is created in New Orleans, other than in the view through Mlle Reisz’s filthy windows!
The link to the sea is already established clearly in part one where it is the setting for the Awakening of the title as Edna is able to lose her inhibitions and surrender herself to this liquid, feminine environment.
To this end, we should notice that at the first soiree, Edna, whilst part of the party in the drawing room is seated at a window, half in and half out, listening to the voice of the sea. The personification of setting here used helps to draw attention to the role that specific setting will play in her emotional journey.

In Macbeth setting is again used to deliberate effect. Broadly the choice is between “blasted heath” and Macbeth’s castle at Dunsinane. Any student working on this area should look closely at the castle which prefigures the use of a similar location topos throughout Gothic and Victorian literature. Not only is the castle prison-like, but I want to focus on the idea of the castle representing Hell and thus adding a layer to the character of Macbeth. By the time The Porter opens the gates, Duncan lies dead and Macbeth has “murdered sleep”. From this point, following the idea that the Porter represents the porter of Hell’s Gate (See another essay on the blog); this metaphor helps to render Macbeth clearly as the Devil himself. A change in character from the vacillating warrior of Act 1.

In Of Mice and Men, location can clearly tie in with the central themes of the novel to add a layer of subconscious understanding. Simple points such as the use of Soledad as the location of the action link with descriptions which carefully point out the thought processes behind the locations. The Bunkhouse is described in a manner which contrasts sharply with the natural world in which George and Lennie are so happy. The floor is unpainted, there is a lack of privacy, the small windows let in light in a bar, helping to suggest the sense of a prison or similar building. The first contact with the bunk house focuses on the infestation of “grey-backs” in the beds and on the lack of personal possessions carried by the itinerant workers. After this, the various key events of the novel – The meeting with Curley’s wife, the shooting of the dog, the planning of the dream-farm and so on, are related to this location and the use of light, silence and the development of tensions between the characters are all coloured by the initial description. Much the same could be said of the barn – all seems rather wonderful – quiet, peaceful, rural, close to nature, yet all threatened by the hanging fork which is suspended like an instrument of ill omen or of execution above all that takes place.

ERA:

Although often referencing the time of writing, the era of setting can again influence the central themes of the novels. OMAM is set in the depression and suggests a lack of hope among the men and a context of failure against which the story is played out.

For Shakespeare, the Historical setting of Macbeth, well accounted in Holinshead, provided an ideal setting for a story designed to promote the rule of King James I. The events are seen as “true”, but from a different age. Given the links between reality and the plot and the closeness of Guy Fawkes’ treachery, for example, the setting enables Shakespeare to promote the idea of a Scottish King without ever having to address recent history directly. There is no reference here in any form to Mary, Queen of Scots, and yet the establishment of a noble line of Kings north of the border is clear to all.

Guterson uses this setting to enable a narrative largely about racism and the inability of society to accept outsiders to present his tale against the backdrop of the Pacific Northwest in the period (loosely) 1930-1954. The proximity of the War and the location enables his story to be told without reference to the occasionally clichéd world of the “deep South”. The narrative gains immeasurably from this as readers are forced to think anew of a subject that many think they “know”. Likewise the choice of era targets a time when the USA was riven with McCarthyism and prone to somewhat paranoid responses to anyone not of the norm. Finally the era allows a small measure of technology to be used, but makes the total isolation caused by the snow storm to be totally convincing.
Culture is explored often by use of race and societal expectation. Again Guterson is the focus perhaps in the text we are reading for the use of the Japanese/American clash. His use of Japanese language in the text as Hatsue is taught about her heritage builds a clear barrier between her world and that of Ishmael as well as between that of the reader, when reading in a “western environment”. Such deliberate distancing helps to emphasise the notion that “oceans don’t mix”. Ishmael response that they do “underneath” may well be true, but there is no room for this optimism in a novel which sees the Americans dominate their Japanese neighbours even down to the metaphorical sacrifice of a Japanese virgin each year to assuage the needs of the local community in the Strawberry Fair.

A similar use of the clash of cultural worlds pervades Wide Sargasso Sea and therefore looks ahead to Jane Eyre, novels in which cultures are brought into stark contrast. The hostility faced by Rochester – a tool of a colonial super-power – in the days following his marriage do not find echo immediately in Eyre, but a century earlier, Bronte had focused on a more tangible culture clash as she moves Jane between Gateshead, Lowood and Thornfield. Each has its own culture and Jane has to find her path to success in each. India and the West Indies seem here to provide excitement and a sense of the unknown since in the early 19th century the political response to colonialism was not that to which Rhys responds. Students should be aware of the context of creation as well as the context of the physical setting of the novel.

Time of Day, Hour, is as important as any of the above since writers will use this device to imply subtext and to create atmosphere. Macbeth takes place almost exclusively at night or at the least in locations devoid of the sun. If night time can reflect stratagems and a potential for evil, then this is seen in most of our texts – look at the time of day in Othello, key scenes of the Awakening and most of the Gothic literature you read.
Interesting, then, is the use of “time between time” as a setting which keeps possibility alive. Reading Hardy’s poems should keep one aware of the power of dusk and dawn as magical times. As Hardy watched morning “harden” on the wall following Emma’s death, so the setting moves from dawn to the full light of day just as Emma’s life moves from a fading life to the harsh reality of death. Interestingly Hardy, writing a factual account of his response, has to use the coming of light to signify death – an unusual effect. His choice of the verb “harden” achieves this beautifully as the light seems to bring a harsh clarity to the world – a far cry from the usual welcome release from darkness.

Finally – consider here the use of hour in the play of light that follows Curley’s wife’s death. As the sun sets, Steinbeck tells us of the bars of light in the barn rising up the walls. It is almost as if the fading light, signifying approaching death, produce light which is rising to heaven as the true nature of the poor, dead girl is revealed.

I hope this will be of use to anyone approaching Setting in essay form. As usual, the ideas are my own and I make no promise of a high grade simply by reading this essay.

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REVISION CLASS: Of Mice and Men

A podcast and PPt used as the basis for a 60 minute revision session on Steinbeck’s novel. All ideas are my own and do not guarantee a high grade, but enjoy it all the same.


OF MICE AND MEN revision

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