It could be said that Steinbeck has written a tragic novel. He loosely follows, the traditions of Greek tragedy, where all the action takes place within 24hours – here it is stretched to nearly 48. Similarly, all the action occurs in one place, the ranch. Finally, the tragedy should unfold in five parts. Yet here we are at Chapter 6. This invites us to view the first five chapters as the tragedy, but to view the sixth as something else. Each character has now met with tragedy, and like tragic heroes, each have their fatal flaw. However, the fact that Chapter 6 exists, points to a departure from tragedy.
The chapter opens with a “deep green pool”, an image of spring, growth and rebirth. Similarly, “the hilltops were rosy in the sun”. It could be suggested that his offers us a setting for hope rather than despair. If death is coming, it is welcomed in, or as “a pleasant shade”. This is the same Eden-like setting the novel began with. Steinbeck introduces a “water snake”, a reminder of the serpent of Eden, which tempted man to understand the knowledge of good and evil.It is swiftly, killed as a heron “plucked it out by the head … while its tail waved frantically.” The “wind sounded” and then “the wind died”, again reminding us of imminent death. But does this, and the frantic end of the snake invite us to see death as natural and not as a tragedy? Does this give the reader a sense of hope – the power of friendship or is it truly a tragedy as the dream is never realised?
Turning up on such a beautiful area to find such a brutal scene, the scene after George has murdered Lennie, Slim is the only man with any regard for the way George may be feeling. He sits next to him and says gently “Never you mind… a guy got to sometimes.” As they wander back to the ranch, George in shock and being led by Slim, Carlson remarks to their departing silhouettes: “Now what the hell ya suppose is eatin’ them two guys?”. In this environment, in which human life is utterly disposable, only Slim recognizes that the loss of such a beautiful and powerful friendship should be mourned. Carlson and the other workers don’t have the understand, due to their environment, to develop their relationships in the way George and Lennie have so therefore cannot empathise. This is a further example of the loneliness Steinbeck portrays.
Remember to consider the importance of Lennie’s death mirroring Candy’s dog’s death – they are described in a similar way and both occur to end suffering. Yet there are key differences between the two deaths. How can these be linked to loneliness? Steinbeck offers no answer to loneliness with the cyclical structure. The structure of the novella mirrors the fate of the characters – their inability to escape. It could be said that Steinbeck set out to expose and chronicle the circumstances that cause human suffering and one of the main issues being loneliness. To what extent do you agree with this statement?
Year 10 – we will look at Chapter 6 in tomorrow’s lesson. Please ensure you have read the chapter.