Of Mice and Men Part B Model Response

Last week I set the question:

In the rest of the novel, how does Steinbeck show what life was like for people living on a ranch at the time?

For Section B, Part B of the Unit 1 Exploring Modern Texts exam (The Woman in Black/Of Mice and Men) you need to demonstrate your understanding of context (1930s) and link to ideas across the book.  I have produced a model answer for you to use, to develop your understanding of how the book represents the era and how to approach the question.


In the rest of the novel, how does Steinbeck show what life was like for people living on a ranch at the time? 

Of Mice and Men was written during the 1930s, a time of the Dustbowl, the Great Depression and migrant workers. One interpretation could see the ranch as a microcosm for the USA of the 1930s with Steinbeck critiquing his country’s problems and issues.

The start of chapter 2 gives a detailed description of the setting – the text lends itself very well to being performed with each chapter starting with a setting and then the chapter containing a lot of dialogue. Steinbeck uses the description of the bunkhouse to echo the loneliness of the ranch workers – the bunkhouse could be seen as a metaphor for the lives of the workers. ‘The walls were whitewashed and the floor unpainted’ demonstrating the basic, unembellished lifestyle of the workers whilst also capturing an almost innocent quality through the use of ‘white’. ‘White’ suggests a colourless and absences of tint – this mirrors the lives of the workers as during this era workers normally moved around singularly without any companionship and with no contact with family – ‘they got no family’, with the exception of George and Lennie. ‘The small square windows’ conjure up images of prison and the ‘flies’ perhaps foreshadow the deaths that are to come. The workers inability to escape a cycle of migration and poor living conditions is also epitomised by the text’s cyclical structure.

Isolation is a key theme of the novel and would have been a key issue for workers at the time. Due to unstable economy migrant workers searched for work specifically to California, advertised as ‘a poor man’s heaven’. The constant separation from families and loved ones is symbolised in the setting of Of Mice and Men with Soledad meaning solitude. Steinbeck further alludes to the loneliness of the workers through the use of the game ‘solitaire’ – a one person game. Loneliness also developed the ‘dog eat dog’ mentality in workers as shown in the character of Carlson and his inability to empathise with Candy when he is about to kill his dog – ‘you ain’t being kind to him keepin’ him alive and at the end of the novel when George has lost Lennie – ‘now what the hell ya suppose is eatin’ them two guys?’

In the 1930s there was a sparse food supply particularly due to the Dust Bowl and the lack of fertile land. Candy mentions he’s ‘got a bad gut ache, them god damn turnips give it to me’. The poor quality of food coupled with the brutal and physically demanding work would have had a negative impact on the workers – ‘I lost my right hand here on this ranch’ Candy states. Hands at the time were hugely important to men, without both hands they would struggle to find work – George is constantly praising Lennie, for he is as ‘strong as a bull’. The workers would have also had to cope with sickness and viruses – in Chapter 1 we hear George question the cleanliness of the water ‘I ain’t sure it’s good water’ and in Chapter 2 he queries the ‘small yellow can…positively kills lice, roaches and other scourges’. In an article Steinebck wrote on the nmigrant workers he raises the issues of a camp having hookworm and watercourse being used for ‘drinking, bathing, washing their clothes and receive their refuse’ 

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