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,,Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck
About the opening scene - with special attention to the literary terms "characterization" and "composition" :
"Characterization" is the author's way to present the characters. He describes their outward appearance, thoughts, behaviour etc. But there are different ways the author can use to do so: the characteristics can be narrated by an the author himself or any other person in the play (direct way) or they can be shown by through action, speech and thoughts of a character (indirect way).
In the opening scene, Steinbeck uses both ways. At first he uses the direct way to introduce George and Lennie - he describes directly their outward appearance. Later, he uses the indirect way: George and Lennie are talking. So the reader has to interpret the dialogues to get more information about the two characters, especially about their behaviour and mentality.
With the term "composition" the combination of the different parts of a story is meant. It shows how the author arranges, for example, description, narration and dialogue. In the opening scene Steinbeck uses the main types description and dialogue: At first he describes the scenery and the persons, then he lets George and Lennie speak.
When we read the passage where George and Lennie are introduced, we get an impression of two migrant-workers, wearing jeans trousers and coats, moving around and searching for work. There's at first nothing special about them, only the big contrast between their physical appearance.
About the language and it's purpose:
Steinbeck uses a colloquial language with a lot of slang expressions for the dialogues in his novel. When we compare it to the formal English we have learned at school, we must say that this language is "wrong" and that there's often a wrong usage of the grammatical structure. But this is only the case in the dialogues: When we read the passages where Steinbeck is telling, we can read the formal English.
With the slang he can show that there are only farm-workers and migrant-workers speaking who have most no higher education. So they use a colloquial form of English which is familiar and normal for them. With the usage of this special language, Steinbeck has the possibility to show the social status of his characters.
The relationship between George and Lennie:
At first it seems that their relation is one-sided: George, "the brain", who plans everything and Lennie who only follows him. Without George Lennie could never survive because he forgets everything that is told to him, so he mostly doesn't know where they come from and where they want to go. Lennie behaves like a small child, he wants everything they don't have, he wants, for example, ketchup to his beans although they had none, and he always needs something he can play with. So he wanted to have a mouse he could pet while they were walking.
That's why we get at first the impression that their relation is really one-sided - Lennie like a "ward" and George the "guardian".
But when we take a deeper and further look we see that it's a mutual dependence - they need each other. Lennie couldn't survive without George, but George needs Lennie, too. It's always easier when you have someone you can talk to. George and Lennie are migrant-workers and so they don't stay long in one place - they have only themselves, they depend on each other.
The significance of their dream about having an own farm:
Normally migrant-workers are moving around, walking from place to place to earn enough money to survive. They have a low social status, nobody is interested in them. They have no family, no friends, they are alone and so they often don't see any possibility to reach a better life, they see no future for them.
But George and Lennie have a common dream: They want to earn enough money to buy an own farm with a couple of acres and animals. They have a dream, an aim for their lives, so they have something they can look forward to, they aren't lost in desperation. I think George is looking for a place he belongs to, a place he can call "home". Lennie is also looking for a special place where he can stay forever, but he's more interested in having animals, especially rabbits, he can tend.
With this imaginary dream they aren't only walking around and trying to earn money - they know that they are working for their dream and so they have always an aim ahead of them.
How are the farm-workers presented in the novel?
The workers are presented as very decent and orderly people. This fact can be seen right at the beginning of the second chapter. With the description of the bunk-house where the migrant- workers live and sleep, Steinbeck shows that everything is clean ("...the walls were white- washed."), correct and orderly ("And these shelves were loaded with little articles, soap and talcum-powder...").
And when we look at George we see that everything has its order and has to be correct: He puts all his belongings on the shelf and when he makes his bed up with blankets he even pats out the wrinkles. During the whole novel there are always little signs which show that Steinbeck portrays the workers as proper and correct people. There's, for example, the old swamper with his broom in his hand.
Comment on a quotation from the text:
"I don't like this place, George. This ain't no good. I wanna get outa here", Lennie cried out suddenly.
Lennie says that after he met Curley and his wife. Curley is very unfriendly and tries to provoke Lennie, and also his wife, who is heavily made up with clothes and make-up, makes a strong impression on Lennie, who has no experiences with women.
I'd never expected such a loud, emotional utterance from him because all the time he behaves very defensively. But, nevertheless, it shows us that Lennie is, in fact, very emotional. Perhaps he isn't so clever and intelligent, but he's intuitive. He can't see things with his eyes, but he can feel them with his heart - and so the whole situation on the farm says him that something is going wrong and that something will happen, something terrible and that it would be better to leave immediately.
The significance of names and nicknames (George, Lennie, Slim, Curley, Crooks and Candy): With names and nicknames it's easy to underline the character of persons.
George is a migrant-worker who wishes to buy his own farm where he can live forever, where he wants to cultivate plants and where he can have some animals. So, he wants to become a real farmer and this is underlined by his name that means, in the Greek original, "farmer".
It's the same with Lennie. He's very tall, big and powerful, but not so clever and intelligent.
His appearance can be compared to a hugh and strong animal - and so his name means "lion".
Crooks is a stable-buck and a nigger. But his name underlines his outward appearance: A horse kicked him and now he's a cripple - he can't go upright, he's crooked, which means "not straight, twisted".
Slim is the foreman and respected by the other workers. "Slim" means "not fat, not thick" and this shows that he's a tall person, a man with a defined body who is always very active. "Curly" means "having or arranged in curls". This refers to Curley's hairstyling and it could also refer to his wife who has her hair in sausage-curls.
Candy, the old swamper, is a very friendly, honest and open man with whom you can talk about everything. This is underlined by his name: "candid" means "not hiding one's thoughts, frank and honest".
With regard to the literary term "tragic" - are George and Lennie tragic characters? I think the explanation of the term "tragic" fits perfectly for George and Lennie - especially for Lennie.
Of course, Lennie wasn't so clever, but he had good intentions and moral innocence, he never wanted to hurt anybody, he was only looking forward to tend his rabbits. But suddenly everything, all dreams and hopes, where destroyed. It's clear that he killed Curley's wife, but not intentional. This incapable conflict was produced by the outside world and Lennie couldn't solve it - and so he failed. But I don't think that it was really his fault, to say it with Steinbeck's words: It was "something that happened".
George is also a tragic hero, but only in literary terms. (In legal terms we would call him a murderer.)
All events just happened and George couldn't prevent them. So he could only make the decision to kill his only and best friend. This big decision seems to be the last service of friendship, but in fact he's now a murderer, mentally destroyed - he lost against his fate.
Comment on Warren French's essay "End of a dream":
I think it's not right to call "Of Mice and Men" a comedy, even if we would call it a "dark comedy". I don't think that the story is about the "triumph of the indomitable will to survive" because I'm not sure if George has really the will survive - of course he won't commit suicide, but after he had killed Lennie nothing will be like things were before.
And so it's wrong to say that the story is about "man's painful conquest of his nature". Life is now very painful and agonizing for George, but it isn't a conquest - for me a conquest is a victory, but I don't think that George wins. In fact it's the contrary, George loses, not only his dream about an own farm and his only and best friend, but also his good conscience.
In my opinion, the other interpretation which French denies is much better. The novel expresses "Steinbeck's outraged compassion for the victims of chaotic forces" : George and Lennie, in fact, never had the power to reach and fulfil their dreams. For everybody it was clear that their dream would fail - they were under control of "higher forces".
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- Melanie Kern (Autor), 2000, Steinbeck, John - Of Mice And Men, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/97427