Unflinching Friendship in Of Mice & Men

There are many themes shown throughout the book, Of Mice and Men, but the most evident premise of the book was the unflinching friendship between Lennie and George.

Lennie and George are what some would call unbreakable friends. They would be justified in saying that, there is nothing that would tear these two apart. George is the smarter one of the pair, thus, he looks out for Lennie and takes care of him. George protects Lennie no matter what happens, “Well, that girl rabbits in an’ tells the law she been raped. The guys in Weed start a party out to lynch Lennie” (46). After the incident in Weed, George ran with Lennie and hid with him and in the process of this, he lost his job. George could have kept his job and paid no attention to Lennie and been a lot better off.  Without George, Lennie would have been lost a long time ago.

Lennie would always be that one to get into trouble, and George would always be the one to bail him out. George tries to teach Lennie to fight his own battles. “Gosh, she was purty” (35), Lennie would often say about Curly’s wife, and it eventually got him into trouble that George couldn’t get him out of. When Lennie saw something that he liked, he wanted it, and George couldn’t stop him from getting it. Lennie would often stare at Curly’s wife, not meaning any offence, he just thought she was purty. When ever Curly would see Lennie, he would get angry. Partly because of his hatred of people that are bigger than him, and because Lennie looked at his wife. “What the hell you laughin’ at?” (68). Curly said to Lennie, and in a few moments, Curly took a swing at Lennie. George would yell to Lennie, “Get um’ Lennie!” (69). But Lennie would just sit there and take the abuse. Get um’ Lennie! Get um’! George would repeat over and over until Lennie had enough violence and grabbed Curly’s fist and crushed it. The farm hands told everyone that Curly crushed his hand in a machine to cover it up. Even though George didn’t directly fight Lennies battle, he helped him in a way, to fight back.

They continued to work after the occurrence, but Curly’s wife knew that the story they told he was fictional. Later on she confronted Lennie when George was not around and attempted to talk to him and maybe arouse him. She sat beside him and he liked her smell, and the way she looked, and just like in Weed, he wanted it. “You let go!” (99). She cried when he grabbed her hair, she yelled and scared Lennie so he would not let go. He tried to quiet her and started to shake her. He finally ended up breaking her neck. Lennie ran out and hid in the bush that George had told him to and waited for him. Curly began a lynch to search Lennie, so George took him and ran away. George on his way out took Candy’s gun and Curly’s shotgun. They stopped near the Salinas River and George took out the gun and shot him. This may not seem like an act of friendship, but there wasn’t a lot more that he could do to help Lennie anymore.

George ended Lennies life maybe because he knew they would eventually find them and do worse to him. Or maybe he thought that Lennie could not be helped. Either way, George cared about Lennie and didn’t want to have to do it. George moved on, the friendship had to end, it was better for both of them.

There’s more than one friendship in Of Mice & Men

The book Of Mice and Men shows true friendship.  The relationship between George and Lennie is very strong.  This relationship can be somewhat tenuous at times, but almost always turns out to be alright.  In this book, Lennie seems to always consult with George about what his next move in life should be.  I don’t mean this literally, but this just proves the fact that Lennie needs George and this relationship between them.

When Lennie says things like “I was only foolin’ George.  I don’t want no ketchup.  I wouldn’t eat no ketchup if it was right here beside me.” (12) or “George you want I should go leave you alone?” (12) it’s pretty obvious that Lennie is either playing the sympathy card with George or actually cares about him so much as to leave George just so George’s life could be better.  George seems to like Lennie a lot as well and has seemingly grown attached to him.  It’s clear when George says “I was jus’ foolin’, Lennie.  ‘Cause I want you to stay with me.” (13)

However, this book contains more to friendship than just George and Lennie’s.  When they arrive at the ranch, they eventually make friends with such people as Crooks and Candy.  Both being simple people who help around the ranch.  They even get to be somewhat of good acquaintances with another character that goes by the name Slim.

Candy gets very defensive when talking to Curly’s wife.  During a conversation Candy mentions how George, Lennie, Crooks, Slim, and himself, all don’t need that ranch because they plan on getting their own ranch sometime in the near future.  Of course she just laughs at the idea, but the care that Candy shows resembles his friendship with the others.

When Lennie breaks Curley’s hand and his wife wants to know what happened, Crooks and Candy are quick to think of a different story to put the blame on.  They tell her “he got his han’ stuck in a machine ma’am.” (78)  She tells them that story is absurd and surely knows what happened and who did it.  The bond these guys share is shown once again during this time.

Possibly the final act of friendship in the story, if you think about it, is George ending Lennie’s life himself rather than letting Curley get to him first.  George even begged for jail time, but it was no use to convince the stubbornness of Curley.  George’s hand shakes before he shoots Lennie in the back of the head, which is an obvious sign he didn’t want to do this.  After he steadies, he pulls the trigger and does what he probably hoped he’d never have to do.

Even though the friendship was cutoff by one of the friends, that doesn’t make their friendship any less then what it was.  No one can tell if it was for the better, but it probably was.  George and Lennie shared a strong bond and it was too bad that it had to come to such a violent end.

Lennie and George: Two Halves

If I had to choose a favorite writer between Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck, I would have to choose Steinbeck, for 2 reasons.  Firstly, just comparing The Old Man and the Sea and Of Mice and Men, I found the latter to be a bit more exciting.  Secondly, I felt that I connected with George and Lennie on a level that seemed impossible for Santiago.  The reason I think I could connect with them is the fact that their friendship was so strong.  They were like 2 halves of a whole person, which made them stand out more, and that is why I believe the theme of the book is friendship.

Now don’t get me wrong.  Friendship isn’t the only theme.  It is coupled with others like sorrow and hardship, but those things only strengthen the presence of the bond that George and Lennie have.  George sticks with Lennie through all the hard times of traveling from ranch to ranch, on the run, with no money.

George is always giving Lennie a hard time and at times seems like he is being downright mean, but deep down, he loves Lennie like a brother.  Whenever Lennie asks George to tell him about the rabbits, he (reluctantly) does it:  “‘You get a kick outta that, don’t you?  Awright, I’ll tell you, and then we’ll eat our supper…’” (13).  He is compelled to make sure Lennie is happy and safe.  That’s how I am with my brothers anyway.

George is worried about Lennie and vice versa.  They need each other whether they know it or not.  To quote a movie that is one of the most over-quoted ever, they “complete” each other, and if one of the halves is broken, well, there really isn’t a point, is there?  When Lennie was looking at Curley’s wife, George knew what could potentially happen.  He gets after Lennie when he told him to “keep away from her, ‘cause she’s a rat trap if I ever seen one” (32). 

Many could argue that if George was a true friend, he would have let Lennie go and run off with him again; that what he did was cold hearted and unnecessary.  However, the book states that “George raised the gun and his hand shook, and he dropped his hand to the ground again” (105).  To me, that suggests, not even suggests, it flat out tells you that George truly didn’t want to kill Lennie and that he didn’t have another choice.  Prison life for Lennie would be no good.  He wouldn’t be able to handle it in a cell by his self.  Not to mention, Curley hated his guts and would surely use this to torture him a great deal.

In killing Lennie, George killed a little bit of himself.  His dream, their dream of the farm and the rabbits, died with Lennie.  I feel that George wouldn’t be able to go on like he normally would with Lennie around.  I mean if one of the halves is broken, well, there really isn’t a point, is there?

What you think about this Old Man and the Sea

I have talked enough; now it is your turn to show me you have intelligence worth sharing. We are well past the half-way mark in The Old Man and the Sea, and as you get started on your blog, I’d like you to take a moment and tell me what you can about this book. Tell me what you understand the book to be about so far, and tell your potential audience (which surely includes your classmates) what Hemingway is exploring here.

I have talked about things as we read and even recaptured the most meaty discussions on the class website, so if you need to check them out to help you know what to write, do so. You are smart people, and I am not going to hold your hand and tell you what you write. Tell me something interesting about what you have thought about this book so far, make yourself sound as intelligent as I think you are (among other things, that means use the spell check), and write at least 250 words.

Welcome to the world of the blog!

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Your teacher desires a word with you

One of my favorite passages in all of literature is Puck’s speech at the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. After he has caused all the mischief and conflict that drove the play, he apologizes to the audience–sort of. Actually, he suggests how the audience should think of all the things that have just occurred if they happen to be offensive or disturbing — think of them as a dream. And since Puck is a fairy, he could then fix all the offenses, eventually.

At the end of a year, after you have been subjected to the antics, the odd projects, the technology, and the exercises that I call my teaching, I often feel I need to deliver just this speech. I am convinced many of you enjoyed your experiences in this classroom; if you didn’t enjoy me, I can see you enjoyed each other. But even if you have not enjoyed your experience with me, I offer my hands to you and at least suggest this: you’ll get another teacher, and eventually, this will all seem like a dream. In that vein I adopt Puck’s words as my own:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend

So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

That said, I’d like you to take 30 minutes and to write me a letter of reflection on your year. I will set no word length if you will discipline yourself to write earnestly for the entire half hour (Please do not count the time it takes to log in to your blog). You are writing to me, but this does not need to be about me. While I am interested in what your thoughts are concerning English, I am also interested in your broader reaction to your year. That means for many of the thoughts, you might share your experience in English but then broaden the thought to include your whole life.

I list these questions to help you get going. You need not work down them like a checklist, but you are welcome to do so if you don’t want to think about it.

  • What have you learned?
  • How have you changed?
  • What has influenced you?
  • What will you remember when you think back on this year?
  • What did you enjoy about class?
  • What did you find most challenging?
  • What did you learn about yourself as a student this year?
  • What lesson was most important to remember for the future?
  • What is the story of your year? (You might consider telling me the story of your year and include the landmark events that summarize the whole.)

You may write this at home or during your final exam block, but please make sure it is posted to your blog.

Finale, Of Mice and Men

Upon finishing the book, please write a 300 word article considering the question, “What are your feelings about this book?” It’s a generic question, I realize, but I leave it frustratingly generic in order to allow you maximum flexibility in how you respond.

Please look back to the chapters you’ve read most recently, or even further if you choose, and use 3 or 4 lines from the text to frame your thinking. (I say three or four because if you can hit the word count by considering only three passages, then you may stop.)

Of Mice Chapter 3

Hopefully my pattern for this book won’t get too repetitive to be effective, but for chapter three I’d like you to continue picking out important passages and commenting on them. I think it helps us keep our conversations rooted in the text, as well as give you essentially an endless source of writing prompts. In addition to your work with the quotes, though, I’m going to add an element that considers the questions you are developing as you read.

The assignment, then, is to write 300 words about the text, quoting the book three times to spur you onward.

After you address your quotes, I’d like you to direct some of your thinking towards questions you may have at this point. Consider the themes that are developing and ask at least two big-picture, discussion starting questions. Explain why you think these questions are worth asking. These are part of your 300 words.

Let the big guy talk: Of Mice and Men, Chapter 2

Having read the first chapter of Of Mice and Men and discussed it through both the reading of each other’s blogs and an almost circle discussion, we move to chapter two (pp. 17-37). Before I tell you what I’d like you to do to respond to chapter 2, I’d like to remind you of two of our literary focuses through this book.

The first is characterization, in particular, the indirect characterization Steinbeck uses to portray each of the men (and the one woman) in the story. If I were to demand that you describe George’s characteristics to me, most of you would support your points or cite what George does and what he says. That’s indirect characterization. Steinbeck uses the dialogue of these characters to convey what they are like. They each speak uniquely, and if we were to remove the “George said” comments from it entirely, my guess is that we’d be able to follow the dialogue fairly well. Note how much you learn about characters from the conversations that surround them.

The second literary focus is on character foils – those characters who contrast one another. The most obvious one is George and Lennie (George is smart, Lennie is slow; George is small and quick, Lennie is large and strong), but more come. Can you identify others as they arrive?

Now, as to responding to chapter two — I had you search out at least four important passages as you read, and for this article I’d like you to share those passages and comment on them. I’ll list a series of questions below here to help you know what to say, but ultimately I’m looking for you to comment in 300 words what your reaction to these passages is.

  • What is interesting about these passages?
  • What makes these passages stand out?
  • What has happened here that seems significant?
  • What are the likely consequences on the story of the passage you’ve read? (That is, predict.)
  • What questions does the passage raise?
  • Can you identify in particular with the event or theme that the passage addresses?
  • What is your reaction (emotional or otherwise) to what you’ve read here?

Put page numbers by all of your passages so others in the class can find them in their books easily.

Of Mice and Men: Chapter 1

These are what I consider to be important lines from the first chapter of Of Mice and Men. In later chapters, I will expect you to pick out the important lines to discuss in your blogs. In this case, please choose as many of these lines (or ones you’ve identified from your own reading) as you’d like to use and comment on the book. Write 300 of your own words.

If you’d like peek at the one I did for chapter one.

  • “In front of the low horizontal limb of a giant sycamore there is an ash pile made by many fires; the limb is worn smooth by men who have sat on it” (2).
  • “The first man was small and quick, dark of face, with restless eyes and sharp, strong features. Every part of him was defined: small, strong hands, slender arms, a thin and bony nose. Behind him walked his opposite, a huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes, with wide, sloping shoulders; and he walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws. His arms did not swing at his sides, but hung loosely” (2).
  • “You remember about us goin’ into Murray and Ready’s, and they give us work cards and bus tickets?” (5)
  • “Awright. You got that. But we’re gonna sleep here because I got a reason” (7).
  • “I’d pet ‘em, and pretty soon they bit my fingers and I pinched their heads a little and then they was dead – because they was so little” (10).
  • “When I think of the swell time I could have without you, I go nuts. I never get no peace” (12).
  • “Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. . . . With us it ain’t like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. . . . because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why” (14).
  • “Well, look. Lennie – if you jus’ happen to get in trouble like you always done before, I want you to come right here an’ hide in the brush” (15).

Saying Much by Saying Little

When we read stories — especially those from Faulkner — we talked about how a writer loads every detail into it with the most specific intentions. While he was talking about short stories, I think Of Mice and Men (and really, any truly great novel) does the same thing. Each detail, each descriptive point, is intentional and leads us towards the place Steinbeck wants to take us.

For an example, see this seemingly tiny line on page 2:

They had walked in single file down the path, and even in the open one stayed behind the other.

When I read that this time around, I stopped to consider when I have ever seen anything do that. Ducks? Military parades? But even with soldiers, it would be hard for me to imagine two guys walking along in an open field in a single file line. That’s more the kind of thing you see when a teacher or principal is leading a student down the hall for punishment. Here, though, we’ve got two best friends walking like that. One simple image, conveying so much about the relationship between George and Lennie. George in the front, Lennie walking behind like an eager puppy.

Speaking of Lennie and puppies, it is also interesting to me how Steinbeck uses images of animals to describe Lennie — in particular, big animals. Now, I have read the book before and I have noted this characteristic of Steinbeck’s writing about Lennie, but now that I am atuned to it, I see it everywhere.

Behind him walked his opposite, a huge man . . . dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws. (2)

[Lennie] drank with long gulps, snorting into the water like a horse. (3)

Lennie dabbled his big paw in the water and wiggled his fingers so the water arose in little splashes. (3)

With all that in two pages, you might be tempted to say Steinbeck overdoes it, but we can decide that later. What, though, is he trying to do? In many of my classes we discuss similes and why authors use them. Homer uses them a lot in The Odyssey, and poets use them a lot. In many of those instances, the author’s intention is to make the unfamiliar seem familiar by comparison. Here, Steinbeck makes the image familiar, but also he makes us associate the character with other things — things like large animals. If you weren’t paying attention, you might find the effect almost subconscious, I would think. It might be fun to test someone out like that — do a picture association test at the end of the book. We could say “Lennie Small” and then hold up a series of pictures and see which one the reader connects most closely with Lennie. Perhaps a bear?

That’s enough from me on this one. It’s time for me to turn to you and see what you’re saying. Obviously I have no problem writing more words about a book than the writer put originally in the book.

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