Of Mice And Men By John Steinbeck: Analysis Of Language And Style
Steinbeck’s naturalist style in the novel “Of Mice and Men” showed that humans were shaped by social and environmental conditions that were beyond their control. The language used is colloquial and simple, representing the daily language spoken by the characters during the Great Depression. Steinbeck uses language and style to discuss the predatory nature of man and prejudice.
The writing style is straightforward and honest. The style is shown by the first sentence in the book. “A few miles of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green. ”(1) The language is not complicated and pretentious which is sensible because most workers were not educated during the Great Depression. Due to the forthright language of the setting, the character’s dialogue matches the book’s writing style.
The colloquial language is first shown between George and Lennie as they are traveling to the ranch. George says, “Jes’ a little stretch down the highway’”(4) when angrily ranting about how far they have to walk. Lennie says “I musta lost it”(5) when he looks for his work card. Steinbeck uses lots of misspelled words and grammar mistakes shows that they are uneducated. This relates to the setting and time period of this story. During the Great Depression, many workers were struggling to survive so education was a privilege many did not receive because of poor financial situations. Throughout the novel, Steinbeck uses imagery to contrast the roughness of the bunkhouse from the peacefulness of the nature. The “twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight”(1) shows the softness of nature. It is perceived as calming and safe. The bunkhouse is viewed as having walls that were whitewashed and an unpainted floor. “There was small, square windows, and in the fourth, solid door with a wooden latch”(17). There is a contrast of the freedom and openness felt in nature and the tightness and closeness in the bunkhouse. This apprehensive setting causes tension which increases the predatory nature of humans.
Carlson killing Candy’s dog was an example of the predatory nature of people. Carlson wanted the dog killed because he smelled. “I’ll shoot him for you. Then it won’t be you that does it. ”(45) This shows the violence and the way of thinking that explains why Carlson has a predatory nature. He does not understand how much Candy loves his dog because he does not care or love anyone. Carlson believes that if things are useless or weak, the best thing to do is to get rid of it. Using this mentality, the predatory nature of ranch workers is shown. If things are discarded or thrown away if they are no longer useful, the ranch workers must continue to work and make sure they are needed. This can sometimes result in making others feel less important and weak to assert their own power and dominance.
Another example is Curley’s actions and words. Curley is a small guy who feels physically inferior to Lennie because of his size. The predatory nature of men is shown by Curley’s remarks towards Lennie. The “Well, nex’ time you answer when you’re spoke to”(26) shows Curley’s insecurity about his size. He feels the need to prove his power and authority because he feels threatened by Lennie’s strength and size. Curley verbally attacks Lennie to scare him. The culture on the ranch reflects the oppressive nature of men, who constantly need to feel superior to others. Steinbeck demonstrates this denial of vulnerability and weakness as a flaw. Comments made by Curley’s wife show that she also has the predatory nature of men. As a woman, she is constantly discriminated against. When Crooks finally stands up to her to say “Now you jus’ get out, an’ get out quick. If you don’t I’m gonna ast the boss not to ever let you come in the barn no more. ”(80). She responded with a threat saying “you keep your place then, nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny. ”(81)
Through this language, Steinbeck shows that Curley’s wife attacks the one person more prejudiced than her, the African American. This shows that when characters feel the weakest and most vulnerable, they take it out on someone else to make themselves feel better. This creates a constant cycle of the ranch workers having a predatory nature. The first example of prejudice against Lennie is shown by Curley’s body language when he meets George and Lennie in the bunkhouse. “His arms gradually bent at the elbows and his hands closed into fists(25). This shows Curley incorrectly assumed that Lennie was a violent guy because of his size. Another example of prejudice against Lennie was when “he reaches out to feel this red dress and the girl lets out a squawk”(41). Because of his strength, she could not escape. There was prejudice against Lennie because he did not rape the girl but because he was so strong, everyone believed he would be aggressive. George also predicts that Lennie will experience prejudice based on his lack of intelligence. George warns him “If he finds out what a crazy bastard you are, we won’t get no job, but if he sees ya work before he hears ya talk, we’re set. ”(6) It shows that George believes that people will assume Lennie is not a good worker because he is not very smart. This is later proven correct by the “What are you trying to put over?” comment from the boss when Lennie accidentally speaks(22).
The motif of prejudice is further shown by the choice of Candy’s words when he is describing the stable buck. Candy says “Ya see the stable buck’s a nigger. ”(20) Candy is not shown to be disrespectable on purpose. During the 1900s, African Americans were not treated with respect which is shown by Candy referring to the stable buck by his race. Also, Crooks is never called by his name in the book. Readers do not ever learn his name because Steinbeck felt that the characters would not have known or called him by his name. He is known by his physical disability, his crooked back. Another way prejudice is shown to Crooks is the way the workers call him. He is called “Stable Buck– ooh, Stable Buck!” and, “Where the hell is that God damn nigger?’(29) He is treated like an animal, not a ranch worker. There is prejudice against Crooks because of his race and his disability.
Another person there is prejudice against is Curley’s wife. She is the only woman that is around the ranch men so she is discriminated against. George says “Jesus, what a tramp,”(32) the first time he meets Curley’s wife. She is judged solely on her image and not her personality because she is a woman. She is called a “tart” because of her heavy makeup and the type of clothes she wears. . Curley’s wife is also portrayed as a “gold digger” because she is married to Curley for the money and flirts with other men. There is gender prejudice represented by the absence of her name. She is only ever mentioned as Curley’s wife in the book because she is seen as an object and not a human being. The lack of her own name also shows the dependence on Curley’s wife on Curley and his family ranch.
Throughout the novel, Steinbeck uses the naturalist style and simple language to convey the theme predatory nature of man and the motif of prejudice through the character’s dialogue and actions. Using quotes and imagery, Steinbeck also shows how the predatory nature of man is largely caused by the prejudice of the characters.
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