The following analytical paper topics are designed to test your understanding of this novel as a whole and to analyze important themes and literary devices. Following each question is a sample outline to help you get started.
Loneliness is a dominant theme in Of Mice and Men. Most of the characters are lonely and searching for someone who can serve as a companion or just as an audience. Discuss the examples of character loneliness, the efforts of the characters in search of companionship, and their varying degrees of success.
I. Thesis statement: In his novel Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck depicts the essential loneliness of California ranch life in the 1930s. He illustrates how people are driven to find companionship.
II. Absence of character names
A. The Boss
B. Curley’s wife
III. George and Lennie
A. Consider each other family
B. Lennie described as a kind of pet
C. George’s philosophy about workers who travel alone
D. The Godlike Slim as George’s audience
A. Candy’s attachment to his dog
B. The death of his dog
C. His request to join George and Lennie
D. His need to share his thoughts with Lennie
A. Isolated by his skin color
B. His eagerness for company
C. His desire to share the dream of the farm
VI. Curley’s wife
A. Flirting with the workers
B. Talking to Crooks, Candy, and Lennie in the barn
C. Persuading Lennie to listen to her
VII. The hope and power when people have companions
A. George and Lennie
VIII. The misery of each when companionship is removed
The novel Of Mice and Men is written using the same structure as a drama, and meets many of the criteria for a tragedy. Examine the novel as a play. What conventions of drama does it already have? Does it fit the definition of a tragedy?
I. Thesis statement: Steinbeck designed his novel Of Mice and Men as a drama, more specifically, a tragedy.
II. The novel can be divided into three acts of two chapters (scenes)
A. First act introduces characters and background
B. Second act develops conflicts
C. Third act brings resolution
III. Settings are simple for staging
IV. Most of the novel can be transferred into either dialogue or stage directions
A. Each chapter opens with extensive detail to setting
B. Characters are described primarily in physical terms
V. The novel fits the definition of tragedy
A. The protagonist is an extraordinary person who meets with misery
B. The story celebrates courage in the face of defeat
C. The plot ends in an unhappy catastrophe that could not be avoided
There are many realistic and naturalistic details in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
Discuss how Steinbeck is sympathetic and dispassionate about life through the presentation of realism and naturalism.
I. Thesis Statement: Steinbeck displays a sympathetic and a dispassionate attitude toward man’s and nature’s condition through the use of realistic and naturalistic details.
II. Realism—things as they are
A. Setting of chapter one
B. Description of the bunk house
C. Dialect and slang of the characters
D. Dress and habits of the characters
E. Death as a natural part of life
III. Naturalism—fate at work
A. Animal imagery to describe people
2. Curley’s wife
B. Lower class characters
C. Place names
1. Light and dark
2. Dead mouse and pup
3. Lennie’s desire to leave the ranch
4. Candy’s crippled dog
5. Solitaire card game
E. Symbolism in the last chapter
1. Heron and snake
2. Gust of wind
3. Slim’s comment
The story of George and Lennie lends itself to issues found in the question: Am I my brother’s keeper? Does man have an obligation to take care of his fellow man, and what is the price that must be paid if the answer is “yes” or if the answer is “no”?
I. Thesis Statement: Steinbeck shows that there is a great price to be paid for not being sensitive to the needs of others as well as for taking care of others.
II. The vulnerable ones
III. The heartless ones
A. The boss
C. Curley’s wife
IV. The insensitive one—Carlson
V. The sensitive ones
The American Dream is for every man to have a place of his own, to work and earn a position of respect, to become whatever his will and determination and hard work can make him. In Of Mice and Men the land becomes a talisman, a hope of better things. Discuss the American Dream as presented in the novel.
I. Thesis Statement: For the characters in this novel, the American Dream remains an unfulfilled dream.
II. The dream
A. Owning a home
B. Enjoying freedom to choose
C. Living off the fat of the land
D. Not having to work so hard
E. Having security in old age or sickness
III. The dream’s unrealistic aspects
A. Too good to be true
B. A pipe dream for bindle stiffs
C. Lack of money
IV. George and Lennie’s attitude toward the dream
A. Was a comfort in time of trouble
B. Did not really believe in the dream
V. Crooks’s attitude toward the dream
A. His belief
B. His disappointment
VI. Candy’s attitude toward the dream
A. His belief
B. His money
C. His disappointment at the end
Many of you may think it was easy enough for George to pick up that Luger and shoot this man, Lennie, right in the back of the head. This, however, is not so. The internal conflict that George must have faced was no doubt greater than anything you can imagine. George, an angel of mercy to his good friend and confidant, Lennie Small, is not a murderer. He is quite the opposite.
The care of Lennie had been placed into George’s hands by a dying woman. George had promised that he would take care of Lennie, watch after him, make sure he was safe. Because the greatest danger to Lennie, George and this Aunt Clara must have known, was himself. His sheer strength and simple mindedness had gotten Lennie in trouble many times before, and then, suddenly, he had killed a woman. The blame can not be placed anywhere for this woman’s death. Lennie had no idea what he had done, the only thing he knew was that George would be upset.
George did not kill Lennie out of spite, not because his thoughtless, innocent, act had dashed George’s hopes of having a small farm. George had to do this because the other choices were grim. Lennie could be hanged, bludgeoned and beaten by the group of ranch hands that were after him. Or, maybe worse, Lennie would have been ripped from George’s side and been thrown into some horrid mental institution, a danger to himself, a danger to others. After all, if they had escaped that town there would be the next town, the next dead girl, and another gang to out run.
Perhaps it is best if Lennie’s last, simple thoughts were of George telling him of the land they would own and work together. George did not, after all, just go up to Lennie and shoot him, point blank in the back of the head. He painted a lovely picture for Lennie to gaze upon before Lennie died, of the vegetable garden they would plant and the rabbit hutch that Lennie would be in charge of. Also, had Lennie lived, he would have never understood why there would not be ranch, only that there would be no soft rabbits for him to tend.
What George did was a duty to himself, to Lennie, to society, because they would have always been running from something to somewhere. George has suffered the most out of any of these parties involved. He has lost a good friend and companion, a rarity in these times. What he did was out of love, not malice, and he should not be prosecuted.
George has to live with what he had to do. That should be enough punishment.
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