Example 2: characterisation and voice in Of Mice and Men
Explore the ways in which the John Steinbeck creates a sense of voice in the novel Of Mice and Men - this is a book of many voices because it is full of dialogue. One of the reasons for this is that Steinbeck had originally thought about writing the book as a play, which is why each chapter is set in a single location, like a scene. It is also why each chapter begins with a detailed description of the scene before the characters enter (like stage directions). In fact, soon after the book was published, it was turned into a play.
The characters of the story clearly contrast with each other. In general, you can divide the characters into mice (sensitive people who are potential victims) and men (the strong characters who try to get to the top of the power structure):
- mice - Lennie, Candy, Crooks
- men - George, Curley, Slim
Within these groups, each character is different. George is strong and caring but suspicious and angry. Curley is rich and powerful but reckless and scared. Slim is strong and quiet but still an employee of the more powerful boss. Lennie is strong and Candy is old but they both share a dream. Crooks is an outsider, a loner who is clever and well-read but cynical (he doesn't believe in happy endings - until he lets himself be taken in by Lennie's simple, beautiful dream).
If you are answering a question about how Steinbeck creates a sense of voice, you can make the following points:
- setting - he sets the story in a real time and place
- character - he creates distinctive, contrasting characters whose voices we can clearly hear
- language - his characters use a dialect that identifies them strongly with the jobs they do and the place they live in
- imagery - he likes to use similes and metaphors to make points about character (Lennie is like a bear, showing he is both sweet and likeable but also potentially dangerous)
- structure - he has written the book as if it were a play, moving from scene to scene, with sections like stage directions at the beginning of chapters, and dialogue dominating the storytelling
The dialogue spoken in the book is the American-English dialogue spoken by migrant workers. The dialect is made more memorable because Steinbeck also gives it rhythm and poetry (think of Lennie's
"An' live off the fatta the lan'...").
The author's voice is also very important. When describing the setting of the story, Steinbeck's language is full of poetry. He describes the setting as if it is paradise (for example when he talks of the
"golden foot-hill slopes" of the Gabilan mountains).
When Lennie and George appear we are reminded of the story of the Garden of Eden in the Bible. People now live in an imperfect world. The dream of paradise (the farm with its rabbits) is contrasted with the difficult reality of their lives as migrant workers (we first see them when they have escaped from an incident).
This contrast is important to Steinbeck. So much so he gives the majestic Californian landscape a voice of its own:
"The red light dimmed on the coals. Up the hill from the river a coyote yammered, and a dog answered from the other side of the stream. The sycamore leaves whispered in a little night breeze."