I am in need of a lesson on the historical and social context of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.
For my speaking exam, we are supposed to teach a class on how Steinbeck uses social and historical contexts in his work, Of Mice and Men. Can somebody please give me a lesson plan and how I should direct and teach the class?
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With the socialist leanings of John Steinbeck, a lesson that could be presented to the class is that of the Great Depression's history of the Communist movement. As unemployment was unknown at that time in the USSR, the Communists appealed to the dispossessed of the 1930s, such as the "bindle stiffs" of Of Mice and Men and the others unemployed throughout the United States, offering them hope through a class revolution which would distribute wealth.
The concept of the brotherhood of men uniting in one cause for the lower classes is one with which Steinbeck greatly concerned himself. In Grapes of Wrath, written two years after Of Mice and Men, for instance, Tom Joad remarks at the book's end,
"Well, maybe like Casy says, a fella ain't got a soul of his own, but on'y a piece of a big one...."
This idea of the one soul of man as the solution to his alienation is clearly a motif of the social setting of Steinbeck's novella. For, it is in friendship and fraternity that man "can measure himself" as Crooks says, and he can keep from getting "mean" as George remarks, and he can find meaning and purpose to his life as illustrated in George and Lennie's dream.
With the concept of socialism/communism as part of the motif of Of Mice and Men, the leader of the discussion can direct the class to find evidence of this thinking within the setting of the Great Depression in Steinbeck's novella. That is, an exploration of how socialism, or perhaps even communism, is profferred as a solution to the alienation of the bindle stiffs can be made with Steinbeck's work.
There are a couple of approaches that you can take towards this task. Steinbeck's primary historical context is agricultural life in the Great Depression. The construction of poverty and how it looks in the lives of real people is a part of this historical context. This comes out in great detail in the first chapter of the book. An interesting activity would be to note as many example of poverty in the opening chapter, building from this. George and Lennie's bindles, as well as the lack of good drinking water could start off such a discussion. In addition to this, noticing their eating cans of beans and George's reprimand of Lennie for merely asking for ketchup could be another point that can be discussed. It is a unique opportunity for modern students to be able to identify aspects of poverty, stressing the connection between impoverished conditions then and now. This might be a good activity to bring alive the historical context of the time and how it relates to today.
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