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How does Steinbeck's language influence your view of Slim?

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lucypurds | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 22, 2013 at 11:55 AM via web

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How does Steinbeck's language influence your view of Slim?

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akannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 22, 2013 at 1:55 PM (Answer #1)

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From the first moment that we meet Slim, it becomes evident that he embodies the best qualities that Steinbeck could attribute to human beings.  In a setting in which so many characters lack desirable aspects, Slim embodies the very best of being human:

When he [Slim] had finished combing his hair he moved into the room, and he moved with a majesty achieved only by royalty and master craftsmen. He was a jerkline skinner, the prince of the ranch, capable of driving ten, sixteen, even twenty mules with a single line to the leaders. He was capable of killing a fly on the wheeler’s butt with a bull whip without touching the mule. There was a gravity in his manner and a quiet so profound that all talk stopped when he spoke. His authority was so great that his word was taken on any subject, be it politics or love. This was Slim, the jerkline skinner. His hatchet face was ageless. He might have been thirty-five or fifty.  His ear heard more than was said to him, and his slow speech had overtones not of thought, but of understanding beyond thought. His hands, large and lean, were as delicate in their action as those of a temple dancer.

This opening description heavily influences the reader's view of Slim. Steinbeck's description of him as a "master craftsman" and a "majesty achieved only by royalty" helps to establish that the reader is not seeing any random farm hand.  This is enhanced with the feats that are included.   As "the prince of the ranch" who is able to drive "ten, sixteen, even twenty mules with a single line to the leaders," the reader is meant to be persuaded with such a task.  The use of the "bull whip" reflects his effectiveness as well as Slim's penchant to demonstrate power by not overusing it.  This is consistent with the notion of Slim being "royalty" and a "prince," descriptions that further influence the reader in how they view him. Whereas others inOf Mice and Men  are shown to be quick of mouth and excessive in talking, Slim "speaks" with "gravity."  Steinbeck makes Slim as one who speaks deliberately and is respected with whatever he says, "be it politics or love." When Steinbeck suggests that "all talk stopped when he spoke," it is an acknowledgement of power that casts its shadow on the reader.   The reader is influenced with this description as there is an instant recognition that what Slim says as profound and meaningful.  The final description of Slim as a "temple dancer" gives him an other- worldly quality, meant to leave the reader with a sense of the profound in viewing Slim.

Throughout the narrative, this description is critical of Slim.  For Steinbeck, Slim is the character of action, the individual by whom moral compasses can be set.  Slim embodies the best of leadership and the ability for individuals to unify and form solidarity.  In a setting where there is so much destructiveness within individuality, Steinbeck uses Slim to embody how collective action through solidarity can yield beneficial results.  The opening description of Slim helps to influence the reader in seeing him in this light throughout the narrative, a light in the perpetual darkness which exists in the death of dreams.

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