Onomatopoeia In Of Mice And Men

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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First, it's important to know what onomatopoeia is. Its definition is:

...the formation and use of words that suggest, by their sounds, the object or idea being named or the imitation of natural sounds by words such as “bang” or “buzz.”

Onomatopoeia basically is a word that describes a sound. In John Steinbeck's short novel, Of Mice and Men, an example of onomatopoeia is found in the very first chapter.

As Lennie and George (our main characters) enter the scene, the author describes how different the friends are physically. It is soon apparent that George, the smaller of the two men, is more sophisticated and composed. Lenny, who has a mental disability, is much more spontaneous and less "polished." This is evident as the men enter the clearing close to the ranch where they will soon be working. They have been walking a long time—not an unusual form of transportation during America's Great Depression, which devastated the economic system in the United States (and much of the world) in the 1930s. Unemployment was rampant and many people traveled to new parts of the country looking for work. This is the case for George and Lenny—and after walking so long, they are very thirsty.

The following passage describes how Lenny takes a drink from a small "pool."

His huge companion dropped his blankets and flung himself down and drank from the surface of the green pool; drank with long gulps, snorting into the water like a horse.

Onomatopoeia is figurative language: it is a literary device or "literary term" that creates a more vivid image in the reader's mind, enabling one to imagine more clearly what is being described on paper.

In this passage, there are two examples of onomatopoeia. The first is the word "gulp;" it describes the sound one's throat makes when swallowing. The second use of this device is "snorting," and this sound becomes more vivid as Steinbeck also compares the sound to one which a horse makes.

Both words describe a sound, and that is what onomatopoeia does: it a word that describes the sound it stands for, making the story and its characters more life-like.


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