How does Steinbeck present the barn in chapter 5 of Of Mice and Men, and why is it important to the novel?

Steinbeck presents the barn in chapter 5 of Of Mice and Men as ominously quiet in contrast to the clanging of the horseshoes outside. It is also ominous that Lennie is alone in this shadowy setting. It is unsettling that he has just killed his puppy. The quiet, shadows, and isolation cue us to expect danger.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

John Steinbeck ’s description of the ranch’s barn in chapter 5 expands on his earlier references in chapter 4. Lenny, who loves animals, went to the barn to spend time with the newborn puppies, as he reported to Crooks. The barn is important as the part of the ranch where...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

John Steinbeck’s description of the ranch’s barn in chapter 5 expands on his earlier references in chapter 4. Lenny, who loves animals, went to the barn to spend time with the newborn puppies, as he reported to Crooks. The barn is important as the part of the ranch where Lenny feels at ease, seeks the company of animals, and avoids people. The solitude and harmony are proven false, however.

Steinbeck opens chapter 5 with a brief description of the barn’s layout and contents, connecting the various items with their functions. The contents include massive amounts of hay at one end, as well as a large fork on a pulley. The hay is fodder for the horses, which are in their stalls along the barn’s sides. The chapter takes place on Sunday, when the hands have time off. The description includes the low noises the horses make, the effects of the sunlight coming through cracks, and the calm feeling of a “lazy afternoon.”

The narrator then focuses on Lennie, who is the only person there. He is speaking to the “little dead puppy” that he has accidentally killed with his great, unmodulated strength. The reader glimpses the anger beneath his usually placid demeanor. The near-emptiness of the barn is significant because when Curley’s wife enters, she and Lennie are alone together. The next part of the description mentions the dimming light as the sunset begins. The fading light represents the imminent end of Curley’s wife’s life and of George and Lenny’s dreams. The barn setting is also important as the location of the puppy’s death at Lenny’s hands, which foreshadows the woman’s death in a parallel situation.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It is in chapter 5 and in the barn that much of the pivotal action in Of Mice and Men takes place. This chapter starts out by providing a physical description of the barn, which has piles of new hay and a suspended "four-taloned Jackson fork." At the other end of the barn is an empty area waiting to be filled with new crops.

The ramifications of the scene that takes place in this barn will change life forever for our protagonists. The chapter starts out with Lennie already lamenting the fact that he is going to be in huge trouble with George for accidentally killing the puppy. Little do we know, at this stage, that Lennie's lack of knowledge of his own strength, which has led to the death of the puppy, will lead to the accidental murder of a human being later in this chapter.

Ultimately, Steinbeck presents this barn as the setting for the death of Curley's wife. She arrives to find Lennie stroking his dead puppy, and the two have a conversation about his love of stroking soft things. She then invites him to stroke her soft hair, and then struggles with Lennie as he inadvertently becomes to violent. This struggle leads to the barn becoming the location of her death.

The barn is quiet and secluded. If it had not been so, and Steinbeck had portrayed someone else being around, it is highly likely that Curley's wife would not have died.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In chapter 4, Steinbeck has presented Crooks's harness room off the barn as a place apart, where the ranch's misfits congregate while the others have gone to town together. There is danger in that room once Curley's wife enters. In chapter 5, Steinbeck continues the motif of the barn as a place apart and Curley's wife as a source of danger.

In chapter 5, the story moves into the barn itself. It is a place separate from the outdoors area where most of the men have congregated to play horseshoes. It is ominously quiet, and a liminal space of both darkness and light. We learn that:

The afternoon sun sliced in through the cracks of the barn walls and lay in bright lines on the hay. There was the buzz of flies in the air, the lazy afternoon humming.

The buzzing of flies is an image of death, as flies congregate around a corpse. Lennie, ominously, is alone in the barn amid the hay. Adding to our sense of foreboding as the scene opens, he has just accidentally killed his little puppy. The description of Lennie being alone among the animals signals danger: he is in a space that is unsupervised and has already, if inadvertently, behaved violently.

It is especially ominous when Curley's wife quietly enters the barn, not expecting to find anyone else there. The unsupervised encounter between the two in this silent space, far from the sociality represented by the distant clanging of the horseshoes, cues us to expect danger.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Steinbeck's description of the barn in Chapter 5 is significant for several reasons.  First, Chapter 4 is also set in the barn, but it occurs at night in Crook's small room.  The author's description of the barn in Chapter 5 immediately follows the scene in which Curley's Wife threatens to accuse Crooks of attempted rape, and Crooks' decision to stay out of the farm dream plan. In Chapter 5, Steinbeck describes the light filtering through the barn's cracks. It is a sunny, restful day for most of the men.  Instead of hours in the field, most of them are playing horseshoes outside the barn in the bright sunlight.  In contrast, Lennie sits in the coolness of the barn, alone, with his newly killed puppy.  This different view of the barn in the chapter contributes to Steinbeck's overall light/darkness motif.

The quiet calm in the barn also contrasts well with the violent encounter between Lennie and Curley's Wife which occurs later in the chapter. After Lennie flees, and Candy and the others enter the barn to discover Curley's Wife's body lying in the hay, the barn begins to darken, and the Sunday laziness of the horses dissipates, foreshadowing the dark ending to come.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team