How do I start an answer for the essay question 'How does Steinbeck present the theme of death in Of Mice and Men?' (or any other theme)

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First of all, since you are the one to compose your essay answer, you will want to select a theme with which you are confident; that is, you will need to choose a theme about which you have strong convictions and can  support with passages from the text.  [For your convenience there is a link below that includes a discussion of the major themes of "Class Conflict," "Idealism vs. Reality," "Alienation and Loneliness," "Race and Racism," and "Friendship," or fraternity.]

One suggestion for an essay on theme is that of the Fraternity of Men. For, this certainly is a great concern of the Steinbeck who was disturbed by the detrimental effect of the disinfranchisement of the itinerant worker in the 1920s who, in his alienation became aggressive, cruel, and "mean" to his fellow men, as George remarks. Steinbeck felt that men who were united in a common cause would be stronger and much happier as they worked together rather than having to compete with one another. 

Therefore, if Fraternity is a theme about which you might like to write, you can open your response, which will be written in the form of an essay, by composing first a "motivator," a statement of a quote that relates to your thesis.  For instance, you can write your own observation about friendship or working together, or you can begin with a pertinent quote.  Three such quotes are the following:

  • from the great poet, John Donne's "No Man is an Island"

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

  • from Joseph Conrad's  "The Secret Sharer"

Meaning depends upon sharing

  •  from Of Mice and Men itself (Chapter 4--Crooks talks with Lennie about his aloneness and not having anyone to confirm for him what he sees or hears. )Without a friend, Crooks states,

"He got nothing to measure by."

After you choose the "motivator," write your thesis statement. If, for example, with a discussion of Fraternity as the theme, a thesis statement can, then, be composed around something like the fact that by working together and helping one another, the men of Steinbeck's novel find happiness, empowerment, and a fulfilling hope in their lives.

The important thing is to (a) choose a theme about which you can generate a discussion, and (b) compose a thesis statement that expresses a strong opinion about this theme, one which you can defend with supporting details and citations from the novella, such as Crooks thoughts from Chapter 4 and George and Lennie's conversations, especially George's explanation for Slim in Chapter 3 on why he lives with Lennie,

"I seen the guys that go around on the ranches alone.  That ain't no good.  They don't have no fun.  After a long time they get mean.  They get wantin' to fight all the time."

By the way, this quote will also work for the theme of "Alienation" if you should choose it.


(See the links below for help with theme and composing your response.)