How does Steinbeck show what the living conditions are like on the ranch?

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Steinbeck portrays the difficult, harsh living conditions on the ranch in chapter two by introducing the readers to the sparse bunkhouse, which is the workers's sleeping quarters. The bunkhouse itself is a long, rectangular building with whitewashed walls and an unpainted floor. There are also eight bunks inside, and each...

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Steinbeck portrays the difficult, harsh living conditions on the ranch in chapter two by introducing the readers to the sparse bunkhouse, which is the workers's sleeping quarters. The bunkhouse itself is a long, rectangular building with whitewashed walls and an unpainted floor. There are also eight bunks inside, and each bunk has an apple box above it that serves as a shelf. The small shelves hold the men's various personal commodities like razors, powder, soap, and magazines. There is also one cast-iron stove and a big square table in the middle of the room. The empty, undecorated environment of the bunkhouse indicates that there is not much leisure time on the ranch. The lack of personal items also reveals that the men are poor and corresponds to their transient nature.

Steinbeck further illustrates the difficult life on the ranch during George and Lennie's initial interactions with Candy and the boss. George's skepticism regarding whether or not his bunk is infested with lice reveals that ranches are often unsanitary places. The boss then enters the bunkhouse and is depicted as an aggressive, distrustful man. He criticizes George and Lennie for not showing up on time and questions their work ethic and background. The boss warns them to not start any trouble and instructs them to immediately begin working on Slim's team. The boss's adversarial nature and intimidating demeanor suggest that the ranch is a hostile environment. Overall, Steinbeck illustrates that the ranch is a difficult, harsh environment, which is dangerous and extremely competitive.

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First, Steinbeck offers a detailed description of the bunk house in which the ranch hands live: an unpainted floor, eight bunkbeds, apple boxes nailed to the walls to act as shelves for personal belonging, a wood stove to heat the house. We see that the living conditions are spartan. The men do not have private rooms or even private spaces and the bunk house contains no luxuries. 

We also learn about living condition through conversation and action: George learns that Whitey, a previous hand, said he left because of the food. George carefully examines his mattress for bedbugs and lice, because Whitey left behind a powder to kill bugs, including roaches. This would indicate that such infestations were not uncommon.

Finally, we witness the boss, Curley, as he enters the bunk house and speaks threateningly to George and Lennie, warning them not to try to put anything over on him.

Everything in this initial description of living conditions indicates that ranch hands live the harsh lives of people at the lower end of the economic scale.

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