In Of Mice and Men, how is the bunkhouse described? What does the description tell the reader about the men who live there?
If you refer to the Introduction in the Study Guide, you will see that Steinbeck was planning to adapt the short novel to a stage play to be produced in New York and that both book and play came out the same year. Steinbeck wrote the story in such a way that it could easily be changed into a script. He kept settings to a bare minimum. Most action takes place in the bunkhouse, in the barn, in Crooks' little room adjacent to the barn, or at a campsite beside the river. The story is about men working in the open fields, but such scenes are never shown, only suggested. Horses are represented by sound effects, as are the sounds of men pitching horseshoes. The campsite would be easy to represent on a darkened stage with only a fake bonfire lighted by one or two colored light buibs. The bunkhouse is the main setting. It is very simplistic because evidently the play was going to be produced on a low budget. Steinbeck gives a full description of the bunkhouse in the first paragraph of the second chapter of his book. Except for Candy, George and Lennie, the occupants are not present because they are still out working.
The bunkhouse was a long, rectangular building. Inside, the walls were whitewashed and the floor unpainted. . . . Against the walls were eight bunks, five of them made up with blankets and the other three showing their burlap ticking. Over each bunk there was nailed an apple box with the opening forward so that it made two shelves for the personal belongiings of the occupant of the bunk. . . . Near one wall there was a black cast-iron stove, its stovepipe going straight up through the ceiling. In the middle of the room stood a big square table littered with playing cards, and around it were grouped boxes for the pllayers to sit on.
A bit later it is explained that the mattresses for these bunks were made of long burlap sacks stuffed with straw. Obviously the ranch owner cares little about the comforts of the unskilled farm workers he employs. They can take it or leave it--and they take it because they have no other choice. Except for Slim who is skilled with handling teams of horses, the men have nothing to offer but their physical labor. They are strong and tough. They don't expect much, and they don't get much. When they come in from the fields, their dialogue shows they are ignorant man who probably never even finished grammar school. They are used to the kind of treatment they receive. It is noteworthy that the company does not even provide chairs for them to sit on. They have to sit on upended wooden boxes around the big table. They don't gripe about working or living conditions because they know it wouldn't do any good. Steinbeck uses the bunkhouse to illustrate his thesis that the farm laborers are overworked, underpaid, and generally mistreated, and that they should be given some protection by the government, since they are unable to protect themselves.
Steinbeck does not describe a separate room where the men are fed, nor does he describe what kind of food they are given. But he does indicate that there is barely enough food to go around, and this suggests that all the men have to gobble their portions down in a hurry and probably fight over anything that is left over.
Inside the bunkhouse they hear one of the numerous offstage sound effects. A triangle begins ringing.
Slim stood up slowly and with dignity. "You guys better come on while they's still something to eat. Won't be nothing left in a couple of minutes."